What is Point of View?
When writers talk about Point of View, they usually refer to the technical choices writers make to deliver a story to the reader. This includes the person (usually first or third) and the tense (usually past or present).
In the Story Grid Universe, we see Point of View as one of three major components of the Narrative Path.
What is Story Grid’s Narrative Path?
The Narrative Path is a process that helps writers identify, formulate, and solve the problems of story creation. Following this process increases the probability of delivering a coherent story to readers.
Your point of view choices will dictate the tenor of each beat, each scene, each sequence, each act and the entire work. They are crucial choices.
— Shawn Coyne
Some writers choose this fundamental story element based on examples within their GENRE. However, most go with the point of view option that feels most comfortable or seems easiest.
These methods won’t necessarily lead to a wrong result. But they don’t help writers construct the SCENES, TROPES, or BEATS or choose each of the tens of thousands of words that describe the AVATARS, their appearance, actions, and the ALTERNATE WORLD they inhabit.
Story Grid’s Narrative Path includes the following:
- POP: The Proposition of Possibility (POP) generates and governs the problem space for a story. It is a premise that consists of the Context, the Protagonist, the Inciting Incident, and the Protagonist’s Goal.
- Narrative Device: The Narrative Device is a scenario or mental representation of the Author communicating the POP as a story to a Single Audience Member (SAM) to help solve a specific Problem.
- Point of View: Point of view is a combination of technical choices writers make to create the effect of the Narrative Device on the page and present the story to a reader. Point of view includes the Person, Tense, and Mode.
An effective Narrative Path helps writers decide which scenes, tropes, and beats are relevant to their stories. It keeps them on track to avoid page-one rewrites.
What is the POP Premise?
The Proposition of Possibility, or POP, generates and governs the problem space of a story. The POP is relevant to the Narrative Path because how the story is told depends on what the story is about. When writers understand the POPs of their stories, they can align their point of view choices to craft a coherent narrative.
The context is the ALTERNATE WORLD where the story events unfold. It is the whole system setting for the story, which can be, for example, a single room, an entire nation, or an organization.
There are two primary types of protagonists:
- Fish out of native water, who is incited to enter a novel context
- Indigenous member of the pond, is incited to get an intruder to conform to their world
The INCITING INCIDENT creates the double-factor problem the Protagonist must solve. It’s an unexpected event that arises because of an imbalance in the interactions between the context and the people and things within it.
What is the Narrative Device?
At the macro or global level of the story, the Narrative Device is a scenario or mental representation of someone communicating a story to a particular person to solve a specific problem. This choice has a direct impact on the technical choices of the point of view.
Imagine a mentor or threshold guardian having coffee with a person who says, “Can I ask you about a problem that’s come up?”
The specific problem of the Narrative Device provides a relevance filter for writers when they consider whether each scene, trope, beat, sentence, or word tends to shed light on the SAM’s problem. The problem also suggests the best vantage point from which to deliver the story, a key aspect of point of view.
The Narrative Device consists of three main components:
- Author: The Author is someone who is capable of telling the POP premise as a story to shed light on the problem another person has.
- SAM: The Single Audience Member is a person with a problem related to the one the protagonist faces in the POP premise.
- Problem: A specific problem that the POP premise can shed light on.
Why make up another layer of story? Isn’t writing one story complicated enough?
One of the biggest challenges writers face in every UNIT OF STORY is how to make the choices required to produce a coherent narrative that satisfies readers. A coherent narrative requires the internal harmony of an integrated whole, the aligned parts within the whole, and functions that cooperate and are in synch. The goal to write a satisfying story doesn’t provide the objective criteria writers need to craft a coherent story or help writers decide which point of view will be most effective.
Every single word is a choice. Each choice can lead the writer further astray if there is no unifying mental model. To write a coherent story writers must understand what they’re doing and why, every step of the way. And that is about relevance.
How do writers determine what’s relevant? Narrative Device.
Narrative device is a mental representation in which one person tells a story to help another person solve a specific problem that mimics the meta function of stories in our human lives. We tell stories to entertain, but also to pass on hard-won wisdom and illuminate problems. (For deep exploration of these concepts, check out the Big Idea Nonfiction and Heroic Journey 2.0 seminars.)
The specific problem of the Narrative Device provides a useful relevance filter because it puts the focus where it ought to be, on the Single Audience Member of the story and what it can do for them. As a result, the Narrative Device problem helps writers decide what to include, when to include it, and how to say it. Those decisions informs the writer’s Point of View for the story.
Point of View Revisited
A story’s global Point of View includes the technical choices writers make to deliver the story to the reader. The POP premise and Narrative Device suggest Point of View combinations that create the effect of the story told by the Author to the single Audience member.
Person refers to the vantage point from which the written story is presented the reader.
- First Person: I (or we) wrote a story.
- Second Person: You wrote a story.
- Third Person: Alex (or she or he or they) wrote a story. Read our in-depth guide to Third Person Point of View.
Tense distinguishes the timeframe of the story.
- Past: I wrote a scene.
- Present: You write (or are writing) a scene.
- Future: Alex will write a scene.
The final technical choice focuses on how the information is presented. This is the storytelling Mode.
Showing is an objective and immediate mode that creates the effect of being present and observing the events of the story. Here are some examples.
- First Person: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Second Person: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
- Third Person: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, or “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway
Telling is a subjective mode that readers experience as if someone or something is collecting, collating, and sharing the events and circumstances of the story.
- First Person: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, or Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
- Second Person: “How to Be an Other Woman” by Lorrie Moore.
- Third Person: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, Animal Farm by George Orwell, or Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Additional Point of View Resources
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