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How to Use Perspective to Improve Your Writing

What is perspective in literature? What is point of view? What is the difference between perspective and point of view? Teaching the difference can prove to be quite challenging. Storyboarding can help!

Many students are confused by the difference between the terms and their meanings. This is because the literary perspective definition and point of view definition will often be used synonymously, even though they can actually be quite different. Point of view in literature is the format of narration, more commonly known as first person or third person point of view. It is the technical choice that the author makes in order to tell the story.

When considering perspective in writing, it's essential to ask, which statement is true about the narrators' different perspectives? Is it the intimate detailing of personal experiences or the broader, more objective overview of events? In truth, both are valid and demonstrate how perspective can be used to deepen the reader's engagement and understanding.

Point of View Definition

Point of view is the vantage point from which a story is told. It is the stance from which the action and events of the story unfold.

Perspective Definition

Perspective is a narrator’s attitudes or beliefs about an event, person, or place based on their own personal experiences.

POV vs. perspective in literature is tricky. Perspective in writing refers to the angle or approach adopted by the narrator or characters within a story. This concept is central to understanding, what does perspective mean in reading? It involves more than just the narrative viewpoint; it encompasses the attitudes, biases, and emotional responses of those narrating or experiencing the events that take place. This addition of personal lenses adds layers of depth and complexity to the narrative, making it more engaging and nuanced for the reader. While point of view dictates who tells the story, perspective colors how they tell it and influences the reader's interpretation and connection to the narrative.

The definition of narrative perspective is often simply the vantage point from which the story is told to the audience. Therefore it is synonymous with point of view. Most novels are written in either the first person POV or the third person. However, the difference is that the narrator's perspective in a story can also refer to their worldview. Therefore, perspective definition in literature is the character's perspective which is shaped by their culture, heritage, physical traits, and personal experiences.

Readers can understand more about the story when they ask themselves, "what is the narrator's perspective?". Often, different perspective examples in literature are found. These can express and illuminate a different approach to a well-known event or issue, and provide an invaluable opportunity for readers to see things in a new way. POV and perspective are both important for students to grasp to gain a deeper understanding of any text. While point of view focuses on the who, perspective focuses on the how.

The Role of Perspective in Storytelling

Perspective literature plays a crucial role in shaping a story's narrative. The question often arises, what is the difference between point of view and perspective? While point of view determines who is telling the story, perspective deals with how this story is told. This distinction is vital in storytelling, as it affects how readers perceive and interpret the narrative, shaping their emotional and intellectual responses.

What is Point of View?

It refers to the narrative voice through which the story is told. It dictates what shapes someone's point of view, influencing how the reader perceives the unfolding events. The choice of point of view, whether first, second, or third person, has a profound impact on the storytelling process and reader experience. An easy definition is that it is the narrator of the story. There are 4 different types of POV:

  1. 1st person POV: In first person, the narrator uses the pronouns “I” and “we.” A classic example of a first person narrative is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This story focuses on Scout's, the main character's point of view. Viewpoint vs perspective is particularly evident in the first-person, where the character's viewpoint (what they see and experience) is intrinsically linked with their perspective (how they interpret these experiences).
  2. 2nd person POV: In second person, the narrator uses the pronoun “you.” The second person narrative is rare but can occur. In the second person POV the reader is a character. Some may remember this employed in the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.
  3. 3rd person POV: In third person, the narrator uses the pronouns “she,” “he,” “they,” and “it.” There are two types of 3rd person POV: 3rd person limited is when the narrator only knows the thoughts of one person. An example of 3rd person limited POV is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
  4. 3rd person omniscient is when the narrator knows more than the thoughts of multiple characters. In this case, the narrator is privy to the thoughts of the main character as well as the secondary characters. An example of the third person omniscient POV in literature is the classic Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Another interesting example of POV is in The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which is narrated by Death. This narrator is omniscient and knows all of the characters' thoughts and feelings. However, the author switches the narrator between first person, speaking as death about himself and his thoughts, and as a third person point of view, describing all the characters' thoughts and emotions.

Point of View Example: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

More about Point of View (POV)

Point of view, or the kind of narration, deals with who is telling the story: first person (I, me, my) or third person (he, she, they). First person narrators have many advantages, including credibility and intimacy. A first person narrator is often more believable because the reader gets access to their thoughts and beliefs. However, there are disadvantages, too. The narrator’s characterizations of events, people, and places will be colored by their attitudes, prejudices, limitations, and shortcomings. In many ways, it makes them unreliable because their observations may not always fully adhere to the truth. It is also difficult for a narrator to directly characterize themselves personally. Instead, the reader must form an opinion based on how other characters react to the narrator, and by the narrator’s actions, thoughts, and dialogue.

Third person narration can be split into two categories: omniscient and limited point of view. An omniscient narrator is someone who can access the thoughts and beliefs of many characters without limitations, and can explain past, present, and future events to the reader. This gives an enormous amount of freedom to the narrator. It is advantageous because an omniscient narrator can often interpret the motivations of characters or the importance of events directly to the reader. It also has a disadvantage in its loss of intimacy with the reader.

A limited third person narrator is restricted to one particular character’s experiences and thoughts. It again allows a sense of intimacy and credibility with the reader, but the author is still able to pepper in details that the character may not otherwise know or realize. There is still room for the author to interpret some things for the reader, and to characterize the narrator in more detail.

A note about second person narration

Many students often wonder what second person narration is. The best way to explain this is to have them look at the directions on a quiz or test, or pull out a cookbook, an instruction manual, or anything else that directly instructs the reader. The major pronoun in second person narration is you, with the you being the reader. It is not often used in fiction, other than the choose-your-own-adventure books where the author instructs the reader to make a certain choice and turn to a particular page. (R.L. Stine wrote many of these types of books in the mid-90s with his Give Yourself Goosebumps special edition series. Edward Packard originally created the concept in 1976.)

Point of View Activity

A great way to get students thinking about the nuances of a narrator’s point of view is to have them create or re-create a story using a different narration format. Have students create a narrative of an event with the three different points of view: first person, third person omniscient, and third person limited. They can also re-tell a story from their reading from another point of view, and see how it changes.


Perspective is a narrator’s interpretation of events, people, and places based on their own personal experiences and background. It is expressed in the narrator’s dialogue with the reader and it reflects these aspects, and may present opinions or different ideas than other characters. The character's perspective affects the way the story is told and the information that the reader receives. The narrator can be considered reliable or an unreliable narrator. In this case, the reader is only privy to the narrator's perspective and it may not be entirely the whole truth of the matter. A classic example of an unreliable narrator is in Edgar Allen Poe's ”The Tell-Tale Heart”. In this example the story focuses on the narrator's version of events. However, in the process of explaining his story, the narrator clearly incriminates himself!

Siu Wai Anderson's moving novel, “Autumn Gardening” uses perspective to express a different viewpoint of a well-known event: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. The American perspective of this event is typically concerned with the tactical implications of the bombing: it prevented the loss of more American (and Japanese) lives; it finally brought World War II to an end; it showcased the military strength of America as a warning to other countries.

However, Mariko’s perspective on the same event is quite different. A person's culture, background and experiences greatly influence their perspective. She is left with physical scars from the glass that worked its way into the skin on her face. She has severe asthma that she suspects was also caused by the bombing. She recalls the suffering of the people who were injured, and the tortuous choices she had to make between helping some and leaving others to die.

In addition, she has some elements of PTSD, such as nervously looking up whenever a plane flies overhead, and she is plagued by nightmares which has made her feel as if she must keep her distance from others. While the narrative doesn’t explicitly call into question the moral decision to drop the atomic bombs, it does ask the reader to consider the amount of suffering caused by the decision. It adds a human element to a far-away event, and it creates a sense of empathy and understanding for the reader.

Influences on Perspective

  • Personal Experiences
  • Cultural Heritage
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Location
  • Profession

Often an author’s choice of point of view for their narrator will help enhance the narrator’s perspective. For instance, Scout’s first person narration of the events that led to Jem’s arm being broken in To Kill A Mockingbird allows the reader to follow the story from the perspective of a child’s innocence. Older readers may pick up on the fact that the daily visits to Mrs. Dubose to read to her, coupled with the lengthening of the timer each day and her physical state, might indicate that she is going through withdrawals. However, Scout, as a young 7-year-old child, does not realize this because she doesn’t understand opioid addiction. Luckily, Atticus steps in to explain it to Scout and Jem – and any other confused readers.

Perspective in a Story Activity

Understanding perspective is crucial for students to be able to analyze and think about the world around them. Perspective is more than just looking at a story from a different angle; it’s realizing that there are multiple angles to every story, especially in everyday life. If they’ve ever heard the old adage, “There’s two sides to every story”, this is a great example of what perspective is all about. In literature in particular, there is a great opportunity to examine two sides to a story by looking at the protagonist versus the antagonist. According to John Rogers, author of several Canadian-based comic book series, “You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”

A great way to get students thinking about perspective is to ask them to retell a popular story from the antagonist’s point of view. Have students create a plot diagram for a story they are reading or have read in the past, but have them do it from the perspective of the antagonist. Ask students to consider the experiences and physical traits of the antagonist that might have helped them develop a unique perspective.

Examples of Point of View and Perspective Activities

Students' understanding of perspective in reading has a direct effect on their understanding about perspective in their own writing. Using storyboarding activities to delve deeper into perspective and point of view can help students in both their analytical skills while reading as well as later on in their writing. Check out these activities from our guides on The Book Thief, Return to Sender, and The Canterbury Tales.

Other Ideas for Understanding Perspective

  • Have students write about an event or person from the perspective of three different characters in a story, or create their own!

  • Have students read Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and create a storyboard of the Wolf’s perspective on the popular children’s tale.

  • Advanced Students: Have students read the original manuscript of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, recently published in July 2015 as Go Set a Watchman. Ask students to detail in a storyboard the differences in perspective from Scout’s narration as a grown woman, versus her narration as a child.

How To Use Point Of View And Perspective To Teach Critical Thinking And Analysis


Introduce The Concept Of Point Of View And Perspective

Begin by defining these terms and discussing how they can shape the way we interpret and understand stories. Use examples from literature, film, or other media to illustrate how different points of view and perspectives can influence the narrative.


Select Texts Or Media That Offer Diverse Perspectives

Choose texts or media that offer a variety of perspectives on a given topic or theme. These could include texts that feature multiple narrators, texts written from different cultural or social perspectives, or texts that challenge students' assumptions and biases.


Analyze The Text Or Media From Multiple Perspectives

Have students read or watch the text or media and identify the different points of view and perspectives that are represented. Encourage students to think critically about how each perspective shapes their understanding of the story or topic.


Identify Biases And Assumptions

Have students reflect on their own biases and assumptions and consider how these might influence their interpretation of the text or media. Encourage students to question their own assumptions and consider alternative perspectives.


Use Evidence From The Text Or Media To Support Interpretations

Teach students how to use evidence from the text or media to support their interpretations and evaluations of different perspectives. Encourage students to cite specific examples from the text or media to support their arguments.


Foster Discussion And Debate

Provide opportunities for students to discuss and debate different perspectives on the text or media. Encourage students to listen to and consider alternative perspectives, and challenge each other's assumptions and arguments.


Reflect On The Learning Experience

Have students reflect on their learning experience and consider how their understanding of point of view and perspective has evolved. Encourage students to reflect on how they can use these critical thinking skills in their own lives and to make informed decisions based on multiple perspectives. By following these steps, teachers can use point of view and perspective to teach critical thinking and analysis, helping students to develop a deeper understanding of the world around them and to become more engaged and informed citizens.

Frequently Asked Questions about Perspective vs. Point of View (POV) in Literature

What is perspective?

Perspective in general means a particular way of looking at things that is dependent upon one's own experiences, culture and personality.

What is perspective in literature?

The definition of a character's perspective or the narrator's perspective in literature refers to how the characters in a story perceive what is happening within the story: the events, people and places. Their perspective is informed and influenced by their own background and experiences such as their family, culture and the society that they grew up in.

What are the 4 types of Point of View (POV)?

The 4 types of Point of View are:

  1. 1st person: The narrator in the first person uses the pronouns “I” and “we.”
  2. 2nd person: The narrator in the second person uses the pronoun “you.”
  3. 3rd person limited: The narrator in the third person limited uses the pronouns “she,” “he,” “they,” and “it.” There are two types of 3rd person POV: 3rd person limited is when the narrator only knows the thoughts of one person.
  4. 3rd person omniscient: The narrator in the third person omniscient also uses the pronouns "she", "he", "they", and "it". However, this narrator knows more than one of the characters' thoughts and feelings.

What is the difference between Perspective and Point of View?

The difference between point of view and perspective is easy to identify if you ask yourself some questions. Point of view is how the author has chosen the story to be told. Who is speaking? This will tell you the point of view (POV) whether it is 1st, 2nd or 3rd person. To discover the perspective, you have to delve into the worldview of the character. How has the character's experiences and background shaped how they view the world? This shapes their perspective. POV vs. Perspective can be tricky for students to understand at first but as they apply these new definitions to their reading consistently they will be able to identify them in no time!

Find more activities like this in our 6-12 ELA Category!
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