January 10, 2020

Is Your Story’s Point of View Impersonal or Personal?

Point of view is usually taught without the involvement of the narrator’s role—but it should be. The two are inseparable.

Sometimes, though, even after all the concepts have been studied, it can still be difficult to keep straight the eight point of view types. Sometimes it helps to see point of view framed from an alternate perspective, which is the purpose of today’s shorter post. 

More...

Point of view can be divided into two categories: impersonal or personal. These terms reveal the general nature of your narrator, which determines, in part, what information about the story he communicates to the reader. 

His word choices will affect how the narrative (everything aside from the characters’ dialogue and interiority) is presented. Think mood, tension, setting, character descriptions, etc. 

Not too familiar with narrators? Check out The Formula to Mastering Point of View; it’ll bring you up to speed.

Defining Impersonal and Personal

An impersonal narrator is the essence of neutrality. He is impartial, unbiased, and because of this, reliable.

He is a trustworthy narrator because he does not share his own thoughts or opinions about the storyworld’s characters and events. In fact, he carefully chooses the words he uses so as to not influence the reader’s opinion. 

A personal narrator is an expressive wordsmith. He has already formed a position about the happenings of the storyworld.

He is not wholly reliable because he is invested in securing the reader’s agreement with his viewpoint. His take on things can be heavily felt or judiciously regulated into subtly persuasive doses. 

The Eight POV Types Divided

There are four point of view classes, which you likely already know. They are omniscient, third person, second person, and first person.

From these, we get the eight point of view types:

  • Neutral Omniscient
  • Subjective Omniscient
  • Objective Third
  • Limited Third
  • Deep POV
  • Second Person
  • Central First Person
  • Peripheral First Person

Almost all of the point of view classes fit entirely into the impersonal or personal categories. One doesn't. And another is a little squirrelly too.

The eight POV types are organized first by their impersonal and personal designations and then second by their standard narrative distance.

The double-ended arrow indicates how second person can subjectively distance a reader, even if the point of view is objectively written in a close narrative distance—just because it is written close, does not mean it’ll be received as such. All the other POVs are categorized objectively.

Neutral Omniscient, Objective Third, Limited Third, and Deep POV all have impersonal narrators who want the reader to make up her own mind about the storyworld.

Subjective Omniscient, Second Person, Central First Person, and Peripheral First Person all have personal narrators. They want to influence how the reader views the characters and events in the story.

Reasons to Consider POV from an Impersonal and Personal Context

When picking a point of view for your story, sometimes it’s an instinctual process, sometimes not. If you are struggling to find the right POV, ask yourself a couple of questions.

How do you want the reader to receive the story?

Do you want to influence your reader’s assessment of the story or leave the decision up to her?

If your story centers on a delicate subject, maybe an impersonal point of view will promote greater receptivity from your reader. Or maybe the delicate subject needs to be heard from a particular perspective. Then a personal point of view might be a better fit.

For example, if you are writing a Christian fiction story for a searching nonbeliever, the last thing you want to do is force-feed information—even unintentionally—to the reader.

So what's a writer to do? 

You could write the story from an impersonal point of view so the narrative presents details about Christianity in such a way that the reader is able to think about things herself.

Or, you could decide to use a personal point of view so the searching nonbeliever experiences the story from a character who had a similar (yet former) perspective as herself.

***

Whatever the subject matter of your story, think about the questions your reader might have. The type of point of view you choose will influence how your narrator should present the answers. 

Writing The Treasure Hunter revealed several little-known truths about creating a story. In the context of sharing my short story's creation process, I will explore these important truths. Truths like your premise can change multiple times. Or, your beta readers can unknowingly help you discover your artistic goals. Or, joy keeps your writing standard high.

>