Reader Experience Depends on Perspective (Use it Well)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

How did your story begin?

Did a character start talking in your ear?

Was an Average Joe cleaning up the aftermath of a great calamity?

Maybe it was a blue pick-up truck with a surfboard painted on the side that led you on a wild tangent?

Whatever the genesis of your story — whether you heard, saw, or Six-Degrees-to-Kevin-Bacon’d yourself into it — you started writing and chose a pronoun for your viewpoint character. And for getting that first draft out of your head and onto paper, that default perspective worked. It got the job done.

Didn’t it?

Analyzing your point of view to ensure the reader is getting the right message the right way is an important step in storytelling. This week’s writing advice asks you to look at your chosen point of view. Because while the fervor of writing often disallows a prudent choice before putting pen to paper, making a judicious choice during revisions holds the key to the reader’s experience.

Prompted by Fallon Clark via Adobe Firefly

Pick Your Way Through The Literary Landscape

Do you see your character on their transformative journey from here to there? Are you watching what they do, and how, and who they’re moving, the challenges they face along the way?

If this sounds like you, you’re likely seeing your story unfold cinematically. You’re held at a distance from your character, rather than walking in their shoes. And while you may hear the gravel crunch under their feet, you don’t feel it poking the soles of yours. When you want to hold the reader at a distance from your character, both the objective and omniscient points of view offer some creative ways to make that happen.

In the objective, the narrator blends into the background, has no distinct personality of their own, and provides no commentary, analysis, or interpretation of the events unfolding or the ways in which your characters are handling those events. The objective is also called the fly-on-the-wall perspective because it’s just that: An objective persona who can observe and overhear but never intervene or interact with your characters. All the narrative and reader focus is on what the characters are doing or saying, because the objective persona cannot explain how the characters are feeling or what they’re thinking. All clues to a character’s emotional and mental state must be present in their dialogue, body language, or actions.

This perspective works well when emotions are high and may cause a character to pull back, recede into themselves, especially when you want to give the reader a breather for some emotional processing of their own. However, because the objective point of view is limited and the perspective voice neutral, readers may become taxed at being held at an arm’s length. So if you’re using the objective over the length of a novel, consider balancing it with a more close-up perspective (we’ll get to close-up perspectives in a bit). Giving the reader just a little bit more can help them appreciate the break the objective may provide.

If you see your story unfold cinematically but you have a little insight into your characters and your narrator is anything but neutral, you may be writing in the omniscient. The omniscient point of view includes a subjective narrative persona who can provide the reader with information the characters don’t know, ratcheting up the dramatic irony. You also get to decide whether the narrator is as honest as one dosed with truth serum, evasive as the fae, or nothing but a mealymouthed tarradiddler. So consider who your perspective voice belongs to, who your narrator really is, to decide whether they should tell the story, and, if so, how.

When using the omniscient, you may allow your reader access to any character’s thoughts, perceptions, memories, biases, and their clown cars of emotional baggage, zooming in and out at will, and even addressing the reader directly. Though, because of the expansiveness of the omniscient narrator, it can become jerky when multiple details, thoughts, and emotions are flying at the reader at once. Great paragraphing is especially important in the omniscient for this reason, so make sure the reader only receives one character’s thoughts or emotions in each paragraph to avoid reader confusion and frustration.

Experience the World of Your Characters with Them

The objective and omniscient points of view allow your readers to look at your characters, but when you want your readers to get up close and personal with your characters — to eat their breakfasts, sit at their desks, kiss their partners, and hug their children — putting readers inside your character’s heads means either the first- or third-person point of view. The up-close-and-personal choice may depend on how much distance you want to allow between reader and character. The third person allows a slight detachment, whereas the first person does not.

In the first person, the reader slides into the narrator’s body, watches the world through the narrator’s eyes, speaks with the narrator’s perspective voice. The reader has access only to the perspective character’s emotions and thoughts (remember: we humans are great at lying to ourselves), and the reader experiences the story world as if they are the perspective character. First person is my favorite point of view for this reason; it’s so personal. But because it’s personal, the reader needs to bond with the perspective character, even like them, to want to stay firmly in their shoes for the length of a book. Removing sensory filters and showing the reader, rather than telling them, who your perspective character is is necessary.

Beyond de-filtering the perspective character, writing in the first person means that every single sentence in your story, except another character’s dialogue, must be written in the voice and experience of that perspective character. As such, there is no reason to italicize internal thought; the entire story being relayed is the perspective character’s internalization of events, circumstances, and people. If you’re having trouble cutting through the expository noise, try writing a piece of your story in a stream-of-consciousness style and push yourself to really hear your perspective character’s inner processing, push yourself to put that inner processing on the page. It could mean the difference between telling and showing.

If the idea of a near-stream-of-consciousness style is too much, the third person allows a filtered experienced. Using the third person he/she/they provides the reader with just a bit of detachment from the perspective character, so filter verbs stick out a little less, and you can tell the reader a bit more (but don’t go overboard on telling). The reader experiences the story through a limited perspective, knowing only what the third-person character knows, feels, witnesses, wonders, dreams, or guesses, which can add mystery or show mistaken assumptions and biases in action. And you get to decide how many characters you want your reader to know.

The third person allows multiple perspective characters, each with a distinct voice, goals, and motivations, each facing their own conflicts and setbacks. This perspective works especially well when you’re dealing with dichotomies or otherwise want to show the reader the realities of different people handling a same, similar, or related situation, especially if there are community-level consequences. The reader works through those different experiences and can make judgments, side with one character or another, or just take in the range of emotion relayed by your characters and come up with conclusions of their own. When using multiple perspectives, ensure that each perspective character has an outcome all their own, regardless of the ending of the story.

Involve Your Reader in the Story by Giving Them a Role

When starting your story, did you imagine inviting the reader to take part in your world? Or, did you imagine allowing a character to explore other parts of themselves within the story? When most folks hear “the second person,” they think of those choose-your-own-adventure books of childhood. Put away that notion and consider, instead, the world of possibility when talking to “you.”

When your story is full of traumatic or shocking events, or when a character is still reeling from a trauma or shock, the second person allows that character to detach, to dissociate, to see themselves as other, even speak directly to damaged parts of themselves. Using “you” means the character can speak directly with another part of their personality, a past or future self, hidden away. And when the perspective character speaks to that hidden self, the narration then shines a spotlight directly on the traumatic or stressful reasons for such clandestine conversation.

And if you’re worried about pulling the reader out of the narrative too much, of detaching them too much from the perspective character, know that the second person can immerse as much as it can dissociate, such that the reader can be given a title, a role to play, a literary raison d’être. The reader must look to themselves as they move along the story to connect and find meaning. Though, similarly to the objective, the second person can become taxing over the length of a novel, so balancing the second-person perspective with a more expansive point of view, like the first, third, or omniscient, can make the difference between a novel that jabs the reader in the chest and one that invites the reader to participate.

Choose the Right Perspective Key for Your Story Lock

How much do you want your reader to know about your perspective character? How much should the reader not know? Is there an air of mystery that must be maintained? Or are all the proverbial cards on the table for analysis?

When you want the reader to hear your perspective character’s thoughts and emotions, the first or third person is likely the best choice for your story, assuming there’s a reason the reader must listen to your chosen perspective character. Ask yourself what your perspective character knows or learns that you wish to pass along to the reader.

If you want the reader to do something in your story, to participate, to affect change, try the second person. But you’ll need to decide whether the “you” being referred to is a part of a character in the story, or if the “you” is your reader. In either case, give “you” a job.

And when you long for that cinematic experience such that the reader may as well settle down with a bucket of buttery popcorn to brace for what they’re about to witness, the objective or omniscient may work, depending on how neutral or not your narrator really is.

A quick note: Many novels use several points of view to balance the work for reader enjoyment. If you’re feeling constrained by a single perspective, try a few things and find the style that works best for the story you’re writing. Unleash that creativity you’ve been holding, and see how much more impactful your story can become.

TL;DR: Choosing the Right Narrative Perspective is Critical for Sending the Right Message

Look at your default narrative perspective, the knee-jerk choice you made when you first sat down with the story:

  • Why did you choose that point of view?
  • Why was that the right character to lend perspective to the point of view?
  • How does the perspective character move the story forward?
  • What are its benefits?
  • Limitations?

Knowing why you chose your narrative perspective will bring confidence and trust in that narrative perspective to do right by your reader.

So, how do you decide your point of view and narrative perspective? Let me know in the comments!

Happy writing.

<3 Fal

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Fallon Clark is the book pal who helps you tell your story in your words and voice using editorial, coaching, writing, and project management expertise for revision assistance, one-on-one guidance, and ghostwriting for development. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website,, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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