If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

How POV affects readers | Reading

Point of view shapes stories in literature. Authors choose characters to tell stories, affecting how we understand them. Different characters have different perspectives, strengths, and weaknesses. Unreliable narrators can be wrong or lie, making reading more challenging. Knowing a character's point of view helps us better understand the story. Created by David Rheinstrom.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- [David] Hello, readers. I wanna talk to you today about point of view in literature and how it can shape what we, as readers, take away from a story. Now, we've talked about this in more basic terms before, is a story in first, second or third person? But I would like to go deeper. Once we've sussed out whose perspective a story or a poem is being told from, what's next? What else is there to talk about? Well, I think it's useful to remember that stories and poems don't just happen. They don't just suddenly, spontaneously exist. Creating them is work. And it's the result of a whole bunch of decisions made by a writer. So, who is the point-of-view character or characters? What does that mean for the story? Ultimately, a point of view is an author's decision. So, when an author chooses to center a story on one character, how does that change the story they tell? Would the story be different if it were centered on a different character? How does that point of view impact the way the story gets told? Imagine a rocket scientist with a mouse in her pocket, and they're going to inspect a spaceship under construction. I'm gonna give you two little snippets in what's called close third person perspective, where there's a narrator, but their point of view is attached to a character. We get to see through their eyes, experience their thoughts. So, first, we're gonna hear from the rocket scientist. "Leaving the lab, Dr. Harper strode confidently "into the spaceship hangar, "clipboard in hand, pet mouse in pocket. "Launch day was only eight months away, "and Project Juno still had so many bugs to work out, "but she was certain that the test she'd conduct today "would help her solve the air filter problem. "The starship sat before her in a pool of light, "a deep bluish-black craft, "once an idea that had lived only in her mind, "but now it was a real physical object. "She dug around in her pocket "and fed Persephone a sunflower seed." Now, let's take that again from the mouse's perspective. "Persephone T. Mouse "clung to the lip of Tatiana's jacket pocket, "as they passed from a small cold room "into a much larger, warmer, and brighter room. "It had been four hours since she'd had anything to eat, "and she was cranky. "In the middle of the big, bright room "was a big bluish black shape. "Persophone didn't know what it was, "and frankly, it looked kind of like a bird, "which was weird and a little frightening. "But it hadn't moved "the last time Persephone and Tatiana were in there, "and it wasn't moving now. "So, Persephone guessed it was asleep. "She chirped impatiently, "and Tatiana gave her a sunflower seed." You see, the same things happen in each story. Dr. Harper goes from her lab to the spaceship hangar, and then, she feeds her pet mouse a sunflower seed. But when we hang out with Harper's perspective, we get her thoughts and we see what she thinks is important. But when we're reading from Persephone the mouse's perspective, she doesn't care about the spaceship, she doesn't know what it is. As readers, it's useful to ask how a writer is developing a character's point of view through a story. What are the abilities and limitations of a point-of-view character? Persephone the mouse is small. She can sneak through little holes in the wall or hide in the jacket pocket of a consenting human being. But Dr. Harper has, you know, an astrophysics doctorate and opposable thumbs. She can open doors, design a spaceship, plan its flight trajectory. This is kind of an extreme example because one of these characters is a human being and the other one is a mouse. But even among different people, we can imagine very different stories. Characters and stories are just like real people. They have strengths and weaknesses, knowledge about some things and ignorance about others. Sometimes, they tell the truth, and sometimes, they lie. This is especially important in first-person books, where everything we read comes to us directly from the point-of-view character. You have to open yourself up to the possibility that the narrator can be wrong about stuff. They can perceive things incorrectly, or be blinded by their own assumptions, or just be confused. They could also just be lying. But they could also just be innocently wrong and confused. They could look at a spaceship and think it's a bird. Narrators that are wrong or misinformed or actively trying to trick you are called unreliable narrators. Reading a book narrated by an unreliable narrator turns the relatively straightforward process of reading into a tug of war. How do I know I can trust what the narrator is telling me? Ask yourself, what does a narrator think? What do they feel and what do they do? When you can answer all of those questions, you can begin to put their perspective into words. If you can identify the biases or the perspective or the ignorance of a point-of-view character, you can start to correct for it as you read, and use that understanding of the point of view to better understand the story as a whole. Something important to remember is that the storytelling character is not the same thing as the author. The author creates those characters and is literally the person who writes the words. But if I wrote a story about an ogre who eats children, that does not make me an ogre who eats children. I would never eat children. They taste horrible. You can learn anything. David out.