While my cohorts around here talked about point of view (POV) from the author’s perspective, I’m going to take a different look at it. I’m going to talk about the point of view of the reader instead of the author.
Perspective is an important aspect of reading that people often forget about. It seems less important, because you, as a reader, expect the author to tell you how to view a story. Whether a given story is written in first person, or third person, it can be commonly expected of most readers that they will take the view they are given. But I tell you that reading from your own view helps make the story your own, even if you can’t do more than go along with the story.
For example, do you read first person as yourself acting in the story? Or are you a reader who reads first person without making the character personal and reading it as if the narrator is telling you and you are simply a friend or confidant all the way through? Also, do you read third person as if you’re a person in the action, but quietly watching and observing from the sides? Or do you read third person as if you are watching from above, not involved with the story personally, just along to see what happens? Or do you read third person critically, noticing every plot-hole and every spelling or grammar mistake?
I read first person as if I am the narrator, seeing things through their eyes and their experiences. This helps me shape the idea of the story the way the author saw it, through their character’s eyes. Reading this way, personally involved in the story, helps you connect with the people in the story, and I feel this is extra important when reading stories set in different countries or cultures than your own. I read third person as if an entity floating around a character’s shoulder, involved in the action and seeing it first-hand, but not interfering with what’s going on. When I’m not reading as if I’m a fly on the wall or the narrator, if you will, I’m reading very critically. I read as though I am editing the story, looking for anything that could be pulled and looked at differently, or seen in a different way.
As a writer, I write first person as though I am the main character, discovering nuances , pet peeves, and nervous tics that I hadn’t originally planned for. I write third person the same way I read it, as a fly on the wall watching everything that happens.
One of the most important aspects of reading, I feel, is to be able to read critically. To take a step back from what’s happening in a story and be able to comment on it as if you were involved, even if it’s “I would have phrased this differently”. To be a critical reader takes practice, and a lot of it. Being a critical reader is best when editing, or if you must make educated remarks as to the piece you have read. To read critically, you must allow yourself, or force yourself as the case may be, to step away from the piece and keep it from becoming personal. I find this best accomplished on a second or third read. Critical reading is, simple stated, being able to have a conversation with a piece while you are reading it, without turning it into something it’s not.
The hard, and sometimes fascinating, part of critical reading is that no two people will ever have the same conversation with the same piece. Everyone will view a piece differently, attach themselves to a different aspect, phrase, or idea and that will become the frame in which they view the entire piece.
There are definitely things that can be seen as advantageous to a writer in the difference between writing in first person and third person. And there are things that can be viewed as helpful to a reader when reading in different ways. So there may not be a “correct” way to read or write something, but you can choose your own “correct” way. Depending on how you look at it, at least.