A Guide to POVs and Narrator Types in Fantasy Fiction

A Guide to POVs and Narrator Types in Fantasy Fiction


One of the most important skills in writing is knowing how to reveal information in the right way and at the right pace.

In this article, we'll learn about narrator types and points of view (POV). We'll explore the techniques available and how to implement them, reflecting on their strengths, drawbacks, and common pitfalls.

Note that there isn't such as thing as the best narrator type or POV — it all comes down to what you want to achieve with your book. Some authors may find that a narrator type is more suited to them, or more enjoyable to write, and decide to stick with it for their entire career. Others might use different narrator types based on the kind of story they are telling.

Revealing Information in Novels

There's no perfect formula for properly revealing information and no right or wrong way of doing it. Readers have subjective preferences. Writers may prefer writing a faster-paced novel instead of a slower one, or a more mysterious one where they let readers infer information instead of telling them outright. Nonetheless, as a beginner writer, it's useful to try out different ways of writing to learn about well-known concepts and to discover what works best for you.

Through the ages, writers have come up with many writing techniques for revealing and pacing out information. Some examples include trickling it slowly (which creates anticipation), using flashbacks and time jumps, and implementing techniques that create the illusion of depth of information such as the Iceberg Method.

Note that as with most writing techniques, you may find that some writers naturally implement them even without having studied them before, or even knowing the proper terms. Although it's not strictly necessary to learn the theory behind these techniques, this may help avoid some common mistakes, learn which techniques work best together, and how to take full advantage of them. 

The techniques discussed in this article, as well as all writing advice, define only loose guidelines. As long as your book is written in proper language, and edited for spelling and grammar, there are no rules you must follow. You should not let any 'writing rules' stop you from writing the story that you want to tell.

What Is a Point of View (POV)?

The simplest definition of a story, when it comes to fantasy fiction, is a written account of some events in your world. The most common structure is linear storytelling, meaning that events are told chronologically. Your story's POV is the perspective through which these events are told.

A POV is like a camera lens: we can zoom closer to or further from our main character. For example, if our book were a movie, the POV would be what's shown to us through the screen. We can maintain the same POV throughout the story, as is common practice, or change it as the story develops.

The closest point of view is the character itself. Imagine a first-person videogame, where you see directly out of your character's eyes. This zoomed-in view limits us to seeing events through their perspective. We only know what they know. We only hear, see, smell, and feel what they do.

When our POV is the character itself, we face limitations in our storytelling. For example, imagine that the closest friend to our protagonist is scheming against them. We can write the events in the book around this. But the reader can't know of the betrayal. Naturally, the reader can't know if our protagonist doesn't know. And if your character doesn't know, you can't write about it.

What Are Narrator Types?

A book is made up of words, and although they are being read by your reader, let's imagine that someone, the 'narrator', is reading your book aloud to them (sometimes, this is a literally character in your book, such as Kvothe from The Name of the Wind telling his life story to Chronicler). You, the writer, have control over who this narrator is. There are various kinds of narrator types we can choose from.

Although writers tend to stick with the same narrator type within a book, some may change it across chapters, or even within them. This can create different narrative styles, which can either be a breath of fresh air for a monotonous novel, or introduce chaos to an otherwise organized one! Be cautious if mixing narrator types, as you may unintentionally confuse your reader.

Points of view, on the other hand, can be changed more seamlessly, just like a camera lens turns and zooms continuously during a movie.

Note that we're not going to touch on second-person as it's an uncommon narrative style for fantasy fiction, but it's a viable option if none of the other styles suit your writing.

Third-Person Omniscient

Imagine a god-like figure who has a birds-eye view of all events in your book. They can see everything, all at once. They aren't even constrained by time, as they can refer to future events in their narration, or far in the past. They commonly tell events using the past tense, though this is not a rule.

Not only can omniscient narrators see all past, present, and future events, but also read your character's minds. Their POV can vary throughout the story: they can zoom into a character's thoughts, or look at the world and its events from afar.

As an example, let's look at the first paragraph of Hannah Kaner's Godkiller:

The god's name was Osidisen, and her parents named Kissen and her brothers in honour of his attention

But the sea god didn't bring fortune to the lands of Talicia.

It's not the protagonist that's telling us this. It's some sort of all-knowing being. You guessed it — the omniscient narrator! The point of view is abstract and far removed from any events that are happening at present.

Later in the book, Hannah Kaner transitions to a third-person limited narrator with a point of view that is closer to the protagonist, showing us that this can be done seamlessly.

The strength of an omniscient narrator is the freedom of storytelling. Through this all-knowing being, not constrained by anything, your reader can discover potentially anything:

  • The history of your world
  • The emotions felt by your characters
  • Other character's hidden intentions
  • Some events in your story before they happen
  • Remote locations in your world that are unreachable by your characters

An omniscient narrator can work very well if the setting and plot are the selling point of your novel and you want to showcase them as much as possible. This style is also associated with an older style of fantasy, which is focused on plot and setting more than character development, so if that's the style you are going for, this may be a good choice.

The drawback of this approach is that it can make the narrative feel removed from the characters, causing the reader to feel detached emotionally and, potentially, care less about them. If used wrong, it can also cause your prose to read like a history book.

Lastly, using an omniscient narrator can lead us to unintentionally tell and not show — the difference between:

Gloria had an apple for lunch — telling

Gloria's grabbed the fruit and bit into its flesh — showing

Third-Person Limited

Let's picture a shadow that follows your main character wherever they go. They see, smell, hear, and feel everything that your protagonist does, but they are not them. This shadow is the narrator who tells the story, referring to your protagonist in the third person.

The POV is not the same as your protagonist's. The narrator is a shadow, and the story is told from their POV.

This narrative style is similar to the omniscient one, except the shadow is not an all-knowing being. Third-person limited commonly uses the past tense, but it's not a rule.

Let's look at Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

[Harry] felt Ron sit down on the bench beside him and knew Ron was staring at him.

Although told in the third person, this sentence shows us Harry's feelings. The POV is extremely close to the character, allowing the reader to share Harry's experience. However, it does not tell us why Ron stared at Harry. That information is kept from us, revealed later as the plot unfolds. 

The benefit of this technique is creating a strong bond between the reader and the protagonist. The downside is that we are now constrained by Harry's perspective. This means that, until Harry learns why Ron is staring, we cannot reveal that to our reader. This may create a sense of mystery, but it can also be a major issue, as, strictly speaking, we wouldn't be able to say:

[Harry] felt Ron sit down on the bench beside him. Ron stared at him, as he felt annoyed at Harry for not returning his quills.

If we write the above, we are transforming our narrator from limited to omniscient, as it's now able to peek into Ron's internal feelings as well as Harry's.

As previously mentioned, mixing omniscient and limited narrator styles is not uncommon, but if you wish to stick to third-person limited throughout the entirety of your novel, you may want to be careful about not breaking out of the limited perspective.

Note that using this narrative style requires us to implement a delicate balance of showing versus telling since it's relatively easy to overdo either.

Modern fantasy is most often written with this style, but don't let this stop you from experimenting with different types!


Finally, let's explore the first-person approach, where the narrator is the character itself. Note that the character through which we see the world can alternate throughout a story, and even within a chapter.

We don't distinguish between first-person limited and first-person omniscient, because first-person is necessarily limited unless your protagonist is themselves an all-knowing being. The POV through which the story is told in first-person is your character's POV.

For example, first-person writing might look like this:

I woke up next to the crackling fire. The soldiers disappeared. I'm not sure where they've gone. They left their shields and swords. There are footprints leading to the forest.

The strength of this type of narrator type is that it's the closest and feels the most personal, allowing the reader to establish a direct connection with your protagonist. They might feel that they are experiencing the story themselves, even more than with third-person limited, and makes it easier for them to step into the character's shoes.

The main drawback is, as with third-person limited, a practical one: you can only write about what the character feels and knows. This brings on some serious limitations in terms of storytelling, and can also throw off the delicate balance of showing versus telling.

Consider also that some readers may not resonate with your character, and therefore might not appreciate being glued to them for the whole novel. Conversely, if the reader loves your character, this is an advantage.

On the other hand, if your story is told in the third-person limited or third-person omniscient and your reader hates the protagonist, it's easier for them to focus on other parts of the story.

For both first-person and third-person limited, you are encouraged to work on your protagonist's character development and give them depth, as this will enhance your story and allow your chosen narrative style to delve deep into the character you've created. 

Practical Examples of Narrator Types

To emphasize the differences between each style, let's explore a practical example.

Imagine that our protagonist, Tristan, must learn to brew a potion to defeat our villain, the Goblin King. Let's see how each narrator type can be used in this situation:

Example of Third-Person Omniscient

Unbeknown to Tristan, the Goblin King could only be taken down by a fire potion, and Tristan was the only one that could do it. For this reason, the Professor pored over his ancient textbooks to find the potion's recipe. He gave Tristan the recipe and told him to practice making it over the summer, but, to spare Tristan from the fear of confrontation with the Goblin King, he did not tell him why.

Neither of them knew that their efforts would be futile, for the Goblin King would die during summer eve by the hands of another Wizard.

Examples of Third-Person Limited

Notice how we are explaining the Professor's secret intentions, and are telling the reader a fact that has not yet happened.

The Professor approached Tristan with an old piece of parchment.

"There's an additional assignment I wish you to complete. Brew this potion three times and bring me all batches in September."

"With all due respect," said Tristan, "I think we should focus on the Goblin King. I can focus on my schoolwork later."

"Let's not jump the gun, Tristan. Complete your assignment, and we'll start practicing your magic when the next year begins."

Tristan walked towards the school gates. He had a feeling that the Professor was not telling him the full story.

Examples of First-Person Limited

The Professor approached me with an old piece of parchment.

"There's an additional assignment I wish you to complete," he said. "Brew this potion three times and bring me all batches in September."

"With all due respect," I replied, "I think we should focus on the Goblin King. I can focus on my schoolwork later."

"Let's not jump the gun, Tristan. Complete your assignment, and we'll start practicing your magic when the next year begins."

As I made my way towards the school gates, I felt my stomach turn inside out. I felt as if the Professor was not telling me the full story.

Wrapping it Up

In this article, we learned about the different narrator types and POVs that you can use in your stories. We've seen how you can implement them, avoid mixing them up unintentionally, or blend them purposefully to create different narrative styles throughout your story.

Andrea Cerasoni in Rome, Italy
Andrea Cerasoni

I'm Andrea, a Software Engineer, Technical Editor, and aspiring Fantasy Author. I'm originally from Rome, Italy, but am currently based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. I read and write classic Fantasy: the sword-and-shield, dragons, and wizards kind. In my articles, I talk about writing fantasy fiction, productivity, coding, building a website or platform, establishing a personal brand, and more!

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