[♠ This is an excellent literature, or language exercise that can be enjoyed in some form on all levels from middle school to graduate school. I’ve developed it and used it. It’s a rare occasion where objective analysis can tie in with, and illuminate, the natural subjectiveness of a story. For a Christian application, see the 3rd (or last) endnote.]

…Better translated as a lesson in POINT OF VIEW (POV)

There are “3 Points of View” (well, maybe 5) in how to view, tell, or present a story. The one you choose (if writing) or observe (if reading or hearing) determines how much, and the kind of, information the hearer or reader gets, or will get, from the narrative. Stylistically, it affects the tone of the story as well.


1.  1st Person  (Main character “tells”; and you see only inside his head.)

2.  3rd Person Omniscient (The author “tells”; you see inside several heads)

3.  3rd Person Limited-Omniscient (Author “tells”; you see into “one head” only as in #1)


The Bible story “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) uses the 2nd one listed above. In other words, the narrator of the story follows what’s happening and, “Godlike,” tells us, when necessary, what any character happens to be thinking with specific words or a general statement. This “shapes” the story. The story, as a story, could be quite different however, and still useful and interesting, if you use the 1st and 3rd POVs listed above. Now if you want more on this, use the DOOR.



[First, a quick review of post, “Authors’ Secrets,” that appeared May 31, 2013.

All text in fiction is one of 3 types:

(a) Dialog — A character is speaking. (Use quotation marks.)

(b) Narration — The author (in a Godlike manner) truthfully provides details and tells what’s going on.

(c) Thoughts — What a character is truthfully thinking or thoughtfully observing. (Rarely are thoughts placed in quotation marks.) ]




Some say that #1 (1st person) and #3 (3rd person limited-omniscient, above) are the most realistic ways to tell a story. For example, in my fiction I almost always use #3.

To clarify, the #1 POV goes like this. (Thoughts in blue in all examples.)

EX:  I wake up. Delightful odors* were coming from the kitchen. I hope it’s what I think it is! I enter the kitchen. Eggs and sausage, my favorite way to start a Saturday! I’ll bet Mom’s going to ask me to start mowing the lawn before going to the gym. “Good morning, Mom,” I say.

“Good morning yourself , Tom,” she replies, with a sly smile.

[Note carefully that we’re only in Tom’s head. We don’t know what Mom thinks, only what she says and does.]

#3 goes like this.

EX:  Tom wakes up. Delightful odors* were coming from the kitchen. He thinks he knows what it is. He enters the kitchen. Yes, it is eggs and sausage, his favorite way to start a Saturday. He wonders whether Mom’s going to ask him to start mowing the lawn before going to the gym. “Good morning,” he says.

“Good morning yourself, Tom,” she replies, with a sly smile.

[Note here that we’re still only in Tom’s head. We still don’t know what Mom thinks, only what she says and does. #1 and #3 are very similar in what they tell the reader. Some say that #3 and #1 are more “true to life” because people never actually see into more than one head–and that’s their own. ]

#2 goes like this.

EX:  Tom wakes up. Delightful odors* were coming from the kitchen. He thinks he knows what it is. He enters the kitchen. Mom smiles. She knows that sausage and eggs just might be the way to get him to start mowing. “Good morning,” he says, cheerfully. Maybe he can get away with mowing just the side yard.

“Good morning yourself,” she replies, with a sly smile. Maybe now she can get him to mow the whole front and side yards before lunch. He looks like he’s in a good mood.

[Note here we learn more detail–at the risk of bogging down the story. Tom: (1) considers the odors delightful, (2) highly suspects Mom is trying to get him to mow, and (3) maybe mowing just the side yard will satisfy her. Mom: (1) is definitely baiting the hook to easily get some mowing done, and (2) she hopes that the hole front and side yards can be done before lunch.

In these silly accounts we know for sure certain things about what the characters are thinking.  We’re left guessing about what the “OMNISCIENT ” (all-knowing) author has not told us. But that’s part of the charm, or style, of what the author is presenting.

To see how you might use this for yourself or others, see Note** below.

 Now what about The Prodigal Son*** story in the Bible? Though only a few thoughts in few words are revealed, we are definitely aware of thoughts of the 3 characters: (1) The younger son finally “declares to himself” that it would be better to go back home and live as a servant(2) when his father saw him returning, he had compassion; and (3) the older brother later was angry. This brief story, nonetheless, has a 3rd-person omniscient point of view. We are told the “true thinking” of each of the 3 characters. (But not of the “citizen” the younger son worked for, or the servant the older son asked what was “going on” as he came home and heard the noise of celebration. Their thoughts are of little consequence in the real story here.)

So what matters in all this? In EVERY STORY (fiction) you read, you can OBJECTIVELY DETERMINE which of the 3 POVs is being used. (And seeing into more than one head–and rarely all heads–is considered “omniscient.”)  If you write a story, the same thing is true. The pattern you choose colorthe content of what you say. What about Way #4 and Way #5 that I mentionedIn Way #4 you get into NO heads. It’s like what you see and hear in a stage play. Yes, you see what characters do and hear what they say, but they may be lying. There’s no “omniscient ” author to give you the real scoop. (One exception is the play “Our Town,” where a narrator at the side of the stage tells you some of what the characters are thinking.) Way #5 would start off in the 2nd person. In the example above, the story would start off “You wake up…” Forget it. It’s stupid. I’ve only seen one book like this. Horrible.

There’s more below the line.


* Is “delightful odors” in the 3 examples  narrative or thoughts?  A case could be made for either. But we believe it’s better to consider them thoughts. Here’s why. In #1 we learn that this is Tom’s (the “I” in the) story from the other examples of thoughts. To be consistent then, we learn that the “odors are delightful” because I (Tom) is telling us. We really don’t know what Mom thinks for sure. In #3 [cited next] the same thing is true, and in this case “his favorite way” which seems like a piece of narrative is also his thought for the same reason. In #2 some of the energy of the story is lifted off of Tom, but we get a larger picture. Again, we see some of Tom’s thoughts, but we also see some of Mom’s thinking: Maybe now she can get him to mow the whole front yard…(etc.) Since we’re “into” more than one head in the text here, this is considered omniscient. In an omniscient story, we may “see” the thoughts of 2 or more characters (but rarely more than 6), which would tell a more complete, and longer, story, but would make the real story bog down. 

** [♠] Hmsch: (1) This kind of analysis may sound dreadful, but it’s really instructive and not difficult to do. Have participants each take a book, or several books, of fiction and determine the POV that the author uses. You can discuss how the story might differ if another POV were used. (2) Have kids write short stories with a predetermined POV.

***  Act out the story of “The Prodigal Son” from different POVs! The biblical story can be presented as (a) “The Younger Son’s Story,” or (b) “The Father’s Story,” or (c) “The Older brother’s Story,” climbing into only the title character’s thoughts. The other characters’ thoughts are revealed only in actions and words. Feel free to create, or expand, other verbally expressed thoughts that are in keeping with the POV you represent. Write out–or ad lib–your dramatic presentation. But express only thoughts that fit your POV.