Bookish Musings: Does POV Change the Way You “See” the Story in Your Head?

 
 

Sorry to disappoint, but this post is not as deep as some of you might be thinking from that title. See, (was that a pun?) I’m not talking about understanding another person’s perspective, I’m talking about literally the visual image that’s in your head while you’re reading.

If the writing is in 3rd person, do you see it like a movie? If it’s in 1st person, do you see through the eyes of the character? Does it depend? Do you see it as both? As neither? Let’s discuss!

 

 

Different POVs

Just for some clarification, let’s talk about the different points-of-view that exist.

There’s 3rd person omniscient, in which the story is being told by a narrator who knows everything about everyone.

There’s 3rd person limited, in which the story is still being told using he/she/they pronouns, but it generally follows one character (at a time) closely.

There’s 1st person, in which the story is being told entirely from inside the mind of a character, using I/we pronouns.

There’s also 2nd person, in which the story is told using the you pronoun, but I’ve never read a 2nd person book, so I won’t really be talking about that.

How I “See” Stories

This is actually difficult to answer because have you ever actually paid attention to this while reading? Yeah, me neither. But I’m fairly certain that it just kind of constantly changes throughout the book, regardless of POV.

In my head, it’s kind of like there’s a camera recording things, but sometimes the camera zooms out a bit so that I see all the character and the whole room, other times it zooms way in super close so that I’m right in the characters’ faces, etc. So I think sometimes I do end up seeing things kind of through a character’s eyes if my mental camera decides that’s the best vantage point from which to view the scene.

But I really don’t think it depends on the POV. I’ve seen things through the character’s eyes in 3rd person stories. I’ve seen things from a zoomed out position in 1st person books. I’ve even seen things through the eyes of a character who wasn’t the POV character. (Well, I think. This is all kind of speculation and memory since we’ve already established this isn’t the kind of thing you notice while reading.)

For example, let’s say Bob is the 1st person POV character, and he’s smooshed into a tiny closet with Mary because they’re hiding from something, and so their faces are just a few inches apart. I might very well see Bob’s face in my mental camera (which would be kind of like seeing him from Mary’s POV), even though the story is being told from inside his head. Or I might see Mary’s face. Or the camera might be kind of next to/in between them and showing me a profile view of both the faces. Or the view I’m seeing might change from paragraph to paragraph.

I will say, however, that I think I view things from an outside 3rd person type of perspective most of the time. To be honest, I’m not sure I ever see things from a 1st person perspective? And I do prefer 3rd person POV in books. I feel like the closest I get is that sometimes that mental camera of mine is on their shoulder or something, if that makes any sense. But again, this is just speculation and me trying to think back on books I read. But that does make sense since I prefer 3rd person.

Anyway, reading is just such a weird thing in that it takes place entirely in our heads. In movies, every scene and camera position and angle planned out, but in books, all of that just happens on a subconscious level. And while writers do their best to guide our attention, what we see, how we see it, etc., sometimes the mind is gonna do what the mind wants to do ;-) and now I’m curious to know what YOUR mind does!

 
 

Talk to me!

Do you "see" the story differently when a book is in 1st person vs. 3rd person?
Which POV does your mind use more often?

 
 
 
 
 

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  1. Greg

    TBH I don’t think it really changes my perspective? I do like 1st person for the right-in-front-of me factor, it feels like you’re IN the story, but there are times when I like 3rd too. In fact I go back and forth between 1st and 3rd I guess. But I do think it’s like an omniscient camera angle, where you just kinda visualize whatever’s there. I’ve never actually thought about it before. :)

    This is fascinating though because our minds “see” something in such an individual way. So if I’m reading about- say- Rivendell I imagine it a certain way, and every one else will have their own unique view. Kinda amazing. None of us are visualizing it exactly the same way. And sometimes I see artwork of a location and I’m like YES I love that view- even if I still love mine!

    Greg recently posted: Top Ten Graphic Novels

    1. Kristen Burns

      I mean, I feel like I’m in the story with 3rd person too. POV is really all about how well it’s written, it seems. But yeah, mine is like an omniscient camera. How cool would it be to, like, video tape how you see a book in your head and then watch it? Lol.

      It really is crazy how we all visualize things to differently (or similarly)!

  2. Lola

    It’s hard to clearly imagine how I visualize a book when not reading. I feel like most of the time my mental camera is slightly behind or next to the main characters, but I never really see the book as from their eyes, but I do see what they see. But it’s not like with a first person video game where you only see your arms or something. I do usually see the characters and how he/ she interacts with others. But in scenes like a car, it’s more like my camera is positioned outside the car and looking inside so I can see the main characters

    I can’t remember ever noticing a difference between 1st ad 3rd point of view. Most of the time I don’t even notice the point of view, unless it’s jarring in some way. Since I started keeping my reading spreadsheet this year I noticed how much 3rd person books I actually read and I hardly notice it. Often I have to pick the book back up to double check I got the point of view written down correctly.

    And like you describe my mental camera does sometimes zoom in or out, depending on the description. I recently had a book where a palace was described, then I sort of zoom out so I see the characters only as small figures standing for the whole palace. I never really thought of it, so I am sort of trying to call up mental images from the last few books I read. I can say that i think point of view has very little effect on how I see things. I just see things how I see them and my mental camera does change depending on the scene, but I never really see anything from one person their point of view, I usually see the narrator in my view as well. Kinda like a movie I guess, but unlike a movie it’s more subconscious like you mentioned. I am not really aware of how my mental camera is positioned, it just happens. Interesting topic! I never really thought much about this.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, I feel like it’s never, or at least less often, like a 1st person game where I’m just seeing arms. It’s just, like, the camera is super zoomed in sometimes right behind or near the character. Although it really is hard to know for sure since, like you, I’m just thinking back on books I’ve read and how the scenes and whatnot are in my head.

      That’s a good point, I don’t often notice the POV either, unless it’s poorly written, so it makes sense that that wouldn’t affect the mental camera.

      Yeah, it’s, like, sometimes the camera will zoom way out, or cut to a different location or something. It’s so cool how it all just happens on its own though!

  3. chucklesthescot

    I’ve never really stopped to analyse how I view the story in my head…I just try to have a vague mental picture of the overall scene ie if zombies are attacking a barn, I’m imaging it from both sides of the barn door, watching the mindless hordes outside trying to get in, then being in the barn and waiting for a sign of the wooden door splintering. I don’t change my thinking based on POVs. I suppose I view it as a film in my head then. For me I’m trying to imagine the overall scene not the way each person would see it. I can never remember what 1st 2nd and 3rd means half the time and I don’t avoid books that have a certain POV. If a book is good, POV doesn’t bother me.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I don’t really analyze while I’m reading either, that would throw everything off, haha. But thinking back on books I read, I think that’s how I see things. And yeah, that’s true too, sometimes I might also see things that the characters themselves aren’t even seeing, like the zombies outside the door. The type of POV doesn’t bother me either as long as it’s well-written, I just find that 1st person is the one that seems to be poorly written more often.

  4. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    This is interesting and I have no idea what the answer is since I’ve never paid specific attention to it, but I SUSPECT that my answer would be the same as yours—that the movie in my head switches POVs somewhat willy-nilly, regardless on the type of perspective. But now I’ll have to try to think about this when I read (and hope that doesn’t change the result).

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction recently posted: February Discussion Challenge Link-Up & Giveaway

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, it’s one of those things you can’t really pay attention to while you’re doing it or else you start consciously changing it lol. But thinking back on books, that’s how I think it is for me.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly! I definitely feel the emotions through the characters if the book is well written, but I still am kind of seeing things from the outside like a movie.

  5. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I have literally never thought about this. Not even a little bit. I don’t think it affects how I see a book, it might affect my ability to connect to a character but it doesn’t change the way I see it… I don’t think anyway. I’ll try and pay attention next time I read and see what happens. Now I’m thinking about how I ‘see’ books when I read. Is it a movie in my head? Or is it something else? I don’t know, I’ve lost all ability to understand what my brain is doing when I’m reading. How does it convert those words into a story in my head? You’ve put me into a mental crisis now. I need to go away and read.

    Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity recently posted: Caraval // Where I Got Hooked And Was Kept Guessing Until The End

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol I think about a lot of strange things. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to give you a mental crisis!

      It’s a hard thing to actually pay attention to while reading because then you start controlling it consciously, but when I think back on books and scenes, that’s how it seems to be in my head. And I can definitely connect to characters in either POV, as long as the book is well written.

  6. Kei @ The Lovely Pages Reviews

    Ohh I love this topic, I thought I was the only the only one to really pay attention to POVs (BTW, 2nd POV? How does that even work? I’d love to read that just out of curiosity) but I guess I do the TV thing, if there’s a scene with two people in the 1st POV then I go through their eyes but in the 3rd I “watch” from outside or next to them and when there’s more than two I “watch” from outside as well. I’m used to 3rd POV being more “formal” than the first since its usually in genres like historical fiction or paranormal and 1st POV in YA/NA.

    Kei @ The Lovely Pages Reviews recently posted: Good Boy by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! I recall seeing a review for one book that was in 2nd person, I think… Can’t remember what book though. Doesn’t seem like something I’d enjoy. I’ve never thought of 3rd person as more formal, but you’re right, it does seem like YA has more 1st person. I do find 1st person often comes across amateurish, but if a book is well-written, either POV can be great. But I think even with scenes with two characters, either I watch them both at the same time, or I just stay kind of close to one character, like through their eyes or almost through their eyes, rather than jumping back and forth.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol it’s a hard thing to know for sure since it’s not something we consciously pay attention to. But I think I too see it like a movie, so you’re like me!

  7. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    You know, I don’t think I actually notice this because I’m sort of the same as you – it’s like a camera. I never actually am SEEING things from the persons POV. It’s always like a tv show or movie. The camera is just moving around. And sometimes it might even depend on what exactly my brain is picking up on. Like, sometimes I’ll be more focused on the setting than the actual people in the room. So I’ll imagine more of the placement of furniture or the shape of the house, or what have you. That’s kind of a weird thing…how our brains interpret what we are reading. Great topic, as usual!

  8. Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium

    Ok… form worse to best…
    I read once a 2nd person POV book and I thought I was going to jump out the window at paragraph 2.
    The 3rd person omniscient, is maaaah… maybe ok if the writing is REEEEEALLY good because it doesn’t tend t give you as better character understanding as 3rd person deep POV [which you didn’t listed! THAT’S MY FAVORITE! SMH! it’s kind of a sub 3rd person limited and I guess that why I WILL GRACIOUSLY forgive you. ]
    1st person tends to tell too much disguised as inner dialogue but it’s my second favorite.
    Interesting how you described whether it would feel like a movie or not. For me is not about the POV either but about imagery/descriptions and flow. Great imagery/descriptions and seamless flow usually make me feel like I’m in movie.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Woman, 3rd person limited is the same thing as what you’re describing lol. It’s just some authors get deeper into the character’s heads. And I too prefer (kind of expect, actually, though now I’m realizing maybe I shouldn’t) 3rd person to be just as deep as 1st person, to see things through their perspective, for different character POVs to sound different, etc.

      Oh you’re right, maybe that’s another reason I don’t often like 1st as much, it does a lot of telling.

      Anyway, a book definitely plays more smoothly like a movie when it’s written well! And without any pesky writing that throws me out of the story.

  9. Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    I don’t really ‘see’ things like with a camera while I’m reading, but I kind of ‘feel’ things from different characters’ perspective. Does that make any kind of sense at all? Like a close third person POV where we follow one character, but it is kind of narrated by someone else, I still kind of feel like I’m inside that character’s head for most of what’s going on – because their feelings and reactions are the most important in the story.
    I have read a 2nd (or tried, really) person POV once, and it was so weird to me! ‘You stand up and move towards the door…’ and I’m all like, no, I’m not! I’m still sitting here, reading the book! I had to put it down, as I just didn’t manage to get the characters at all, as the narrator seemed to be addressing me directly.
    The first person POV can work really well, especially if the character is one I can really feel for :)
    Great topic, Kristen!

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews recently posted: Thirsty Thursday and Hungry Hearts #102- Finding Kyle

    1. Kristen Burns

      I mean, even when I see things like a movie I still feel what the characters are feeling, so I’m not sure I understand. I don’t tend to notice a narrator thing though, the words just kinda morph into the picture, so maybe we do see things differently in our heads.

      Haha, that’s probably how I’d feel too which is why I have no desire to try a 2nd person book. It just seems so weird to use unless maybe it’s one of those choose-your-own-adventure books. But both 1st and 3rd can work really well! Thanks!

  10. suzanna

    This is a great explanation of POV.
    I really like reading in 1st person when it feels like the character is telling the story just to you, so I think I ‘see’ the story as sitting talking to the character. However, when someone is telling you a story you imagine the scene anyway. 3rd person gives it more of a direct ‘movie watching’ feel but I agree it can change throughout the scene.
    Interesting debate.

    suzanna recently posted: Split Second – Book Review

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks :-) I actually don’t like feeling like I’m being told a story, I like to just experience it, so maybe that’s why I see them as a movie in my head regardless of POV. It is really interesting to learn how everyone else experiences this!

  11. Emma

    Interesting discussion! I mostly agree with you the point of view doesn’t effect how I see the the story play out at least I don’t think it does. I usually see it as if I’m watching a movie. I actually do tend to notice this while I read, and how well a book immerses me or rather how welll I picture it is something I take into account in my reviews.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! That’s interesting that you actively notice it since most people, from what I’ve seen of the comments so far, don’t. But that’s a good point, how well I’m able to picture things, how immersed I feel, does factor into my opinion of the book!

  12. S. J. Pajonas

    Let me just say that reading everyone’s thoughts from the viewpoint of an author is fascinating! I know that when I write, I prefer first person because then I, as the author, can feel and see the actions much clearer than if I’m writing in third person. I do feel a huge detachment from 3rd person books when I’m reading them, and that’s probably because the camera in my head a.k.a. narrative distance is farther away. When I write, I like to play with narrative distance, and I do notice it as a reader as well. Interesting thoughts on this!

    S. J. Pajonas recently posted: On The Merits Of Author Dreams

    1. Kristen Burns

      I imagine it would be interesting to see everyone’s thoughts as an author! If a book is omniscient, I feel a detachment. But if a book is written in a close 3rd person, through the perspective of the character, I feel just as attached as with 1st person. I often feel more detached with 1st person when it’s poorly written or when characters talk directly to me or do a lot of telling. That’s interesting that you do picture things differently or closer/further based on POV. And ooh, narrative distance, is that the word for it?? Here I am talking about mental cameras, haha.

  13. Pamela

    To be honest, when I’m reading, the pronouns kind of blur and I forget about them. But if I think about it, I guess it does feel different. 1st Person feels more personal (duh), much more about feelings and thoughts, even in the most action-packed books. Because that’s just the way it works. Everything is filtered by the character in whose head you are.

    In 3rd person though, like Lola said, I also see things with a mental camera, as if in this POV it zooms out and lets me see the bigger picture.

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s interesting that it feels different to you since I see them the same regardless of POV. I often don’t even notice what POV a book is lol. But I feel like a well-written 3rd person limited is still about the feelings and thoughts and filters everything through the character’s head!

  14. Pingback: Weekend Wrap-up #173 - Can You See the Sun? | (un)Conventional Bookviews

  15. Bookworm Brandee

    Interesting topic, Kristen! And nope, I don’t believe I’ve ever paid attention to whether or not my perspective changes according to POV. I do think that it depends on the writing, for me anyway, whether I see images or running images (movie-like) while I’m reading. I tend to prefer books that I *see* as a movie. :) I would say I’ll have to pay attention to this but then I’ll probably just get drawn into the story and *not* pay attention. :/ But it’s something to think about. :D

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, when you actually get into a story, this isn’t the kind of thing you stop to think about lol. That’s why it’s so hard to know for sure. Hmm, I don’t think I’ve ever just seen still images, that’s interesting if that’s what you were saying you see sometimes.

  16. Michelle @ FaerieFits

    Hmmm, I don’t really think it changes things for me. The biggest impact the POV has on my experience reading is just on the character’s voices. Some characters are MEANT to be 1st person, while some books just WORK as 3rd person omniscient. No matter what the perspective, I’m’ usually still watching from a bird’s eye view for the boring bits and in the trenches/movie-style for the action.

    I guess … Well, sometimes I’m, like, watching from BEHIND the main character, if that makes sense? In the book I just finished, there was a very distinct scene where the MC was running away from something, and I remember feeling like I was following her in between her and whatever she was running from. The POV was an observer sharing his experience watching her from a 1st person perspective. Very weird. That’s the only time I can really think of there being a notable meaningful impact. And truthfully, the POV might not have had anything to do with it :P

    1. Kristen Burns

      Hmmm, I’ve never thought of that, how some characters and books are just better in different POVs. But like you, I usually still see it like a movie. And yeah, it’s probably further away for boring bits and closer for intense moments.

      Yes, I think I’m the same! I feel like I don’t often (if ever) see *through* the character’s eyes, but I sometimes am behind them or seeing things as if I’m there with them.

  17. Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Books

    This is a tough question!! I used to think I needed it to be 1st person for me to really FEEL what the character was feeling, but I don’t really know what angle I was SEEING while reading the book. I think no matter what I see books through characters’ eyes. But now I’ve read enough 3rd person books to like that POV just as much as 1st, so I don’t think I have a huge preference for either one– for the feelings or the angle I view the characters at. Great discussion topic!!

    Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Books recently posted: After the Fall by Kate Hart-- I Wish I Could Tell You Why It Angered Me

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s interesting that you see through the character’s eyes since that’s the opposite of me. But yeah, I definitely can feel what characters are feeling in 3rd person just as well as in 1st! It just depends how well any POV is written.

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  19. Laura

    Wow, this has just fried my brain a bit trying to remember how I see things when i read…I think I always see in 3rd person too as if I’m just watching events happen, even if it’s told from 1st person perspective? It’s definitely something I’m going to try and notice more when I read!
    Interesting post! :)

  20. Karen Blue

    I definitely have a different experience depending on which way it is written. I like being a spectator in 3rd person, and I enjoy being in a person’s head in 1st person. I always try to mention how it is written when I review something. It can be really frustrating to be in 1st person and the character is ridiculous, so maybe 3rd person is the way to go. Of course, 3rd person can feel a bit detached.

    Okay, so I am still on the fence for what is the “best” way to experience a story. Great discussion topic!

    Karen Blue recently posted: Weekly Wrap Up #122

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s interesting that you see it differently. When a POV is written well though, I still feel like I’m in the character’s head, regardless of whether it’s 1st or 3rd, so maybe that’s why I see it the same either way. Omniscient is different though. I do often feel more detached that way.

      Thanks!

  21. Wattle

    2nd person makes me want to set things on fire, it is a POV I absolutely HATE. Ugh (sorry, had to get that out lol)

    I’m reading a book at the moment that is a mixture of 1st person and 3rd (both limited and omniscient), usually I find POV changes super irritating but this is just done so fluidly I don’t really care lol. I do notice when it shifts though, because it does change the way I ‘see’ the story.

    When I read 1st person it’s like I’m looking over their shoulder, I’m not that character, but I see what they see and depending on what is happening my view zooms out to see them properly (like them reacting to something, I see their face). 3rd person limited is the same I guess depending on what is happening, but I see more of them because I don’t have to look over their shoulder (it’s like a movie). 3rd omniscient is always like I’m watching a movie (that’s my favourite POV).

    I always wonder how people that aren’t visual and don’t see things play out can read books (which sounds strange, but if you’re not seeing the story I just cannot fathom how it’s absorbed?)

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’ve never read 2nd person except maybe those chose-your-own-adventure books when I was a kid. It seems like it would make me want to set things on fire too lol.

      Ugh, that almost always aggravates me when one POV is 1st person and one is 3rd because it jars me and I have to readjust to a different POV type again. But it doesn’t actually change how I see the story, for me it’s just about the writing itself, so that’s interesting that you’ve noticed that you see things differently when it changes.

      Huh, you’re the first person who’s mentioned omniscient being your favorite. I prefer 3rd limited myself.

      Yes! I wonder that too, how people who apparently don’t actually see the things in their head can enjoy books because, like, that IS the experience for me!

  22. Cassidy @ Quartzfeather

    I HATE 2nd person, it just bugs me so much (lol just needed to get that out). Anyways, I’ve never felt like POVs had any impact on the way I see the story in my head, though, I’ve never been that good at creating head pictures. These colorful images are so foreign to me actually.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’ve never read 2nd person, except maybe in those chose-your-own-adventure books as a kid, but I imagine I’d hate it too. But other than that, I see all POVs the same. Though I do get fairly vivid pictures in my head, I think. I’ve gotten better at it over the years.

  23. Chelsea B.

    I seem to connect better with first person– it feels more personal– but I still kinda “see” it in third person. It is odd to think about! I’ve only read one book in second person and it was very bizarre but definitely a unique reading experience!

    1. Kristen Burns

      2nd person definitely seems bizarre, I don’t think I’d like it. I actually prefer 3rd person limited, but I can enjoy either 3rd or 1st. It is weird to try and think about how we “see” things though!

  24. Wendy @ Falconer's Library

    I think I visualize a bit less than other readers do. I have impressions or glimpses but if I try to stop and examine the details, it all blows away in the mist. I do think I see from a third person viewpoint, like with a movie camera. Super interesting question, and you obviously got us all thinking about how we “see” when we read!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Honestly I couldn’t pinpoint all the details either if you asked me, like what color shirt the character was wearing or something, but it’s like I know they’re there? I mean, it’s not like I could tell you what color shirt someone was wearing in real life either lol. But yes, I too see it in third person. Thanks!

  25. Alice @ Arctic Books

    I think POV does change the way I see books; I think I’m more connected and immersed in the story if it’s in first person, because it feels like me, rather than third person which is more looking into the novel rather than being immersed in it. Interesting topic!!

    1. Kristen Burns

      That’s interesting that you see things differently! I guess I just never feel like I’m actually the character or the one doing the things, even when it’s 1st person. Thanks!

  26. La La in the Library

    You know, I have never really thought about this, but I think I am like you. It changes throughout the story. I will definitely pay more attention over the next few days and come back and let you know. Fab post. I will be linking it in my Sunday Post tomorrow. :)