* point of view
* first-person narration
* third-person narration
* interior monologue
* dramatic monologue
* rhetorical question
Once you choose your subject matter, you must decide who will tell your story. The speaker of any literary
work is not automatically the voice of the writer. When we read a poem, we must assume nothing about who
is talking. If you can create a believable voice with authority, you will create a more powerful poem. While this
is true of any type of writing, it is particularly important when creating a poem. Since poetry uses an economy
of words, a poet must use fewer words than a novelist to create a believable character or authoritative speaker.
Point of view is the perspective from which you tell your story.
The persona is a person who talks and from whose point of view the poem’s ideas and story are expressed.
Every piece of literature has a speaker—the person who is writing, thinking, or speaking the words appearing
on the page. As with any writing, you must choose your poem’s characters wisely, but your persona is the most
important. Make this decision carefully and with your subject clearly in mind. For example, if you are writing a
poem about a traumatic childhood experience, you may wish to separate yourself from the event by inventing
a character to be the speaker or discussing the event as though you were a passive observer. Some personas are
never identified, by name nor relation to what is happening. Other times it is clearer, like when the speaker
talks about something witnessed firsthand. Either way, it is essential to invent as many characteristics as you
can for the persona, especially about their relationship to the poem’s events—even if you don’t divulge this
information to your readers.
You may find it challenging to adopt different voices in your poetry, and you must choose your speakers
with great care. If you stray too far from what you know about a perspective different than your own, you
risk losing your audience’s belief in your persona. While you can certainly write from the perspective of
anyone imaginable, you must craft these personas carefully and fully, striving for realistic actions and speech.
If you are particularly keen on a certain type of character, it might be easier or more believable to write as
an observer of this person’s actions rather than as this person herself. For example, if you are a male poet in
his forties, it may not be too much of a stretch to write from the point of view of a different gender or age
group. However, it would be unwise, for example, to write about piloting an airplane if you have never even
set foot on a plane. Since you could not accurately write about such a foreign “firsthand” experience, much less
express an authentic emotional reaction, your readers will not believe your writing. It is important that your
characters’ experiences and knowledge include some aspect of yourself.
Also, ponder all aspects of your character’s situation. If you decide your persona is going to be a woman who
has just watched her youngest daughter get married, be sure to consider the many complex levels of her
emotional reaction. Perhaps she is happy her daughter found true love. Or perhaps she does not approve of
the man with whom her daughter has decided to share her life. Why doesn’t she approve? Maybe the woman
feels sad that her youngest child is starting life as an adult and leaving the nest. Or maybe the woman is glad
that her daughter has finally moved out and is taking responsibility for her own life. What is the nature of this
mother-daughter relationship and how does it affect what the mother thinks of the marriage? How does the
mother’s own marriage affect her feelings on this day?
Though you may not wish to include all aspects of the persona’s emotions in your poem, it is still important
to understand the many levels of her thoughts—regarding both the specific situation and life in general—so
you can create a three-dimensional character both interesting and believable.
Once you determine who will tell your story, you must decide if that character will participate in the poem’s
events, or if he will be an impartial observer to what happens to and around him. Determining this point of
view is an essential step in creating your poem’s narration.
First-person narration speaks from an individual’s perspective, usually from a participant of what or who
is being discussed, who expresses their own opinions, thoughts, and feelings about what they observe.
This type of narration uses the pronoun “I” when the speaker refers to them, and “we” when the speaker
refers to a group of which he is part.
First-person narration is very useful if you want to write a poem about something you have experienced and
feel very strongly about. It is also an excellent way to explore a character by creating a situation into which
you put them, recording their thoughts or feelings as though you were looking at the world through their eyes.
First-person narration is effective for focusing on personal issues.
An omniscient narrator can see all the events surrounding a situation and can hear the thoughts of each
of the participants. If you break the word down, you can better understand its meaning: omni– means
“all” and –scient means “knowing.”
An omniscient narrator is a good perspective to use if you want to ensure your readers see all aspects of a
situation or philosophy. This narrator can see through walls, read people’s minds, see the future and the past,
and make connections and observations that normal participants cannot make—their knowledge is limited
to what they know and can see, hear, feel, or otherwise sense.
Third-person narration uses an impartial narrator who is not participating in the events or scenario
being described. Such a narrator does not express opinions directly, cannot get inside characters’ heads,
and does not use the pronouns “I” or “we.”
Writing in third-person is a good way to allow the reader to come to her own conclusions about the events in
your work. A narrator who makes observations rather than expressing opinions is believable when you want
to create a neutral speaker who can relay a series of events without judgment. Though a third-person narrator
does not have to be omniscient, such a voice can easily present to the reader thoughts of more than one person
in your poem.
Omniscient narration is usually more effective from this point of view because the reader does not get distracted
by first-person pronouns (“I” or “we”) or preoccupied with determining how exactly the narrator relates to the
characters. Third-person narration allows the reader to assume the speaker is not an actual character whose
personality and thoughts need to be taken into consideration when looking at the work as a whole.
A soliloquy occurs when a character talks to himself, whether alone or in the presence of others. A
soliloquy gives the reader the illusion of hearing unspoken reflections—the speaker’s private thoughts—
regardless of whether or not the speaker is alone.
Those of you familiar with Shakespeare are probably also familiar with soliloquy. This technique—in which
a character thinks aloud about recent events—appears frequently in Shakespeare’s plays. In many of his most
well-known works, like Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet, he uses soliloquy to convey the turbulent emotions of his
confused characters and to help them come to conclusions about their situations. This thinking aloud allows
the audience, or readers, to see inside the mind of a character and hear the character’s thoughts in his own
words, rather than through a narrator’s interpretation.
Interior monologue is when a character’s thoughts and mental associations are expressed to the audience
and used to indirectly convey action and external events.
Interior monologue differs from soliloquy in that the character’s thoughts are usually not spoken aloud. In
addition, the purpose of the interior monologue is slightly different. Rather than simply giving depth to events
by conveying a character’s thoughts, interior monologue conveys events themselves and their effects, although
we experience these events through the observer’s mind instead of through spoken anecdote.
In a dramatic monologue, one character speaks to another to reveal characterization and situational
A rhetorical question is asked solely for effect with no expected answer. It is meant to provoke thought in
the reader by implying the answer is obvious.
Sometimes in your poetry you want to make a point vital to your personal philosophy or ideas being expressed.
Unfortunately, expressing this point is a delicate matter. If you state it outright, you can appear preachy or
judgmental. Readers do not usually respond how you want if you tell them how to feel; it is much better to
allow them to draw their own conclusions. You can guide their thoughts using a rhetorical question. By asking a
question to which the answer seems obvious, you make your point stronger than if you stated it outright. When
you ask such a question and allow the reader to conclude on her own, the reader becomes your ally in thought.
When used well, rhetorical questions are an excellent way to express your point, either through narration or
a character’s speech. For example, in a poem that describes the horrors of war, you may want to conclude with
a line like: “We should each do what we can to stop war.” Instead, you could use a rhetorical question to drive
your point home: “What good can come from war?” Based on your horrific descriptions, it should be obvious
to your reader that the answer should be “none,” but the rhetorical question makes the reader think about
your argument before making a decision.
Think hard about who will tell the story and make observations within your poem and about whether you
want that persona to draw conclusions for your reader. There is no right or wrong choice; you must decide on
the best voice and method to deliver your message.