What Did You Learn?

May 25, 2010

General Writing: Who’s Perspective?

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 5:01 pm

One of the choices you have to make as an author is the point of view. Whose perspective will you tell the story from? Who is the narrator? There are a lot of different options and each choices comes with pros and cons and you have to decide which one will be most effective for your story.

For the purpose of this post, I will use the names Mark and James whenever it would be helpful to have character names.

First Person– telling the world through someone’s eyes. This perspective is limiting in that you can only tell people how that character actually feels. If you are writing from Mark’s perspective, you cannot say how James is feeling (you can guess, make deductions, make observations, assume, but you cannot know). You are also limited in what you show. If you are writing from Mark’s perspective, you cannot write a scene that Mark is not present for. (Some people get around this by having different scenes/chapters told from different characters’ perspectives–I would be wary of this approach though because you have to make sure that each character comes off sounding unique, meaning each section/chapter will require different writing styles.) What you do get is a very good sense of exactly what Mark is feeling. (Beware though! First person narratives can get too analytical and bogged down in what a character is thinking.) You do not have to say things like “I thought” and “I watched” because the very implication of writing in first person is that whatever is being said or written is what the narrator saw or thought. First person can make a reader feel very close to the action and the main character (memoirs are typically written in first person since they are an intimate account of the writer’s life).

Second Person– this is a rare form of narration, typically used for choose your own adventure books and guidance books. This form is meant to insert the reader into the story. This allows for an accusatory tone (you did it all wrong!) or an imperative tone (you do this now). To me this form has always felt very removed (despite its intention being the opposite) and slows down the action.

Third Person– this allows you to jump from one character’s perspective to another, so you can tell a scene with Mark in it and then a scene with only James in it, if you wanted. You can jump to a scene following the antagonist and then go back to the protagonist. There are many choices for types of third person narratives:

  • Third Person Objective– does not share characters thoughts and feelings (usually told as though the situation is being observed by a “fly on the wall”)
  • Third Person Subjective– reveals character’s inner thoughts (usually but not always the main character)
  • Third Person Limited– may know absolutely everything about a single character and every piece of knowledge in that character’s mind, but it is “limited” to that character—that is, it cannot describe things unknown to the focal character
  • Third Person Omniscient– has complete knowledge of time, people, places and events (creates a reliable but more distant narrator)

Every option has value. Be sure to know what you want out of your narration and story in order to know which perspective is best suited for your story. Really utilize the advantages while minimizing the disadvantages to the POV that you choose.

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2 Comments »

  1. Haha I am really the first reply to this incredible read.

    Comment by Vincent Montano — May 27, 2010 @ 7:00 am

  2. You’ve done it once more. Superb read!

    Comment by Kaye Workman — May 31, 2010 @ 10:38 am


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