Monday, October 6, 2014

Point of View, an Overview

I would like to discuss point of view in some detail in some later posts, but to begin, a brief overview may be appropriate.  Point of view seems simple at a glance, but the intricacies and implications of the different views are complex.

Point of view is the lens through which an author chooses to tell a story.  This perspective influences every aspect of the story, and the narration can have tremendous power when the point of view is intentional.  When done well, point of view can help to support the themes and tone of the story.

First person narration is through an individual character, using that character as the central voice.  The character uses "I" to refer to himself or herself:

"I is writing a tremendous powerful and effective blog post for perspective.  After all, I is a incredible excellent writer that know much about writing."

And so, the character reveals many thoughts and ideas through what they say in the story.  Some first person narrations show an unreliable or untrustworthy narrator whom the reader learns to mistrust through what the narrator says and even, how they say it.

Second person narration also uses an individual character, but the author super-imposes commands, usually in the present tense, to make the reader feel more involved in the story.

"While you are writing your blog about point of view, you crave a hot cup of coffee.  Your shoulders ache from a long day of working with concrete, and you cat continues to chew on the corner of your laptop.  Finishing this post is all you want, and then you will sleep."

While this point of view may seem manipulative as it draws the reader into a false experience like a Dungeons and Dragons game, this perspective can work to involve readers in the story.  Like an interactive game, the readers may begin to identify more with the central character in a unique way that first person narration does not allow.

This point of view is not common for novel-length works.  Bright Lights, Big City is the only novel that I know that maintains this point of view.

Third person narration is much more complex because this perspective is divided and subdivided into different categories.  Again, this is just an overview.

Third person limited is like first person and second person because one central character is the narrator. Instead of "I" or "you" as the central pronoun, third person uses she or he, of course.

"He focused on his tapping fingers, hoping to block out the sounds of the television in the other room.  Point of view, point of view, he told himself.  He must finish this."

Third person limited can be extraordinarily difficult.  In the above passage, it would be easy to write, "She went across the room to help him," but he is the central figure.  You wouldn't write, "She went across the room to help me," because she would need to come across the room to you.  Also, as an author, it is very easy to dip into other characters' minds, but this is not appropriate in third person limited.

Third person omniscient is a different variation on third person that is both strange and interesting.  This gives the author the freedom to dip in and out of any and all scenes and characters' minds.  I recall reading a novel called something like The Real Charlotte in which one of the chapters opened in the point of view of a table.  I have tried to write in this point of view, dipping into each character's mind, but this is challenging.  This point of view was popular in the earlier history of the novel, but now this is not a popular style for point of view.

Between third person limited and third person omniscient is a spectrum.  At the risk of overgeneralizing, many of the murder and suspense novels I have read fall in between these perspectives, allowing the reader to see murders and characters that the main detective does not see, but getting the thoughts of the main characters to understand the investigation.  Keith's The Zealot falls clearly into this category.

When you write a story from a different perspective, the point of view can change everything.  Tweaking the point of view can make your story more effective and more powerful.  More on this....


  1. My WWII story falls within the third person limited ------ third person omniscient spectrum, with an omniscient narrator, but a limited main character.

    Anyone have any non-expired aspirin?

  2. Aspirin. I said I need some aspirin...!