What's Your Point? (of View, that is...)

Point of View (POV)

            Since using an awkward POV for a story, switching POV’s, or not understanding how to choose or use them, falls into the category of How Not To Write, I’ll try to clarify for you what each POV entails.  In the case of a collaborative, it’s a good idea for the initiator to choose the POV for the story.  The “Ratings” are my personal opinion, but also reflect the frequency of use to an extent.  I’m using “he” and “him” just for the sake of brevity.

First Person POV:  The narrator is usually the main character in the story, and refers to  himself as “I”.  He remains the sole POV character throughout the story, and all of his thoughts and feelings can be known.

Advantages:  This character can be developed on a very intimate level.  If done well, the reader will feel that they are experiencing what the character experiences.

Disadvantages:  Only what this POV character actually thinks, sees, and feels can be easily known.  He can only guess at other characters thoughts, and the reader has to figure them out by their actions and dialogue. 

Rating:  Easy

Second Person POV:  The author is the narrator and makes the reader the main character using the pronoun “you”, and thereby dictates your every move, thought, and feeling.

Advantages:  This method can be intensely personal, or –

Disadvantages:  -- can completely alienate the read if they react with “what??? I would never do that!”  This POV severely narrows the limits of your target audience.

Rating:  Extremely difficult in prose, best left to song lyrics.

There are three types of Third Person POV, as follows.

Third Person Close POV:  This is also known as “Third Person Limited”, and “Third Person Subjective”.  The author is the narrator from inside the head of one character at a time using the pronouns “he” and “she”.

Advantages:  It’s easy and natural, and not much different from First Person.  Since the author is the narrator, he can show scenes that the main character is not present in, from inside the head of other characters.

Disadvantages:  It’s slightly more difficult to develop a deep intimacy with the main character, if only by virtue of the fact that some of the story may be spent away from him.

Rating:  Easy

Third Person Objective:  The author is the narrator, and there is no POV character.  No character’s thoughts and feelings can be revealed.

Advantages:  I can’t think of one, really, unless the theme of the story dictates the atmosphere be cold and impersonal.

Disadvantages:  Never getting inside the head of any character.

Rating:  Extremely difficult

Third Person Omniscient:  The author is the narrator and can be inside the head of any and every character.  In this case the narrator knows everything.  You, as narrator, can “step back”, show the broader view, and share any information that you feel is relevant to further the story.

Advantages:  You can write on a very large scale, describe every character’s feelings, and you don’t have to limit scene locations to the presence of only one character.

Disadvantages:  There is a huge temptation to tell everything and bog the reader down.  Focus may drift and not be sharp enough.

Warning:  Do not ‘head hop’ within a scene.  Your POV character can only change when the scene changes, for example a new chapter or change of location or a change in who is present.  If Rick is your POV character in a scene with Sue and Joe, and they leave and Betsy and Don walk in to talk to Rick, you’re free to change POV to Betsy or Don, although it may be terribly disconcerting to the reader if you’re no longer in Rick’s head. I’d advise against it. These are things you have to constantly aware of.

Rating:  Difficult if you can’t resist revealing too much, easy if you can.

            Those are the basics of POV.  Pick one and use it throughout your entire story. I’m going to add some examples and comments for anyone who wants to know more.

            I like First Person POV a lot if you have a very strong central character that’s interesting and developed enough to carry the story and let it revolve around him.  One of my novels is written in First Person and I love the intimacy with the main character.  If I tried to change the POV, I can literally see him jumping at me yelling, “Hey! This is MY story,” so yeah, he carries it easily.

          The First Person narrator does not technically have to be the central character, but to me that defeats the purpose. 

          A great example of bending the First Person rule is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  There are two main characters, Amy and Nick, and they alternate chapters, each telling first hand their side of the story.  In this novel, it works, and could not work otherwise.  You get the feeling early on that Amy/Nick, or more specifically their marriage, is one entity, and indeed both are irreplaceable in the story.

            As to Second Person POV, I’m leaving that to playwrights and lyricists.  An awesome example of a song that pulls you right into the story is Airborne Toxic Event’s Sometime Around Midnight, you can find it easily on youtube.  Of course the addition of music to the words adds tremendously to the atmosphere, drawing you in.  I think you can see that effectively maintaining this level of intensity throughout an entire novel would be difficult.

            Third Person Close is very similar to First Person, and it’s not too difficult to get an intimate feel with the lead character(s).  I’m writing a novel using it because it feels right with the nature of the story. 

            Third Person Objective – hahaha, see above.  I can’t relate.

            Third Person Omniscient can be really great, even though I rated it as possibly being difficult.  The difficulty lies in keeping things in your pocket, not over explaining, not revealing too much, and not telling the reader what to think.  Some people have a tremendous problem withholding information that’s not pertinent to the story, or foreshadowing too much, too soon.

            An example of Third Person Omniscient is the segment of one of my novels located at http://www.protagonize.com/story/player/194820

            This POV allows me to show the reader what Josh is thinking, Brenneman’s stance throughout, including what he might do, and why Smithson admires Josh.  What I resist showing the reader is why Alvarez resents Josh so much.  I think it’s apparent that they don’t like each other, but I’m not going into the specifics of why – because it’s not important to the story at this moment.  Just let the tension be the tension.  If you can resist those temptations, then Omniscient not only works – it can be fun!   

            Now I’ll resist the temptation of going on forever, and just say if you have questions, I’ll be around. 


The End

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