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by Denise Little
Point of view is one of those writer things. It’s life or death to an author, and something that normal people never think about. But when a person is creating characters on a page, point of view is one of the most important tools a writer has to make those characters real.
At its base, point of view is the way that a writer points the viewers he is addressing into the world the writer is creating. It’s what he/she lets the viewers see, and how he/she filters it for the viewer. Think of point of view like a camera. In a movie, the way a director points his cameras, the way he edits what the viewer sees through them, and the kind of cameras he uses, makes a film great—or turns it into a disaster.
Point of view in writing works the same way.
Point of view comes in various kinds—just like cameras come in various kinds.
First person point of view is the simplest to use. In first person point of view, a single person tells the story, as if telling it directly to the reader. The storyteller tells the reader, “I never saw that coming. It scared me to death. I survived to tell you this story, but only barely. So let me tell you what happened that day when I nearly died.” The advantages of first person narratives are that they are very vivid and immediate, straight from the mind and senses of the person telling the story. But the strengths of first person narrative are also its weaknesses. The details that a first person narrator shares with the reader have to be known and experienced in some way by the narrator—and the narrator can be confused, mistaken, or even flat-out lying. Famous examples of first person narratives include books like Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier), Red Rising (Pierce Brown), The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis), The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), Catherine, Called Birdy (Karen Cushman), Twilight (Stephanie Meyer), and The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan).
Because a first person narrative uses a single character’s observations, generally told more or less in order, it is best suited to stories that have a single central plot line, so that the narrator isn’t stuck spending a lot of time telling readers about things learned from other characters. Teen books, mysteries, and science fiction are especially well suited to first person narratives, because they have vivid central characters, and usually secrets to keep from the reader. There’s no better way to hide a big, honking secret than to wrap it up in a first person narrative, and then reveal it when it’s important to the narrator (and the reader).
Third person point of view, limited, is the next simplest way to write a story. In third person narratives, an invisible narrator tells the story, using words like, “He never knew what was coming. It happened before he knew he was under attack, and it nearly killed him. He wondered, after, if he’d survived because he was lucky, or if something more was involved.”
In third person limited stories, the narrator limits what the reader knows to what is seen and felt by one or more characters in the book. Generally, each scene is told by a single character, with a line or scene break separating places where the point of view character changes. It offers the advantage of being able to shift to multiple characters as needed to tell the story, so more complicated stories can be told without a writer having to resort to craziness to put a single character in the middle of every scene. It keeps the immediacy and intensity of first person narratives, because the reader is still limited to viewing what the characters in the story see and feel. But in these stories, readers can see and feel through the eyes of a hero, a heroine, and a villain, just for starters, and possibly even the hero’s pet dog, if needed.
Most commercial fiction is told in third person limited style. Romance writers, in, particular, use the style because it allows access to the thoughts and emotions of both the people involved in the love story that is central to the plot. Writers in the romance genre who make this style sing include Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Mary Jo Putney. Famous examples outside the genre include Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle), Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card), and The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo).
Third person omniscient point of view is the narration style used in the most complicated of stories, or in stories where the writer wants to shape what the readers feeling directly, rather than working through what the characters see and feel. In this kind of a narrative, the story is told by a visible narrator, one who knows everything about the world being revealed, and one who is generally sharing all kinds of tidbits about that world while telling the story. A narration of this type might start like this, “Children, gather around while I tell you the story of a hapless lad who was nearly killed one day because he didn’t listen to his mother. He was walking along the road where, unbeknownst to him, a large and fierce wolf lay hidden in the woods nearby, hoping that a tasty young man might come along and be his lunch munch.”
In general, third person omniscient point of view is popular in classic Russian novels, religious tales, fables, and Victorian children’s stories. But it does pop up in modern fiction, as well. Famous examples include A Series of Unfortunate Events novels (Lemony Snicket), The Mysterious Benedict Society novels (Trenton Lee Stewart), and Holes (Louis Sachar).
Whichever choice you make in point of view in your own work, keep in mind its strengths and weaknesses, and use them well. It’s just one of the tools in writer’s toolbox. But it’s a tool that, used correctly, can make your story sing.
Copyright © 2017 by Denise Little.
Heart's Kiss Magazine: Issue 1: February 2017
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Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor