Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Importance of the Point of View


One of the most critical decisions any writer has to make is whose point of view they are going to tell their story from. The whole relationship between the writer and their story is set when they make this decision.
The viewpoint from which a writer tells a story determines its whole outlook, and each perspective comes with its own devices that can give writers great freedom, but also limit them too.
So how does one decide which point of view to use? Let's take a look at some of the different types.
First person singular. The first person singular point of view gives writers an opportunity to make the story genuinely personal.
The readers will follow the story through a single characters eyes; this can make them feel very bonded to that character and allows the scope to play with the intimacy between reader and character as well as create a sense of immediacy which can help to keep the story moving along.
However, this viewpoint means that only one side of the story is told. The narrator's knowledge of events and the way they see the world is the only opportunity for readers to get what is going on. If the novel has a large cast of other interesting characters, it may be challenging to get readers to have the same connection or identify with them.
Third person limited
Third-person limited tells the story from only one person’s perspective but as if the reader was following them around and observing.
This point of view allows readers to gain a slightly broader perspective while still being permitted to understand the characters innermost thoughts and feelings without being bound to their particular opinions.
This perspective allows the writer to prove the protagonist wrong or reveal biases that the character does not even know that they have. The writer maintains control and authority while still being able to tell the story of one particular individual that the readers follow throughout.
Third person omniscient
Using this viewpoint means that many different characters perspectives are explored. This allows the reader to see many different sides of the story, and to get to know a whole cast of characters on a more intimate level.
However, employing this perspective can mean that the reader has to work harder to make sure they know whose viewpoint they see things from, and if there are too many characters and perspective switches too regularly, it is possible they could become confused, frustrated and unable to follow the story any longer.
Of course, writers are perfectly entitled to choose whichever perspective they wish, and may even want to mix in two or three different views in their story (though be warned this could confuse your reader if not done well). Whatever you chose, it is worth giving some time and consideration to point of view, and experimenting with it to find the best way to tell your story just as it should be told.

It should be obvious that a memoir would be written in the first-person, since the author is narrating something about his or her life. And epistolary novels are generally in the first-person, since they are written in the form of a diary, blog, letter, email, etc. I knew that when attempting these two formats that first-person was going to be how to write it.However, in the past, when I attempted to write stories, I nearly always chose the third-person, since I was attempting fiction. It seemed to me then like the first-person should only be used for autobiography, even though I had seen fiction books written in the first-person. One trouble I had at first when trying to written the first-person was how not to repeat the pronoun "I." In third-person narration, it's  easy to vary noun and pronoun usage without repeating "he," "she," "it," or "they"  or the name(s) of the character(s). But now that I have been writing in first-person, I have found it easier to do so.

One thing I immediately look for when reading first-person-narrated books is how and when the name of the protagonist is revealed, either in the narration by the protagonist himself, or or in dialog spoken by another person. Here was how I introduced the name of the protagonist in my diary novel:

I hate the fact that she [his mother] chose to use her maiden name Martin as my first name. She no doubt would have done the same thing if her last name had been Thomas or Douglas.  Or God help me—Gordon. Oh, why couldn’t her name have been Cooper or Tyler? Jordan even.  Any one of those would have sounded much cooler.  I bet she’s glad she wasn’t named Smith or Jones—would she have named me either of those? My middle Charles came from my late father Charlie. I hate my last name because of the girl named Blair on the TV show Facts of Life  and because of the actress Linda Blair from the movie The Exorcist.

Those who have written fiction in first-person, how do you introduce the name of your protagonist to the reader?

And who here has ever attempted the second-person narration? That one seems harder to do. Just as I originally had trouble not repeating the pronoun "I" when attempting to write in the first person, I likely would have had the same trouble not repeating "you." And it seems that second-person is mostly best for interactive books such as the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Neil Patrick Harris parodied the format of the CYOA books for his memoir, Choose Your Own Autobiography. I now feel like reading Bright Lights, Big City, to read something other than an interactive book. Goodreads has a list of popular second-person books, most of which I have never heard of. 

What is your preferred post-of-view for fiction? I'm now seeing the first-person used in many fantasy and dystopia novels, such as The Hunger Games and Twilight book series. If I choose to ever attempt a book in these genres, I will have to decide hard on what point of view to choose.


  1. I like a variety of perspectives. And if I am writing anything myself lean towards first person. Fiction or non-fiction it seems more immediate to me.

  2. I agree with EC. First person does bring immediacy.
    Have you read Stephen King's A Memoir of The Craft? I'm currently reading it and finding it fascinating.