Point of View?

[Note: I’ve had an internet outage at home this week, and it’s been difficult to even check email, much less get a blog post up! Luckily I’m back online and hopefully out of the dark ages…]

I remember from my long-ago English classes that there are several points of view available to a writer. Some of them are used more often than others, the most common among the books I read are 1st person and 3rd person limited. There are a few 3rd person omniscient books running around, but there aren’t a lot of other viewpoints used.

Perhaps it’s because 2nd person is too distracting for most of us. Maybe our feeble minds just can’t handle a story from 1st person or any plural perspective. I know a lot of writers out there who each have their own ideas about what makes a good point of view to tell the stories they’re pouring out of their hearts. I’m no different in that way and have a few that I prefer.

But do you ever stop and wonder what this story, this novel, would be like from a different point of view? When you switch from 1st to 3rd, what are you losing? Does it connect with more readers? ¬†When you axe your main character and put her best friend in the spotlight; it completely changes the¬†question. Changing by a character is much different than simply changing the point of view, but it actually isn’t less work to change point of view. It’s about the details and how much your message comes through to the audience. It’s not just changing a bunch of instances of “she” into “I”, but about how the entire thing comes across.

Plus you have to figure out which she you mean if there are other female characters involved.

So often I find myself writing a story as the character is telling me it happened. Sometimes it feels stronger in 1st, so I put him right where the action is. Other times it feels a little more distant and I put it in 3rd. I’m not one to write in omniscient viewpoint if I can help it, but I’ve been experimenting with it as I learn more about it. I learned this summer the difference between head-hopping and a real omniscient viewpoint and it made me really consider writing that way to understand it better.

One thing I did learn and was re-iterated from a book on point of view I read: There has to be a reason for invading a character’s head. It isn’t about understanding what the turtle sees on page 5 if the turtle is just a distraction. The reader doesn’t care about how the water is flowing in his world if the book is about the humans having a conversation on the other side of the river. That is, at best, a distraction. Even in omniscient viewpoint a writer needs to decide whether to enter the thoughts of a character to share it with the reader. Some of them, like the poor turtle, are sidelines to the real action.

Then I wonder why we enter that mind. What did we learn? What was so important to use that character instead of one already established with point of view? I’m still learning to ask the right questions to the other writers about this, and I think they don’t like it because they know I’m not a fan of omniscient viewpoint. I am improving by learning about it.

A story from a friend in writer group unfolded a fairy tale with a 3rd person plural viewpoint. At first I found myself waiting for a single character to catch the spotlight. It didn’t, and when it ended the story wrapped the loose ends in a way that left me satisfied. I enjoyed it, but it would take a special novel to keep me engaged throughout several hundred pages.

But I’m also really curious what all of you think about point of view. Do you write in 1st or 3rd? Do you consider omniscient or stick with limited or head-hop? [Please say no to head-hopping and leave the turtle alone.] Are all the stories you write in one strict point of view or do you mix it up to suit the characters in each story? What do you think when you read something that is in an alternate point of view?

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The Use of I

I chatted with a friend the other day about using the word “I” as a tool to get a point across. She gave up using the first person perspective in her poetry because all the people she critiqued it with- including college professors- thought that meant it was a true story from her perspective.

I was a little amazed at that. In stories or poetry I tend to use the first-person as a different way to tell the story, rather than a truthful telling, but it really made me think about the run-of-the-mill authors who use it in that way and things I’ve heard about first-person.

If 90% of amateurs use first-person perspective, are they writing what they know and doing a somewhat truthful account of something? That really lowers my value of some of those amateur fiction accounts. I think when the first-person is done well it can really sell a story (even literally!) but it isn’t often handled with the necessary care. I’m betting that’s why most of the fiction we see published is in 3rd person limited viewpoint (about 90%).

I am a storyteller. Just because I write something, doesn’t mean it exists anywhere but my mind. If you believe it’s real, so much the better for my ability to weave a tale. Never confuse the written words with the author behind them – the best ones will always make you wonder.