Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Who Is Telling This Story?

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Point of view is the way the writer allows you to see and hear what is going on. Whichever the writer chooses will determine how much the narrator is allowed to know, and if they are able to convey the character's thoughts and emotions.

Stories can be written using,

First person -The best way to think of this, is by calling it the "I" point of view (POV) the story is being told by a single character, and as readers we can only hear the thoughts, views and memories of the person telling us the story.

Usually first person POV allows us to feel closer to what is happening, the advantage being it makes the story stronger. There is immediacy, and intimacy in the telling, as we are inside the head of our character for the entire journey.

There are disadvantages to this POV, The writer can't share the thoughts, feelings or actions of other characters unless the first person narrator is present in the scene. Also, the writers voice and subject must be interesting enough to hold the readers attention throughout the book.

Example - I hadn't heard from Lenny for three weeks, it hadn't bothered me at the time. Only now, knowing he was dead, brought the whole incident at the farm with Mike flooding back. Whatever I said to the Police would make me look guilty.

Second Person - Second person POV is the least used by writers. it is the hardest to pull off successfully for many reasons. Second person uses the pronoun "you" to steer through the story. Personally, to me, it feels weird, like I'm being bossed around in a story.

Example - You put your hands around his neck, squeezing until his eyes bulge and stare back at you. You let his heavy body drop to the floor. You follow, on your knees. What have you done? The sun is already high in the sky and you wonder what you'll tell Mike, and how you'll get away with it this time.

Third Person - Is probably the easiest and most popular POV used today. Using 'he, she, or we' there are two types, limited and omniscient. To keep things simple, limited third person is told from one character's POV, meaning we can hear, see and feel things from only that character,

However, character head hopping is acceptable from chapter to chapter, or scene to scene. If you do decide to take this route, its best to establish a system early on so the reader accepts it easily.

Third person omniscient allows the writer to bring to life lots of characters, because the narrator is all seeing, all knowing, and the reader has far more knowledge. The main disadvantage is the reader may not be able to identify with any one character, and will lose interest, not really caring what happens to the characters.

Example Third Person Limited'What are you doing here? she asked acidly. The news had broke then, everyone must know that Lenny was dead. It hadn't sunk in until now. 

'I want to see you,' said Mike, 'let me in,' he frowned, and stepped forward.

'I'm busy,' she lied, 'I've got things I need to do.' She shook her head, she couldn't possibly let him in.

'Let me help.' He stood there unmoving. 

Example Third Person Omniscient - What are you doing here? she asked acidly. The news had broke then, everyone must know that Lenny was dead. It hadn't sunk in until now.

'I want to see you,' said Mike, 'let me in,' he frowned, she looked desolate, he could see the rings under her eyes, and thought she looked like someone who hadn't slept in a long time. He stepped forward.

'I'm busy,' she lied, 'I've got things I need to do.' She shook her head, she couldn't possibly let him in.

'Let me help,' Mike couldn't understand her reluctance, they were friends, more than that, so why was she keeping him at a distance now? 

As writers we want to get our readers into the head of our character quickly, so that the reader becomes that character. The rules about POV are there to assist the writer, although mastering them can seem confusing, and as difficult as trying to knit fog. Especially as there are variations.

If you feel brave enough, break them. Some writers do, and get away with it! But don't forget, story is everything to the reader, and if you can't pull it off, you're book is likely to be tossed aside by a frustrated reader.

I'm interested to know, which POV you prefer as a reader, and as a writer? Or if you have no preference at all?


  1. i think i prefer the first person--very interesting post :)

    1. The first novel I attempted I wrote in first person. It presented some difficulties but I enjoyed the process.

  2. That's an interesting question for me to answer as a writer--I *prefer* to write in first person. It's much easier for me. It flows better and makes it easier for me to develop voice. In my current WiP, however, I write in third person. Even though it's slightly less comfortable for me, I feel strongly that it's the best POV for this particular story.

    1. I can identify with your point about it being best for the story. I'm also currently writing in third person.

  3. I tend to write third person for longer pieces and first person for short stories. The issue of POV is always an interesting one and the choice can have major implications for the finished piece.

    1. I once wrote the same short story in first person from each of the two characters POV, because I couldn't decide whose story it was...

      I learnt that, actually, it was not the character I first thought, I then changed it to third person, and kept the characters voice. It was hard work but I got there. The story was much better for the decision.

  4. Great post Maria. I usually write first or third person. I remember once sending out a story and it being returned by the editor who suggested I change the point of view and it would work better. I did as she requested,and yes she was right. I submitted the story and it was accepted. Now when I write I question the point of view I've chosen to make sure it brings out the best in my story.

    1. Yes, questioning POV is worthwhile, especially before you start! See my reply to Suzanne above.

      I dip my toe in the water with a few paragraphs written in first, then I re-write in third to get a feel for it.

  5. First person is my favourite, it's closest to the reader. Your protaganist is usually in every scene though and it can be difficult in novels to fashion that 'reader should catch on before the character' scenario. Good for some non fiction memoir style writing and literary docudrama though. I like it in short stories - nothing better than the reader 'living it' with the writer.


I really appreciate you taking the time to leave me a comment, and I try to reply to every one. Many thanks!

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