Point of View in Narratives

Hey all!  I figured I’d make another blog post despite being swamped with NaNoWriMo and crocheting for MFF.  If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how are you doing?  I’m currently a little ahead and that makes me feel dangerously comfortable.  But I feel good that I have about a one day buffer in place in case things get really crazy.  Also in honor of NaNoWriMo, we’re going to be talking about Point of View in a narrative.

Point of View

One of the most things to consider in a story is the point of view (which we will be referring to as POV from now on). This determines how the reader interacts with the protagonist.  I’m a bit partial to 3rd person limited.  And we’ll get into what that means soon.  First, there are many different forms of POV.  There’s 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person.  On top of that, there are different forms of 3rd person: limited, multiple, and omniscient.  There can also be 1st person multiple too.

1st Person

First person is when the narrator is telling what’s going on like its them talking.  They use pronouns like “I” and “me”.  It’s a good way to get a lot of personality in writing.  However, it’s also limited because you’re getting the narrator’s opinion on everything.  (Note that I say narrator, not protagonist.  The protagonist might be someone the narrator hangs out with!)  I was told while I was in college that it was a good idea to use 1st person when you’re writing a character who is different than you.  Why?  Because it’s a good way to get into the character’s head and learn about them.  As a note, 1st person multiple would be when the narrator switches every once and awhile.  The same principles apply to 1st multiple as they would to regular 1st.  When considering psychic distance (how far you are into the character’s head, or how far away you are), you are in the character’s head entirely.

2nd Person

I’m not the biggest fan of 2nd person.  I’ll just get that out of the way.  It’s really limited.  Moving on.  2nd person is when the narrative is talking to YOU.  “You do this”, “You go here”, etc.  I’ve only seen one story that utilizes it, Girl by Kincaid.  And her version is a series of imperatives (commands).  The bright side to 2nd person would be that it really immerses the reader by making them part of the story.  However, it’s pretty difficult to craft, hence why I stay away from it.  ***if anyone has other examples of 2nd person writing, feel free to correct me, I’m not a fan of it so I don’t actively seek it out!***

3rd Person

We’ll start with 3rd person limited.  I do a lot of writing in 3rd limited.  I like it.  Enough of my opinion!  3rd person limited is what it sounds like.  It is limited to one narrator and it is done within the 3rd person (he, she, they).  In means of psychic distance, 3rd limited is very close to the character, but still outside of the person’s mind.

3rd multiple is similar to 3rd limited.  There are multiple narrators, usually somewhere between 3 and 5, but sometimes more, sometimes only 2, but always more than 1.  The same basic rules apply with this as they did on 3rd limited.    However, the psychic distance can vary a little more on this version.

3rd omniscient is hard for me to write.  I’ll just get that out of the way.  It means that the psychic distance is very pulled back, like you’re watching the characters from the clouds.  Or a tree.  Or something like that.  The final section in The Sound and the Fury is 3rd omniscient (the section that follows Dilsey).  The omniscient point of view knows everything, so its a very flexible POV.

Tense

To a lesser extent, tense plays in.  Reflective vs. Present tense.  A reflective tense would be someone telling their past, or ‘reflecting’ on it.  Present tense would be told in the here and now.  I know these seem like common sense things, but really, tense can slip away from you while you’re writing.  You start in the 3rd person limited reflective and magically you start writing in 1st person present because you want that scene to pop!  You don’t realize until later that you switched tense... it happens to the best of us.

How do you decide which one to use?!

I just go with what feels right for the character.  I know, not helpful.  But that’s what works for me.

Happy writing everyone!  Good luck on NaNoWriMo!

~Laura

ftp://warmachine000.homeip.net/Laura%20FTP/I
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3 thoughts on “Point of View in Narratives

  1. Ugh… “Girl” was annoying. I agree, 2nd person is tough to not only write, but also to enjoy while reading. Except in the case of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Those were pretty sweet 🙂

    • I wasn’t a big fan of “Girl” either. 2nd person just doesn’t do it for me, heh. But you’re right, those choose your own adventure books are pretty darn awesome, even though I always ended up dead 😀

  2. Pingback: Posts Revisited: Point of View in Narrative | Rants from a Starving Writer

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