Thursday, January 8, 2015

Differing Points of View

The two most popular points of view for fiction seem to be third person or first person. And most people I've met have pretty strong opinions about what they like to read or write. But do you know about all the other POVs out there?

Here are the main choices:

First person - the narrator is generally the main character in the book and tells the story in his or her own point of view, as "I" (I did this, I said, I felt). Here’s an example:

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me.

~ Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

 First person plural - more rare, with the story told by "we" (we did this, we said that). An example:

Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.

~ A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

Second person - very rare - the reader is treated as a character and is referred to as "you." This type of POV works well for some non-fiction works. For example, if I was writing a guide book or How-to article on painting, I could use this to say "First, you gather your supplies. Then you take the paint brush and apply paint. Then you do this and this and this." For fiction though, this POV isn't used often and mostly for books like the Choose Your Own Adventure series or other interactive stories. Here is an example:

What a singular moment is the first one, when you have hardly begun to recollect yourself after starting from midnight slumber! By unclosing your eyes so suddenly, you seem to have surprised the personages of your dream in full convocation round your bed, and catch one broad glance at them before they can flit into obscurity.

~ “The Haunted Mind” in Twice Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Third person limited - the narrator is outside the story but focuses on one character at a time. (He said, she said). While the POV may change between different characters, these changes would be separated by scene or chapter breaks. While in the point of view of a particular character, the narrator cannot tell the reader what anyone else is thinking, feeling, or experiencing. The narrator only knows what the point of view character knows. An example:

Just then the stern line came taut under his foot, where he had kept the loop of the line, and he dropped his oars and felt the weight of the small tuna’s shivering pull as he held the line firm and commenced to haul it in. The shivering increased as he pulled in and he could see the blue back of the fish in the water and the gold of his sides before he swung him over the side and into the boat.

~ The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Third person omniscient - the narrator is outside the story but doesn't focus on one character. The narrator knows all, sees all, conveys all.

This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much all of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy…Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.
~ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

While some of these POVs seem to be more or less popular in “mainstream” fiction, all of them can work if executed well. Do you have a favorite POV you prefer to read or write?

1 comment:

  1. I actually like the omniscient narrator, but it seems almost taboo these days.


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