We are at the letter P in our series on “Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing”
If you’ve read the previous posts on the subject, you’ll recall that the eight of us – Devika Fernando, Preethi Venugopala, Paromita Goswami, Adite Banerjie, Ruchi Singh, Sudesna Ghosh, Saiswaroopa Iyer and I – are blogging on a myriad of writing-related topics with the topic corresponding to the Alphabet of the Week.
This week I’m going to talk about how to decide which point of view to use for your story.
That is the strangest thing about the world: how it looks so different from every point of view.Lauren Oliver
When it refers to real life, a Point of View is the “position from which something is viewed”. In story-telling, it translates into “who is telling the story?”
Whose viewpoint is it? How much of it is biased because it is only one point of view? How much can a reader believe if it is coming from one ‘position’ only?
Let me try and answer these questions.
A) Third person point of view
The ‘third person’ is an outside voice – one who is not a protagonist in the story but is only narrating it. The narrator tells the character’s story using the pronouns she, he, her, his, him, her, them, they, their. It can be narrated from an objective or an omniscient standpoint.
Objective point of view
The author tells the story through action and dialogue but without going into the head or the heart of the protagonist. The reader, thus has no idea what the protagonist thinks or feels, but makes her own deductions based on what the author ‘shows’ her.
The objective point of view can be powerful when used well, but the reader may find it difficult to connect with the protagonists or to empathize with them if she has no access to their thoughts or feelings. It is, thus, not really suited to romance but may serve quite well when you’re writing a thriller.
Omniscient point of view
This is a third person point of view where the narrator knows everything about everybody and tells the story from an all-knowing perspective.
Limited omniscient point of view
This is the one romance writers often use. Here, the narrator is privy to – and, therefore, the reader has access to – only one protagonist’s feelings and thoughts at a time, although the point of view may switch from chapter to chapter, or from scene to scene, between the two main characters.
My first three romance novels and the sinister short story (Make the World Go Away!) are all written in a third person limited omniscient point of view.
B) First Person Point of View
The story is narrated by one of the protagonists of the story (using the pronouns I, me, my) instead of by an outside voice. This allows readers to get intimate with the protagonist, and they must want to – the protagonist may be good, bad, or evil, but she has to be interesting enough for people to want to read about her escapades.
Because they have a ringside seat to her motivations and reactions, readers get to know her personally – however, they get to know only her viewpoint of the happenings, and a single point of view, as we all know, can be skewed and limiting.
Because of this, the narrator can lead the reader up the garden path. Since she cannot possibly know everything that’s going on, what she makes of a situation may not be the truth. Her interpretation of events may be biased by her past experiences and her beliefs – the reader, thus, has to look beyond what the narrator is saying, or must wait for the climax which is when the truth will emerge.
Interesting, isn’t it? Authors use this limited perspective of a first-person narrative to build intrigue into their stories.
Memoirs are obviously written in first person – I just finished reading David Sedaris’ Calypso which is a great example of using the first person point of view to engage and amuse the reader.
The story that I’m currently working on is my first attempt at a first person account – fictional, I’m afraid, since I’m not yet ready to write a memoir – and it is a comedy-drama involving a rather dashing, turbaned Sikh doctor. Keep an eye out for it – I’m hoping to release it in a few months.
C) Second person point of view
This is rare to find in fictional works. Here, the author talks directly to the reader using the pronouns you and your. It allows the reader to connect directly with the author and builds intimacy – it’s almost as though the reader is a protagonist.
It is slightly more common in non-fiction – I have used it occasionally when writing for medical professionals or educators: ‘you should ask these questions when a patient doesn’t comply with treatment’ or ‘here is how you could deal with a medical student who falls asleep in your class’.
Pick a point of view and stick to it. Readers can make out when you jump from limited omniscient to omniscient, so be careful. When you’re writing from inside one character’s head or heart, do not jump into another character’s head whose thoughts and feelings you’re not supposed to know. Stay out of their heads until it’s their turn to share their point of view.
If you’re planning to switch between two protagonists’ points of view, don’t be in a hurry to switch. Keep some mystery – let the reader wonder. For example, you could write a scene of dramatic conflict between two people where the reader knows what one character is thinking and feeling but can only imagine, through his actions and dialogue, what the other one is experiencing. It builds drama – whereas if you were to hop heads and go from one person’s head into another, your reader would get dizzy. And irritated. And could chuck her kindle across the room – something you don’t want should happen.
Once you become an expert writer, you can mix and match – say, use first person for some segments and third person limited omniscient for others – with great success, but for starters, it’s best to get comfortable with one style first before experimenting.
What do you think? What is your favorite point of view to read or to write?
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