P is for point of view

Sin #15: You said that she said that I said that he…
First, second, third? Third person limited, objective, omniscient or subjective? Alternating POV?
And that’s before you even write the first word! Which POV of view to use is a bloody hard choice!
Point of view, or narrative mode, is the way in which an author conveys the plot to a reader.
First person: I walked up the staircase, my heart thumping in my chest.
Second person: You reach the door and place your hand on the handle.
Third person: Jeff waited behind the door, a party popper in each hand.
The choice depends on who’s telling the story. It can be a character within the novel or an almighty being who sees and hears all…well maybe not all, it depends on the mode chosen.
First person view is fairly simple (in terms of explanation!). A character within the story conveys the plot. I did this, I did that…etc. This allows a detailed look within a characters mind and allows the reader to really understand the motivations behind the actions of the narrator.
Second person view baffles me. As soon as I read a story in the form of second person I immediately think back to the ‘choose your own path’ adventure books I read as a child.
You come across a cave full of hairy-arsed trolls. If you choose to fight the trolls turn to page 14. If you choose to bargain with the trolls, turn to page 47. If you choose to fall to the floor, curl up in a ball and suck your thumb, turn to page 132.
Third person view is the most common type of narrative, but also the most complex. There are several options when using third person narrative, including:
Subjective: More than one character is the subject of the novel and the thoughts and actions of these players are explained and conveyed within the novel. This allows the writer to switch between characters and tell the story from different views.
Limited: Similar to above, but focuses on a singular character. This means the action is focused on one character; if they aren’t in the room then the reader can’t see what’s happening.
Objective: Same as the above two options, but gives an unbiased view. No opinions are offered. Thoughts and feelings of the characters are ignored, and the story is told purely as facts.
Omniscient: Basically…God. The narrator knows and sees all and does not rely on the characters been in the spotlight in order to explain what is going on. This means action which involves NO characters can still be conveyed to the reader.
Of course POV isn’t the be all and end all of a story. In fact as literary devices go, its relatively unimportant…I said relatively before I get any angry comments! A great story can be told with any POV, although generally most will have an obvious POV which works better than others.
If you’re in doubt as of which POV to use for your story, try picking a small scene and rewriting it using several different views. I’ve tried this before and it’s a great way of telling what works and what doesn’t.
Go on, have a play. It can’t do any harm, and it might just give you a different point of view on the whole narrative mode subject…ugh bad joke.


    • Sue H on April 20, 2011 at 10:19
    • Reply

    Good post! It's essential to put yourself in the place of the character's viewpoint – like you say, if 'X' isn't in the room he can't convey to the reader what 'Y' and 'Z' are up to!

    A few books I've read recently seem to have combined 1st person and 3rd person POV's – switching between the main character (1st) and the extended action/storyline. (e.g. Matt Hilton's 'Joe Hunter' series)

    • C R Ward on April 21, 2011 at 00:02
    • Reply

    Well done! You really covered all the bases here.

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