Archive for the ‘third person writing’ Tag

Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?   2 comments

Point of View, (POV). Now here is a subject that can drive a new author as crazy as I am. Just who is telling your story? An omnipotent god, a mere mortal, the main character? does it matter? In a nut shell, yes it does, but perhaps not the way you think.

Each of the most common points of view a writer can use to tell their story has strengths, and weaknesses. Some will fit a story better than another, and some authors are better at using a particular POV. I hope, if you are serious about your work, that you try to become proficient at them all. You never know when simply changing the POV in a story will make all the difference between a weak tale, and an eye-popping epic.

For the moment let’s look at some of the strengths and shortcomings of some of the most common POVs.

First Person:

This is the most natural way to tell a story. It was the one Neolithic Man used to tell the rest of the tribe about the hunt, the one your parents used to teach you about the mistakes they made, and the first one you were taught in school. (Remember all those “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays?)

It is also the one most despised by literary Puritans. It is an easy POV to write in, and anything easy can’t be good. Right? Good thing Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelly, Mark Twain, and a slew of other iconic writers chose to ignore them. Other wise we wouldn’t have Treasure Island, The Telltale Heart, Huck Finn, or Frankenstein. At the very lest none of those classics would have the same flavor, or impact they enjoy.

The major drawback to First Person is its constraint. If a major turning point in the plot happens to occur when the narrator is absent, then it has to be relayed to the reader second hand. It took Stevenson three whole chapters to handle this in Treasure Island. It also leaves the story open to bogging down in too much tell, not enough show. Also if a secondary character has thoughts or feelings that the reader needs to know, the narrator must become psychic, or another story device has to be introduced to let him know about it.

Third Person Subjective:

This is the workhorse of fiction. It is the most used, and invites us to ride along with the protagonist while denying the reader the intimacy of the personal pronoun. Unless he/she happens to use “I” in the dialog, that is.
Without knowing anything about the main character, the reader forms an opinion based on the method the author uses to introduce him/her. It also allows the author to comment from outside of the character’s immediate experiences.

With it, the writer can mention how good, or bad a place/situation is without having to resort to mind reading. For example:

“Robert Dagget entered the lone tavern of Killpenny. It was a brawling kind of dive, with a reputation for a rowdy clientele.”

With that single sentence I’ve stepped outside the character, and let the reader know something First Person could not. Without the protagonist thinking to himself about a reputation he knew of before hand, he has no way to relay that information without self reflection. This isn’t a bad thing. A clever writer can come up with any myriad of ways to do the same thing in First Person. But it will totally change the feel of the work. For example:

“I entered the lone tavern of Killpenny. I’d heard it was a dive with a rowdy reputation where a brawl could break out at any moment.”

Either method works just fine for any number of reasons, but I’m sure you can feel the difference between the two methods of storytelling. The first feels like a epic adventure, the second like a Mickey Spillane detective story. I’d also say you have your personal choice as to which one works better. Truthfully, without more of the story to go on, it would be impossible to say which one would work better.

Multi-Person Perspective:

This is where the story is told by several characters, each with their own section. This is as close as modern writing comes to classic Omniscient. It is probably more familiar with our television/movie mentality because it gives the author the opportunity to switch both scene and character when one begins to grow boring, or you need to let the reader in on a secret the protagonist does not know about.

J.R.R. Tolkien made good use of this method in the Lord Of the Rings saga. Tired of watching Frodo struggle to get to Mount Doom? Switch to Arragon bringing the army of the dead under his control, or Gandalf instructing Pipin to lite the beacon tower.

The drawback here is usually related to too many scene changes. You can give the reader a literary crick in the neck faster than the audience at a Chinese ping-pong match. So you have to be extra careful with your transitions.

There are other POVs that authors use, but they are not used as often as these three. All that matters is which one can you tell your story best in. That makes all the difference in the world. You should at least have a go at them all, but use the ones that best fit your story, and you are the best at using.

Later, Gang.