HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR POINT OF VIEW
I want to write a few blogs about the importance of choosing your point-of-view. Perspective is tough whenever we’re writing a story because we need to figure out which of our characters is capable of best telling the story. Some characters’ insights are irrelevant, and some characters are too immediate.
WHHAATTT?? That’s what you probably thought with the irrelevant-immediate talk. Just because your main character enters the bakery every morning does not mean that it’s a good idea to write the story from the bakers POV. He’s irrelevant. Equally, it can sometimes take away from your story if the tale is told from the main character’s POV. In The Godfather, the story-teller is Tom Hagan, the Godfather’s adopted son and family attorney.
So let’s start this off with first-person. First-person is the choice of most beginning writers because of its noted simplicity to write. For me, I actually like writing in third person omniscient, as many of you might have noticed.
First-person has some rules. The narrator is the reader, and everything is experienced by “I.” “I” did this, and “I” did that. This person is the most immediate, and it gives the reader the feeling of being involved in the action. There are so many benefits to first-person. But there are limitations as well. I have edited through some first-person POV stories, and there are things in them that could not have been known by the narrator.
I entered the office. The gust of wind from the door swinging open soared past my face. Standing behind the desk, the culprit clinched Janeece’s throat in the bend of his elbow. His gun made a glaring indention against her forehead. Her heart raced as she panicked. She looked for an escape, but there was none.
What’s wrong with the above description? It seems right, doesn’t it? A casual writer would continue writing as if there was nothing wrong with the above at all. Unfortunately, it’s called being a psychic. First person does not have the benefit of knowing the thoughts of other characters. It has to be done with more subtlety. There’s no way the narrator could know that her heart was racing.
I entered the office. blah, blah, blah. I could see the panic on her face. Her eyes darted around the room as if she were trying to find a weapon.
Notice how the woman’s actions are perceived from the first-person. The narrator witnesses what’s happening and relays that information to the reader as the narrator sees those events unfold. Being responsible with POV is critical for us novelists! And we can do it, because we’re better than that.
Choosing POV can be difficult because it’s a choice that has to be made before you start and is such a pain to change half way through. For my current WIP, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to decide. I knew 1st person would make it impossible to include a key scene, but in the end, decided it was the implication of that scene, rather than the actual event itself, that mattered to the story, and leaving it out increased suspense. Holding off on deciding whether to write in 1st or 3rd made me do more work in the planning and outlining stages, so it made the process easier in the long run.
Molly, that’s so so true. It’s tough because once you commit to a POV, then entire story changes. For 1st person, it becomes more localized, and for 3rd person, it becomes more global. It’s tough. But, if chosen well, either POV can make for an amazing story.
wouldn’t it also be psychic to know that she were looking around for a weapon?
Kinda’. And I hesitated to write that. But, think about it, if you are watching a person who is panicked, and her eyes are flitting, then any person who has sense would assume that the woman is trying to escape. I’m glad you brought that up though, because here’s the thing. In 1st person, the narrator can be wrong about his assumption. He could assume she were looking for a weapon, but in the next sequence you find out that she is glancing around to alert the narrator that there are people hiding out in different places in the room. So the narrator’s perspective isn’t a “lie” to the reader. It’s just how he perceived the woman’s actions. Thanks for highlighting that, Rich.
when in first person and when the narrator is wrong, that can be an example of an unreliable narrator, which is quite challenging. there’s a good middle-school age book by jerry spinelli called “crash.” it’s about a kid who is a bully but doesn’t know he’s a bully, so throughout the book you hear his thoughts about how everyone else is wrong and he’s the only smart one, but we can tell he’s got it backwards, thus the unreliable narrator. and as the book progresses, you get to see his awareness and perspectives change. another reason why he’s such a great writer but not very well known except in the age group for which he writes.
Unreliable narrators are hard to find, but if they are done well, like in the book you suggested, then it can really add to the tension, thus making a better novel.
I learnt about Psychic Distance last year on a writing course and even now those words make me shudder lol. I tell you what hon, the more I learn, the less likely I am to put pen to paper lol 😉
Haha! I know what you mean 🙂