This month the subject of our Round Robin blog is Point of View. Interestingly, or coincidentally, my brainstorming group, The Sandy Scribblers discussed this very topic at our meeting earlier this week.
If you’re an author, you’ve probably given this topic a lot of thought and have maybe tried writing in different points of view to see how it impacts giving the reader the information they need to know. If you’re a reader, you might very well have given the difference no thought at all, so long as you enjoyed the story and felt thoroughly engaged in the action.
The basic points of view are omniscient or author point of view, third person from one or more characters’ points of view or first person, which is a single character’s point of view. As my Scribbler buddies mentioned, there is also second person. Not used in story telling, at least not very often, it’s more about instructional information: as in, “Once you have all the parts removed from the packing and spread out in front of you, look for part number one. This is your base.” Or “To get to the high school, you drive south on Main Street and you’ll want to get in the left hand lane so you can turn left on Market, then go two blocks and the school will be on your right. Good for telling someone how to get something done, but not so good for telling stories.
Omniscient is one way for the author to let the reader in on information that the characters may not know. Perhaps you’re reading a story where Jack is handed court documents that have to be delivered to the courthouse right away. “Jack’s assistant, who should have been around to run errands had fallen in the parking lot and was not at her desk. Jack needed to be in the judge’s chambers but the papers still needed to be delivered. He’d have to run them across the street himself.” If the next line is, “Little did Jack know this decision would change his life,” This is omniscient because there is no way Jack could know his decision and the result, good or bad, would turn out to be life-changing. He has no way of knowing why his assistant is not at her desk either.
If Jack’s decision is being told in third person, it might read like this: “Jack hesitated. He was already running late. This was his assistant’s responsibility. Jack checked the woman’s cubicle, but it was empty. He sighed in irritation. He’d just have to run over to the courthouse himself and hope the judge wouldn’t be on time.”
First person it might read like this. “These damned court papers should have been delivered yesterday, not handed to me now. If I’m late in the judge’s office, I’ll get skinned alive. Where is that airhead assistant who’s supposed to be helping me out, anyway? This is her job. I sighed and headed back out the door, taking the stairs two at a time. Maybe Judge Henderson will be late, too.”
All of these tell the reader that Jack, presumably a lawyer or paralegal, has an assistant, that the assistant is a woman, but she’s not currently available, that he’s running late and has an important meeting with a judge, but now there are papers that need to be delivered to the courthouse right now. And they all tell the reader that Jack is stuck hurrying to get the papers delivered and hoping not to get in trouble with the judge. But which one draws you closer into the story? Which one puts you in Jack’s shoes and makes you feel his irritation?
Until now, all my books have been written in third person in the character’s viewpoints. I have no need to foreshadow coming events. If they surprise the characters, then they’ll surprise the reader too, which is good. I want to SHOW my reader what’s happening, rather than tell him. I want my reader to feel what my character is feeling or at least have some sympathy for his problems.
But I love and have always enjoyed reading first person, too. It’s a hard option to write well and still get information about other characters, their feelings and thoughts across to the reader when you are always in the first person character’s point of view. But when done right, it can draw the reader that much closer to the character. Being INSIDE the head of the point of view character, experiencing what they are thinking, feeling and seeing pulls me into the story, puts me right there, on the scene experiencing what the character is experiencing. So close that when the character has a close call, the I find myself holding my breath or puckering up for the kiss I can see and feel coming.
Here’s another example:
Omniscient or narrator point of view.
The woman walked through the early evening dusk as if there was no reason to fear anything, but this part of the park was off the beaten track and bad things had happened here before as dark closed in. Just a couple years ago, a teenager had disappeared never to be seen again in spite of exhaustive searches and pleas by her parents on the evening news. Of course, this woman hadn’t moved to Middletown yet, so she wouldn’t know about that.
Compare this third person – same scene.
Katy walked cautiously through the growing gloom. She’d never heard about anything bad happening here, but it was spooky just the same. Things could hide in the lengthening shadows. Things that made strange whispering noises and made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Maybe she should have gone the long way home.
Or same scene, first person:
The whispering sound came out of nowhere and my hair stood on end. I hesitated, heard nothing. What was I afraid of, anyway? That spooky sound is all in my imagination. I straightened my shoulders and marched on.
Which one makes you feel like you’re there? Right in that evening gloom and beginning to think you should have walked the long way home?
SO, that’s my opinion. Why not hop on over to these other blogs and see how other authors handle the choice of who’s point of view to tell a story in?
Dr. Bob Rich
Anne de Gruchy
Rhobin L Courtright