Today, as promised (threatened?) I’m going to talk a little about point-of-view.
Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. There are tons of essays and books on this topic, which can be very complex, but we’re going to limit this discussion to the four most common options:
1) First person – “I” or “We” Examples:
“My name was Salmon, like the fish, first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered….” The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
"To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born...." David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens.
A lot of literary fiction and detective novels are written in the first person point of view, as are some romances.
2) Second person – “You” Example:
“You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.” Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney
3) Third person inner limited (aka “close third person”) "He/She/They" The narrator of the story tells the story from a single character’s point of view and shares the thoughts and emotions of that character, very much like the first person, but using the character’s name and “he/she” instead of “I.” Although the POV character may shift, we only learn the thoughts/emotions of a single character within a given scene. Example:
“The shadow was still there, dark and dreadful. Calvin held her hand strongly in his, but she felt neither strength nor reassurance in his touch. Beside her, a tremor went through Charles Wallace, but he sat very still.” A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
In this children’s classic, the protagonist, Meg Murry, is the only point-of-view character. Here she shares the reactions of both Calvin and Charles Wallace, but only based on what she can observe.
4) Third person unlimited (aka “omniscient”) "He/She/They" The narrator is god-like, and knows the thoughts and feelings of all the characters. Example:
“The Queen loved soup. And because the Queen loved soup, it was served in the castle for every banquet, every lunch and every dinner. And what soup it was! Cook’s love and admiration for the Queen and her palate moved the broth that she concocted from the level of mere food to high art.” The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo.
Within the space of a few sentences, we know how the Queen feels about soup, and how Cook feels about the Queen.
Certain techniques are well-suited to certain genres. For example, third person limited works well for suspense/mystery, because you can use it to hide information simply by having a character who doesn’t know the mystery-solving information tell a certain part of the story. Omniscient is useful when you want to control the reader’s perceptions of your characters because it lets you share, not just bad things they do, but bad things they think and feel.
One of the surest signs of an amateur writer is what’s called point-of-view slippage. This is where 90% of your story is written from a single character’s point of view and then you suddenly share what another character is thinking or feeling. This is one of the things that a writing support group is really good for, because it’s really tough to recognize this in your own writing
Another point-of-view failure is what’s known as “head-hopping,” which is sharing the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters within a given scene. I’ve never fully understood how this differs from omniscient, so I just stay away from both of them.
This Week’s Winner
Okay, you guys are killing me. Seriously.
Every week, the entries get stronger, and every week it’s harder to choose a winner. If I cry craven and weenie out of this at some point in the future, you’ll have only yourselves to blame for making it so tough on me. (On the other hand, you’re creating fantastic reading for anyone who bops by.)
This week, the palm goes to Steven G. because he managed to pull off a really great twist. His story starts out mildly pornographic and winds up Mutual of Omaha. Too funny.
Oh God, the smell of her breath was pure sex, he thought.
After the wedding, she was finally his. He was skinny, she was full figured, and he pounded her like there was no tomorrow!
After finishing, she laughed, “I’m fucking hungry!”
“Wow, she thinks like a MAN,” he thought.
Suddenly her mouth crushed his esophagus. She ripped into his stomach and slurped out his breakfast. Then she preened herself and fell asleep.
Behind the glass, Ernie, the night watchman at the Cincinnati Zoo, said out loud, “Damn, that female Praying Mantis is one cold bitch!”
(Note, if you read the essay above on point-of-view, then you know that this piece is written in Third Person Limited. Although there are two point of view characters, the male mantis and the zookeeper, they are in separate scenes. What separates the scenes is the distance of the “camera” from the action. The first scene is a close-up of the mantises having sex, and the second is shot from behind the glass, where our voyeur zookeeper is watching. This piece could have been written with a single POV character (the zookeeper) but the viewer/reader would likely have wound up feeling manipulated (as they do when watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and deliberately misled. So, well done, Steven G.!)
The (strictly enforced) rules are:
1) Has to be 100 words or less, including the prompt and the title, if any. (I copy them into Word, then go to File/Properties/Statistics to verify the word count. If you don't have Word, there is wordcount freeware available on the Web.)
2) Has to be a story -- that is, the protagonist must undergo some kind of change.
3) Has to use the prompt verbatim
4) Has to be posted as a comment on The Raisin Chronicles Fiction Friday post by midnight the following Wednesday, Eastern Daylight Time.
5) First post by a given writer will be considered his or her entry (so don't delete your entry because of a typo).
4) Decision of the judge is both arbitrary and final.
Next week’s prompt:
You never meant this to happen.