Friday, June 12, 2009

Fiction Friday: Point of View, This Week's Winner and Prompt VII

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 Rules:

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.


  1. Good choice! As always your site is informative and entertaining.

  2. Congratulations, Stephen. My favorite line is: "Wow, she thinks like a MAN"

    Nicely done.

  3. Woohoo, StevenG! I loved it then, I love it now! Great job!

  4. Great post! And that short story is just brilliant!


    Now I do have some tough competition here! On vacation, so not sure I can do it, but we will see...

  6. amazing interpretation of the prompt!!
    Hey, Jeanne, I would love to see your story along with the winner's every week!

  7. Very informative.

    I really enjoyed the short story.

  8. Way to go Steven G! I've enjoyed all your stories and am glad to see this one chosen as the winner. Exceptional twist - loved it!

  9. Love Hurts

    You never meant this to happen. You wanted him to notice you, that's all. You loved the way he moved, adored his voice - and longed for the touch of his hand.

    He walked in and tossed his newspaper down. It bounced off a table and crashed to the floor. As he went to pick it up, you grabbed it. He bent down. You stood up. You and he collided, painfully.

    Now he's looking at you.

    He sighs, pats your aching head. “Okay, girl,” he says, “Drop it.”

    Happy at last, you drop it.

    It's a dog's life.

  10. A sincere thanks to you blogineers who took the time to post a positive comment about my stuff. Your gratuitous hyperbole and sick humor makes me have exciting dreams...especially during REM.


  11. “You never meant this to happen. We weren’t supposed to fall in love, right?”


    “Those other guys, you just used them to make me jealous, didn’t you?”


    “Not taking my calls, it was just you playing hard to get, making me prove how much I love you.”


    “ It’s been so hard showing you I deserve your love, but you see now don’t you?”


    “These talks are good, I’m glad you aren’t so mad now that you understand my side. At this rate we’ll be able to remove that gag soon. Love you.”


  12. “You never meant this to happen.” These words kept pounding through the director’s head.

    It was going to be perfection.

    The set was designed and built in less than a week – six days to be exact.

    The female lead was chosen. Her virile leading man stood by quietly yet had a commanding presence.

    Clearly the lighting had been well planned.

    The script left little room for interpretation, and deviating from it would have dire consequences. This was no improv .

    “Quiet on the set. Action!” he demanded.

    He then pleaded, “Eve! No!” as she bit into an apple.

  13. Schedule

    You never meant this to happen.

    The waitress at The Dobbs House nervously slid the paper into your pocket. The code number was precise: 11221230DPTSBD6FL.

    They prepared you so well that on the day of the event, you felt comfortable, like they said you would. This is what you had trained for, but you never meant it to happen like this.

    After the event, the adrenaline lifted you to a new height of achievement. You would remain silent, and be set for life.

    You were smirking, wearing handcuffs, when your last thought was, “Jack Ruby? What are you…


  14. You never meant this to happen – you were just trying to be funny.

    A few weeks ago you discovered that you can have your text messages “read” by your cell phone. “Let’s have some fun with this,” you thought.

    Feeling like a kid in grade school, you decided to text naughty phrases. You laughed ‘til you cried listening to the voice interpretation playback – it was hilarious!

    Yeah, real funny until today when your 13-year-old borrowed your phone. “Hey mom,” she asked, “who texted you to ‘eat shit and die asshole’?” Uh oh, I definitely didn’t mean THAT to happen!

  15. Realizing full well that my submission is ineligible for consideration, I still wanted to share it.

    The Chief

    You never meant this to happen. But, man, if some of those Ivy League pricks from college could see you now, they would choke on their silver, frickin’ spoons. And the Dekes are going to celebrate tonight; those dudes know how to par-tay!

    ‘Course you remember the times that got out of control too. The stolen Christmas wreath, Dad bitching at you for running over the garbage can with Marvin in the car, the DUI. You’re glad all that’s over.

    Still, beer right now might calm the nerves – as you raise your right hand.

    “I, George W. Bush…”

    100 words (according to MS Word)

  16. One of my biggest pet peeves is "head hopping" - well put! I just do not like point of view switching around....I've read two books recently who did that and it drove me insane - took away from an otherwise good novel, since I had to keep adjusting who I was following - thus "bumping" me from the story - we should always keep our readers in the story, so they don't have to think too hard, but only follow the character along!

    I love first person and my novels usually are writeen in first person, but my short stories are usually in third person limited - who knows why that happens, but it does!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails