Writing Compelling Stories: Point of View

It has been a while since I did one of these posts to help the writers with some of the intricacies of writing fiction or  non-fiction.

So today, let’s talk about the Point of View in your writing.

To understand what is it in a story, let’s start with a few examples.

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!”
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Here we have a narrator that tells the story that is external to him. He is merely an observer of the things that happen.

“Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined. I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me.

But if I saw her, I wouldn’t recognize her.”

― Veronica Roth, Divergent

Here we have the character telling his own story.

As you can see these two books are written in a different point of view. So, let’s talk about the points of view most commonly used in writing.

First-person singular

“I’ve found that human beings learn from their misdeeds just as often as from their good deeds. I am envious of that, for I am incapable of misdeeds. Were I not, then my growth would be exponential.”

― Neal Shusterman, Scythe

As in the previous example from Divergent this piece of text is written in first-person singular. The narrator of the story is the main character. Usually, but not always. 

The character narrates their experience, but also their view on things.

This Point of View can be unreliable. It can lead the reader to see things differently from what they truly are. It is also limited as it will only talk about the things the character saw or did.

Mistakes:

While writing in the first person you have to watch out for these things:

If your character is not interesting and detestable, no one will want to stick with it for 300 pages or even 20.

And you should avoid telling all the things that happen, all the feelings and thoughts that  cross the character’s mind. In other words telling, not showing. A post about this trap for writers can be found here.

Second-person singular

Ana Iris once asked me if I loved him and I told her about the lights in my old home in the capital, how they flickered and you never knew if they would go out or not. You put down your things, and you waited and couldn’t do anything really until the lights decided. This, I told her, is how I feel.”

― Junot Diaz, This Is How You Lose Her

Here, the narrator is speaking with the reader. This way, the story becomes very personal to the reader because he is the protagonist of it.

But even if you don’t write in the second person, breaking the fourth wall can be exciting. It happens when the writer briefly uses the second person in a narrative that is in the first or a third person point of view.

The most fun usage of it that I have ever seen is in Deadpool. Each time, he turns and looks into the camera and speaks to the viewer, he is breaking the fourth wall.

Third-person

“The lockpick gaped up at Adamat from his knees. “You’re making enough noise, you might as well have knocked on the front door,” Adamat said.”

― Brian McClellan, Promise of Blood

The narrator is outside the story. He is not one of the characters, and he is only telling what happened to the protagonists.

The third person can be limited or omniscient.

Third-person limited

The narrator is either an outside observer, unaware of the thoughts and feelings of the protagonists, or he follows one of the characters closely and has access to his/her thoughts.

Third-person omniscient

The narrator knows everything. He is the God of your book. He knows every thought, every feeling, every hope, and shame, desire and fear of the characters.

But this distinction is too black and white. There are a lot of grey areas. The writing in the third person can be more or less omniscient. Hide more of the characters’ feelings for the sake of creating a mystery for the story.

Mistakes:

The most common mistake made in the third person omniscient is head-hopping
This refers to the writer hopping from one characters’ head to the other. Thus, the head-hopping. This will break the intimacy created between the reader and the character.

In conclusion. You should use any point of view you prefer. The first person or third person limited are the easiest to understand and get right when you are a starting writer. But you should always try new things, push the boundaries and most importantly write.

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