Impact of point of view on reader and writer
The point of view used in a story influences how the story is told, how the reader interacts with the story, and even how the story reveals itself to the writer.
In first person point of view, the narrator uses I-me-my-mine pronouns. e.g. I walk to the store. In second person point of view, the narrator uses you-your pronouns. e.g You walk to the store. In third person point of view, the narrator uses he/she-him/her pronouns. e.g She walks to the store.
First person point of view allows for a very direct connection between reader and protagonist, with an ability for the reader to hear the protagonist’s thoughts. The personality of the narrator is visible throughout the story. However, it limits action in the story to scenes where the narrator is present. The reader cannot see anything the main character doesn’t.
Sometime a story may be told from the perspectives of two people, in first person, alternating voices from chapter to chapter. I recently read Sydney Avey’s The Sheep Walker’s Daughter, in which this technique was used to tell the story from the perspective of a middle-aged woman and her adult daughter.
Mysteries, especially detective fiction, are often written in first person. Sometimes, to allow the reader to see more than the narrator and provide a fuller story, scenes in which the narrator is not present are inserted into the story, told from a third person point of view. Two books I’ve read recently do this: Sue Grafton’s “V” is for Vengeance and Linwood Barclay’s Trust Your Eyes.
Second person point of view doesn’t suit many stories and is rarely used, but, when used, it can pull the reader into the centre of the action. At the 2012 Vancouver’s WritersFest, A. L. Kennedy read an amusing story, written effectively in second person.
Third person point of view offers flexibility for the narrator to follow several people through a story. It allows the writer to include scenes where the protagonist is absent. In the limited version of third person, the narrator knows and conveys the internal feelings of only character and presents the other characters externally. Third person limited point of view is sometimes extended to more than one character. When this is done, the perspective usually stays consistent from one person’s point of view, within a chapter, but not always. Diana Davidson’s book Pilgrimage, told from multiple third person point of views, effectively handles the transitions from one person to another.
Omniscient third person point of view, where the narrator knows the feelings of all the characters, was commonly used in the classics. This view may lend increased credibility to the narrator, but may also create more distance with the reader.
Point of view influences how the reader interacts with the story. It also influences the writer. I started my in-progress work in third person. The main character felt wooden. I changed to first person and she’s beginning to come to life.
I did an interesting exercise in a conference workshop I attended last year. We were told to make a list of things that had happened in our lives about which we were still curious and select one to write about. We spent ten to fifteen minutes writing about it in first person, then in third person, and finally in first person again, but this time from the perspective of someone other than ourselves. Changing the perspective from which I viewed and told the story made me see it in a different light, broadened the context, and gave me all kinds of ideas for how to approach telling the story.
If, as a writer, you are struggling with something in your story or a character, consider rewriting part of the story from a different point of view. You may not change the perspective in the final version of the story, but the exercise might help you see your characters in a different light and open up new ways to tell the story.
Readers and writers: I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on points of view. Are some easier for you to read or write?