In my opinion, all writers need a tool box. Not the kind that has hammers, screwdrivers and odd nails and bolts, but the kind of tool box that allows them to dip in when what they are writing isn’t working out. Today, I’m going to look at Point Of View (POV) and how it affects the style.
To start with, all stories have a point of view: first person, second person, third person. This gives the reader a base in which to become familiar with the tone of the story. Generally, a first person story will be more tightly based on one characters and his or her particular point of view. With second person, we think mainly of the choose your own adventure stories. Third person can be based on one character or more, but has a wider view of what is going on around them.
First person can be very strict, meaning only viewing the story from on character or more broad meaning that the author bounces back and forth between more than one character. This is especially useful in short stories, especially flash, as you aren’t worried about extra details that can’t be experienced by the character.
I admire writers who produce novels using a strict first person. They have to be very careful to only show the reader what the character sees, thinks, and feels. They can’t show you anything else but that. Even if they want to, or if the reader thinks that there might be more going on. I can tell you this is difficult to do over a longer story. You want to reach out and grab at something, show what is going on the the room behind the door. But you can’t. Your character is not there and cannot see it. He or she can only react to things as they are revealed. While writing, the author almost has to BE the character. The reader has to believe he or she is the character.
Sounds difficult hunh?
Third person isn’t as easy as you think. It is more like looking through a wide angle lens at the whole picture. The writer can show you what goes around the character, but there is a distance that isn’t crossed. Sometimes authors let you into the head of the character, give you a taste of what he or she is thinking, but mostly, those things are shown in the writing. It is not necessary to get into the character’s head. Personal thoughts are mostly held back along with immediate opinions. It creates a mystery of what the character is really doing.
Second person is not used much outside of gaming or create your own adventures. Though most authors avoid writing in this POV, I have found it useful in drafts when I’m not sure how things are going to turn out.
Most of my longer stories are based on third person, however, the short ones, flash and such are more likely to be first person. Why?
For me – and this could change at some point – first drafts often center around one character. Somewhere between the idea phase and the writing phase I decide if it is first or third person. Sometimes it is the voice of the work that requires one or the other, but sometimes it is the overall view of the work that makes the difference. Characters all have a voice, you can hear them in your head and it fits more with one than another.
Shorter stories allow me to focus in on immediate details that relates to the plot, setting, or character. I don’t need to worry about what goes on halfway across the world because it does not matter in a particular story. I want to see through a microscope at one small point, the short story. Longer stories are usually a broader view over a set amount of time, hence, I like to use the third POV.
Can I change my mind? Hell yes. I’ve changed POV in my drafts but usually after the first write.
So what determines POV in your stories?