You and Me and the Devil Makes Three or Point of View
In previous episodes, we’ve spent some time talking about creating great stories, how to start them, how to end them, how to plan them, and even how to tell them, but what about who tells them?
Choosing a storyteller is nearly as important as choosing your story. And you have many different choices. Five in fact. But before we dive into the different types of voices your storyteller could have, let’s talk about narrative voices in general.
Has someone ever told you a story and you realize later that they weren’t even there when the story happened? You may question the story’s accuracy because the storyteller wasn’t there. The storyteller has no perspective. That’s why for your story, the perspective of your narrative voice is pretty important.
Narrative voice based on perspective. It’s based on point of view. A story is likely to sound very different if you change the point of view of the storyteller.
How would the story of Little Red Riding Hood be different if you heard it from grandma, or the woodsman, or the wolf? Change the point of view, and you change the story.
So, you have to pick a perspective for your storyteller, but what are your options? The good news is you have plenty to choose from. The bad news is you have plenty to choose from. Let’s take a look at your options. You have three major choices: first person, second person, and third person point of view.
First person point of view is the “I” point of view. The story is told from the perspective of one character, the capital I of the narrator. This point of view is great because it simulates a sort of intimacy between the narrator and the reader. The reader knows everything the narrator knows, and that includes how the narrator feels and thinks about what is happening in the story. First person POV, that’s point of view, is really great for main characters that like to brood and angst over conflicts and obstacles in a story. So, if you’re the type to give your main character’s long, introspective paragraphs of internal dialogue, first person is a great choice.
But it also has its limitations. As I mentioned, in first person POV, the reader knows what the character knows --- and only what the character knows. This can be problematic with certain types of stories. For example, let’s say you’re writing a thriller or mystery and a character is plotting behind your main character’s back. Because there are things happening outside the knowledge of the main character, it must happen outside the knowledge of the reader as well. Because of this limitation on information, first person stories must be meticulously thought out, so the reader and the character get the inform
ation they need when they need it.
Naturally, after first person POV there’s second person POV. Second person POV is not utilized as much as first or third because it’s relationship to the reader is unique. In second person POV, the reader and the main character are not divorced from one another. Instead, they are working together. Second person POV is the “you” point of view. When using second person, it tends to work, generally, in one of two ways. One, the narrator is talking to you, the reader directly. Or two, the main character in the story is you, the reader. The second way, the one where you are the main character, is a favorite from my childhood. Choose Your Own Adventure and TwistAPlots books were popular in my house and each book was written in the second person because it was you, the reader having the adventure.
Okay, I’m going to pause here and just do a quick nostalgic shout out to one book that consumed a portion of my childhood – The Badlands of Hark by the wonderfully talented R.L. Stine. This book… I spent hours upon hours with this particular adventure and, as frustrating as it sometimes was, I loved every minute of it. So much so, that when I started teaching, navigating through the adventure became a class wide exercise at the start of class. If you’ve never read second person point of view adventure book, I highly recommend this one.
Okay, okay, okay enough about me, what about third person point of view? Well, third person is the “he, she, it” point of view. It is told from the perspective of someone outside of the story. Bec
ause the narrator is not involved in the story, there is the opportunity to share information with the reader that is unknown to the characters. On the one hand, that could definitely make things easier for you as the writer, but of course, there’s a catch. There isn’t just one type of third person point of view writing… there are three.
Think of the three types of third person as magnifications on a microscope.
At the lowest magnification where you can see the larger picture, that is your Third Person Omniscient point of view. This is the God perspective. The narrator knows all and can see all and can provide that unlimited information to the reader.
Turn up the magnification a little and you get Third Person Objective point of view. With this perspective, the narrator can see everything, but knows nothing. The inner thoughts and motives of the characters is still hidden from the reader, but their actions are fully on display.
Crank the magnification to the max and your field of vision drastically decreases but also sharpens to a tight focus. This is your Third Person Limited point of view. This is the character level point of view. Similar to first person, third person limited also lets the reader know everything that a particular character knows; however, unlike first person, the character can change. This sort of intimate knowledge can shift from character to character, you just have to make the character shifts very clear to the reader or else you risk losing them in the body hopping confusion.
So, now you know what your options are, how do you know which is best for your story? While, ultimately, the choice is completely up to you, there are few tips or guidelines that might help you decide what will work best for your story.
Let’s look at some tips and tricks for ensuring your story has a little perspective.
Tips & Tricks
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the point of view for your story.
First Person POV – If you want to tell your story from the eyes and voice of a quirky or pensive main character, choose first person. Or, if your story requires a close, personal relationship between reader and main character, then first person is for you.
Second Person POV – If you want to speak directly to your reader, then choose second person. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, and you want your reader to live that adventure, then second person is the point of view for you.
Third Person POV – If you want the wide world of information available to your reader throughout the story or if you want the reader to have access to the narrator’s/author’s thoughts and opinions within the story, then third person is definitely the way to go. Also, if you don’t want a close identification between the reader and the characters because maybe you’re going to make the character disgusting or a fool, third person POV is the best choice for you.
A warning word on shifting points of view with your writing.
You can shift from different points of view in your story but do so with extreme caution. You don’t want to run the risk of confusing or frustrating your reader.
First, determine if you need to change the point of view. Perhaps it’s not that you need to shift the POV so much as you need to change the POV. For example, I was half through writing a short story in third person, but something felt… off every time I reread my writing. When I started a new scene, I accidently began it in first person and WOW! It read so much better that I ended up revising everything I had written up to that point so that the entire story’s perspective was in first person.
But if you feel that your story needs a shifting perspective, that’s fine, but make sure you only change perspective when you change scenes, or even better, when you change chapters.
Above all, shift points of view strategically. We know that the perspective of the storyteller can change the story, so if you must change up the point of view in your work, be absolutely certain that is essential to do so to tell your story the way it needs to be told. Never be afraid to revisit which POV you should, and always be prepared to change when necessary. Remember, your story should be a work of art not of convenience.
Before we get into today’s challenge, let’s give some love to our previous superstar submissions.
Today we will acknowledge two winners. The first comes from our Story Closings challenge. Top honors go to Katie C. with her ending lines.
“Don’t cry, sweetheart, Mommy’s here,” Lottie said as the crowd that had gathered around her stared on in horror with looks of disgust on their faces.
Is it just me, or is this ending Child’s Play/Children of the Corn creepy? Either way, it’s some nice writing.
For our description challenge, we have a repeat winning writer with Chi once again taking first place with his PB&J entry.
The kitchen was spotless, everything in its proper place. The floor shown with the gleam of having freshly been mopped. The counters had been wiped down and dishes washed and put away clean. The lights were off with only the barest sliver of morning light breaking the dark of the empty serenely quiet room. A quiet broken by the clang of metal and hastened footsteps approaching from down the hall. Jason burst into the room red eyed, hair unkempt. He was barefoot, pants zipped, and belt unbuckled and flapping in the wind as it jingled back and forth.
Jason hurried frantically around grabbing jars, silverware, a plastic bag, paper towel and lastly the loaf of bread. He deposited the collection on the island in the center of the room. After a brief fight with the twist tie, he liberated two slices of bread from the bag and placed them side by side on the paper towel. He snapped up the jar of peanut butter from the counter and screwed the top. He stopped briefly and listened. Above him in the distance he heard footsteps. Sparing a glance at the clock he furrowed his brow and stabbed a knife into the jar. He withdrew a large clump of the brown lumpy peanut mush and began to spread on the first slice of bread. He then used a corner of the paper towel to clean the knife and opened the second jar. The sweet scent of fruit preserve filled his nose, and he quickly used the knife to extract some of the purple spread from the jar. He tried to hurry his pace, hearing footsteps bounding down the stairs. There was a soft squish sound
as he slapped the covered slices of bread together. Then taking care to keep both pieces in line with one another, he used the knife to remove the crust from around the out edge. After following up with a diagonal cut across the entire sandwich, he placed it in the plastic bag. The footsteps were drawing closer to the kitchen. Jason sealed the bag as a small bright eyed 6year old entered the room.
“Did you remember to place the jelly on top this time?” The child inquired. Jason thought for a second smiling back at the child. He then subtly flipped the sandwich over, never taking his eyes from the young inquisitor.
“Of course, what kind of freak makes a sandwich upside down.” He replied, handing over the sandwich inspection. The child examined the sandwich and finally smiled with an energetic nod. Jason took the sandwich and placed it in a brown bag that had been preloaded with an apple, juice box and a bag of chips. “See, just like mom makes.”
The child took the bag and turned to leave.
“Thanks dad. Though, mom wouldn't have had to flip the sandwich.” and with that the child bounded out of the messy kitchen to catch the school bus.
Congratulations to both our winners! Keep up the good work and keep writing! Now, for those of you feeling a little jealous or left out, here’s your chance to show your stuff. Here is your bi-weekly Wordsmith Challenge!
In a paragraph or scene no longer than 500 words, write about some kids playing a game of hide and seek. Choose which point of view you think would work best and write that at the top of your page. Have fun with your scene but make sure that you are using the POV you identified and only that POV. Once you’ve completed you point of view scene,
you can email it to email@example.com. The best scene will be highlighted in a future episode and on the website!
Next week, we will highlight the winner for best plot outlines.
And remember, if you participate in the challenge and submit your work, you could be our next superstar writer!
And if you don’t want to share your work, that’s okay too. The important thing is that you’re writing and trying something new. That’s how writing gets better! Even if you hate what you wrote, the practice will pay off.
If you enjoyed the show and would like to hear more, please click subscribe so you never miss an episode! Keep writing and remember… Everything’s All Write!