Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Point of a Point of View

There are three different points of view, first person, third person, and omniscient. In the first person point of view everything is seen through the eyes of the "I" person.

 I wondered just what was going to happen to Ma after the boys all left. I felt a burden fall on my shoulders as I would be the only one left for her to lean on. 

The first person point of view invites readers into the character's head. And the reader sees the story through the "I" character only, no matter how many other characters there are in the book.

This can be quite confining to a writer as every thought, every action that is explained is through the main first person character. We never know what Tommy is thinking when Mary is actually telling the story. Tommy might be a great guy at heart, but since we only see him through Mary's eyes we only see what Mary wants to tell us, and she might not like Tommy at all.

Readers can get bored with a first person character like Mary for example, if Mary's character is not strong and interesting enough to carry her through a complete novel. And Mary has to be everywhere. Nothing can happen in a story that she is not a part of. No dialogue scene will take place unless she is in it or hiding around a corner listening to it. Mary will practically know everything going on, and what she doesn't know, readers will not know either.

Now in the case of the omniscient point of view, the reader is not in anyone's head. A story told in this point of view is rather like sitting around a campfire and being told a story there. The narrator might speak in different voices to give the listeners some perspective on the scene, but we never hear what any of the characters are thinking. While this point of view certainly doesn't stick you in one character's head, it also might take away from any intimacy that would have been prevalent in a first person voice.

Many authors prefer a third person point of view. To some it is much easier to write and flows quite nicely from character to character. But this must be done in an expert sort of way in order not to raise confusion for a reader who might get lost in who said what and who thought what. There is quite a skill to it, but when it flows nicely there is nothing better than knowing what Mary is thinking as she blasts Tommy for being late one more time, and then knowing what Tommy is thinking even though he might say the complete opposite thing to Mary in order to keep the peace.

I have written in both first person and third person and I do prefer third person most of the time. There are times for the first person voice but one must be totally knowledgeable about the subject at hand. Of course a writer needs to be knowledgeable about whatever he or she writes, but there is something more immediate to the first person style. Some love it, some hate it.

Interior Monologue can be tricky. A writer needs to use just enough so the reader understands the feelings going on in the scene. But don't go overboard.

Mary was so exhausted from her trip that she just wanted to go to bed and be done with the day. "I've had an extremely tiring day, Tom and I don't want to get into an argument tonight."

Tommy felt like his chest was going to burst. He held in his feelings long enough and now Mary was going to hear what he had to say. "I don't want to argue, Mary, but I need to know what the schedule is going to be tomorrow, so I can plan my day and the day of the workers." He wished he could be more argumentative but that was just the way he was, a soft touch.
"Oh for heaven sake, Tom, you are a pain sometimes. Didn't I just tell you that I was tired?" Mary felt a migraine coming on and Tommy wasn't helping things.

In the above dialogue every sentence has internal monologue. This slows the pace of the scene. And if there are more than two people talking and if the writer chooses to explain how everyone is feeling in the scene, then just imagine if there were five people in the room and a reader had to put up with the internal whining of every character. 

The scene might go on for one or two pages which could have been clipped to perhaps three quarters of a page of sharp dialogue with just  bit of internal monologue thrown in. The writer could perhaps keep what was the most important to reveal and trash the rest and let the reader come to his or her own conclusion. Maybe Mary could put a hand to her head and rub her brow, indicating that she had a headache, this the reader could figure out on his or her own.

It can get confusing when a writer decides to throw characters from one point of view to another. I like to change scenes when I change from one character's point of view to another. It makes things more organized. But there are times that I do go from one character's point of view to another in the same scene. Reading out loud later can help me to decide if it sounds confusing or not. If I think it does I might remove one character's thoughts from that scene.

It is a touch and go experience to write points of view, and it is also for the reader. Things can get murky fast, so try and write clearly with focus. And remember that each of your characters has a different personality, so make sure that Mary doesn't sound too much like Tom or the other way around when you are in writing in their head.

 So which points of view do you use and why do you like writing that way? What point of view do you like reading? Do you prefer reading from the first person point of view or maybe the third person? Or maybe you like to switch around and maybe it depends on the story. However you enjoy reading just remember to keep it up, so Happy Reading and Writing everyone!


  1. I have written in all three modes. However after many attempts I prefer both writing and reading in the third person. To do it convincingly is very difficult but well worth the effort.

  2. I think I do as well, Roger. Being in a number of heads is way easier than being stuck in one (for first person)Thanks for your comment. Keep Writing!