Writing: Point of View

Each story has a voice, a style of telling all its own that brings out the emotional and physical struggle the characters face. Sometimes, however, finding that voice isn’t easy.

Point of view is an often misunderstood, often under-studied aspect of writing. This makes no sense considering the impact such a simple thing as narrative voice can make. The right one will bring your story more pull and power than you imagined possible while the wrong one can make the book appear forced and distant. Imagine Harry Potter in first person without the extra knowledge and insight of the narrator, or Twilight in the distant voice of a narrator who didn’t share Bella’s obsession with the mystery that Edward presented. They would be entirely different books and you may not have ever heard about them if they’d been written this way.

Sometimes, if you’ve hit a road block with your current project, it may have nothing to do with the characters, plot, or setting. It might have not have anything to do with the fact that its tax season or your epic fight with your significant other/best friend/parents. Sometimes the problem is as simple as the fact that you’ve picked the wrong narrative style. Each narrative voice has its own bonuses, its own drawbacks, and its own group of writers who swear by it. This post will detail why it’s important to find the right voice for your story and it will be followed next week by a series of posts, one for each narrative style. Hopefully, by the end of the lesson you’ll better understand point of view.

Say, for example, you’ve chosen to tell the story from your protagonist’s (we’ll call him MC) point of view in first person. You want readers to empathize as he suffers through the death of his family and to cheer him to victory as he enacts his revenge, but you’ve run into a problem. MC is so wrapped up in his own grief and anger that he misses obvious signs that are right in front of his face, signs the reader needs to see and understand. You try to get him to wake up and see the light, but doing that ruins the gritty, angst-ridden quality that drives his actions. Though you cringe at the thought of recasting 70,000 words worth of work, consider that first person may not be your best option. Some characters are so emotionally involved in their stories that they lose the ability to be even the least bit objective and observant. Unless you have a way to use this blindness as a narrative tool, third person limited omniscient may be the way to go.

The converse can also hold true. Some characters feel fake and unemotional when kept at the distance of third person narration. Try writing a chapter, or even a scene, in first person and see what comes to light. You may learn things about your character you didn’t even know.

Each style can held illuminate aspects of your characters. Experiment with a few until you find the style that bests fits the character your story is about. It could make a world of difference.

See also:  (these will be linked as the posts go live)
First Person
Second Person
Third Person Objective
Third Person Limited Omniscient
Third Person Omniscient

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