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Point of View

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  • Point of View

    I've discussed the use of Point of View in stories with my dad quite a bit, and I have tried to write things in different types of point of view. I was wondering which type of point of view -- first person, third person limited omniscient or third person omniscient -- other people found to be most effective.

    I personally find third person limited omniscient the easiest to handle (and more importantly the easiest for me to self-edit), but I have also had limited success writing in the other two types of point of view.

    In my reading I have also found that third person limited omniscient is often the most effective, but I have also see the other two pulled off very well. (I have also seen first person and third person omniscient be very distracting to the reader or just plain bad.)

    I'd especially like to hear what Dee, Perdrix and Grey Mouser have to say on this topic, and I'd like to hear from PoetGirl since I heard that she was working with the point of view in her S&S story.

    S. Ombre

  • #2
    I can't say I've thought about it much, and don't entirely understand all of the terms involved, but speak of the Devil and he appears, so here's my rambling attempt at a contribution:

    I think the first person approach can be quite effective when you've got an "unreliable narrator" thing going on, such as with Catcher in the Rye, which I studied and quite enjoyed... I believe Mike does the same thing with his Pyat books, and no doubt pulls it off brilliantly (:)). But some of the stories in the Tart Noir collection I'm reading just have smug and annoying narrators, which rather spoils the story. It's a fine line, I'm sure, and I've no idea how to stay on the correct side. I tried to write a story in the form of journal entries once, but that didn't come to very much. I think the idea was to do a fictional, gonzo-style HS Thompson sort of deal... Ooh! Vegas worked very well, I thought. That was first person as well, as far as I remember. Was he writing in character, or just writing as himself? I don't know, but I think it helps to have a specific objective in mind with that sort of thing... who is talking to the reader, and why are they telling them what they're telling them? If there isn't a good reason for it, then it's probably not worth the effort. In the examples above, the force of the personality of the narrator was an attraction in itself, but that might be a hard thing to pull off, as it involves far more "role-playing" than your average story.

    As far as I'm aware I've mostly written in the third person, limited. With the Crash stories, I've tended to concentrate on what the main character knows, and not reveal anything much beyond that to the reader. If they're unconscious, then nothing much happens until they're back "online", as it were. This wasn't deliberate, just the way things worked out. It felt more comfortable that way, and there wasn't a lot of room within the Dent Formula to do much else but follow the "hero".

    It might be fun to try some other POV's, but again I really think you need a reason to pursue such things. If it's funny, or makes a point, then fair enough, but just trying to be "different" might work against the story.
    "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

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    • #3
      One of the common pitfalls of first person narration is that it is easy to fall into a sort of garrulousness. It takes a lot of skill to handle a large scale work in the first person. Generally, I find a third person limited omniscient approach easier to handle. Another reason is that first person narration is a lot like doing an impersonation job. Third person in its various forms permits one to use the point of view of an outside observer, with perhaps a certain amount of dipping into the thoughts of a character.

      Note that it is possible to write in 3rd person without EVER dipping into any character's thoughts. This is a virtual camera's eye. It isn't necessarily cold, but it adds mystery, because you can never tell what a particular character really THINKS -- only what he says and does and how he reacts. Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon is written using this technique, and it can be effective.

      LSN

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      • #4
        Meanwhile, I've been reading Peter Pan and Wendy. Barrie can be a very amusing guide, but the kids aren't even out of the window and he's already informed the reader that the acorn Peter gave to Wendy will save her life, and that the brothers won't make any more command decisions for the rest of the adventure. Frankly, I think that's too much information to be giving away. I presume that comes under "omniscience"? I'm all for a bit of foreshadowing, but stating "this item will save this character's life in a bit" seems silly... unless he was trying to ease young reader's fears about Wendy's safety? I don't know.
        "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

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        • #5
          Excellent point, Dee. And your theory of why he did this could well be right. It is, however, a false step on his part in my opinion.

          LSN

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          • #6
            I used to read mostly modern fantasy which for the most part is written in the third person, so I was very used to that style for a while. Then I read a very good book that was set, I think, in the first person, which shook me somewhat, but I got used to it and found that it could be a very powerful tool. As I have read a lot more of the 'classics' I have come to read much more in the first person and I think it is often very good. Most of my own writing tends to be third person, usually omniscient although not actually revealing the plot too much ;) I have a few pieces, I believe, written in first person and they were more challenging for me.

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            • #7
              An interesting data point, HawkLord. What people find easiest to handle will vary quite a bit from person to person.

              By the way, did you plan to submit any work for the next issue of Prototype X ?

              LSN

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              • #8
                Originally posted by L_Stearns_Newburg
                An interesting data point, HawkLord. What people find easiest to handle will vary quite a bit from person to person.

                By the way, did you plan to submit any work for the next issue of Prototype X ?

                LSN
                Ah, I was thinking about it. Unfortunately at the moment I don't have any stories ready that aren't already available free elsewhere on the internet (I recently started a habit of submitting poetry and prose to www.deviantart.com , a very worthy website). I have one story in the writing at the moment, though I'm not sure how good it will be or how long it will take. Of course, I would be happy to write on request, which would provide some incentive to get off the internet and get down to some work!
                So to give an answer, perhaps not for the next issue but hopefully the following one, if the fates allow! Thanks for the interest :)

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                • #9
                  I'm using fairly omniscient (but surprisable, if you see what I mean) narrator POV for The Novel. I toyed with First Person, but I couldn't handle the shifts in perspective, character-action and location with sufficient dexterity (without excessive and undoubtedly doomed attempts at experimentalism).
                  Certainly, the wrong POV can send a story spiralling down into the sodden literary mud, belching nacreous streamers of rhythmic smoke like a crippled Etrich Taube with a pissed pilot and a wonky wing. That bad.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Point of View

                    Originally posted by S_Ombre
                    I've discussed the use of Point of View in stories with my dad quite a bit, and I have tried to write things in different types of point of view. I was wondering which type of point of view -- first person, third person limited omniscient or third person omniscient -- other people found to be most effective.

                    I personally find third person limited omniscient the easiest to handle (and more importantly the easiest for me to self-edit), but I have also had limited success writing in the other two types of point of view.

                    In my reading I have also found that third person limited omniscient is often the most effective, but I have also see the other two pulled off very well. (I have also seen first person and third person omniscient be very distracting to the reader or just plain bad.)

                    I'd especially like to hear what Dee, Perdrix and Grey Mouser have to say on this topic, and I'd like to hear from PoetGirl since I heard that she was working with the point of view in her S&S story.

                    S. Ombre
                    I don't always know what perspective I'm writing in. Apparently I jump back and forth. I understand that First Person is "I took the bottle down and drank it all." Second Person (very rarely used) is "You took the bottle down and drank it all, then you crashed to the floor." Third Person is "She took the bottle down and drank it all." Third Person omnicient is where I seem to find the most confusion. I know she took the bottle down and I'm telling you about it.

                    I could probably (?) be more effective writing a story in first person because if I told you all about the time i took the bottle down and drank it, giving you all kinds of gritty details, like I'm talking to you face to face.

                    Honestly, I haven't written many short stories to be able to say with confidence what works best. Learning a lot here from you guys on the board so... keep talking! : )

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      First person is much easier. Just throw the switch and listen to the person tell his story. Rather like taking dictation.

                      Third person is a bit trickier because there are things that you need to hide from the reader until the appropriate moment in the narrative, when these thingsa re revealed. A good story can depend upon on the pace at which such things are revealed. There are different kinds of third person narrators, too. Some third persons are totaly omnisicient, some are grounded in the point-of-view of one character, or the point-of-view of several characters, all characters, or in this respect the point-of-view shifts around l ike a Will o'the wisp, again as is appropriate to the way the writer is choosing to reveal the story.

                      What I have discovered about third person--or this is helpful for conceiving a thrid person narration--is that there is no such thing as third person. An omniscient thrid person narrator is still an "I" in some sense, at some level of creation, at some scale.

                      Best thing to do: go with your inclination, whatever makes your eyes sparkle, and don't bother over it. If you really have something to say, really have something to create, get off your chest, rant about, and so on, then your narrative point-of-view will fall into place immediately/without much bother. There are so many other fun/important things to think about, actually.

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                      • #12
                        The difference between third person limited omniscient and third person omniscient is that in third person limited omniscient, you only follow around one character and can only enter their thoughts; while in third person omniscient, you know what everyone is thinking and doing at once.

                        I find that third person omniscient is perhaps the most unwieldy form (for me at least) because it is hard to know when I can tell the thoughts of a character and when I should leave it to the reader to figure it out. I have trouble limiting the explanations and exposition when I try to write in third person omniscient, and I also find it hard to self-edit because I do not read very many books in the perspective.

                        With first person, I have found that I either tell the reader too many of the narrator's thoughts or I overcompensate and do not tell the reader enough about what is going on. I have been successful with writing short pieces in the first person, but I have trouble with it for longer stories.

                        The third person limited omniscient is (as I said earlier) the point of view that I am most comfortable with. It has the advantage of third person omniscient that I am outside of the character and thus can know some things that the character does not know, but, unlike third person omniscient, third person limited omniscient keeps me following one character instead of jumping around from the perspective of one character to another. Third person limited omniscient is also useful in that in different scenes I can follow a different character. In first person, it is difficult to give the parts of a story that happen when the central character is not present, but, in third person limited omniscient, it is easy to switch to following a different character in a different scene to give parts of the story that the central character is not privy to.

                        S. Ombre

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                        • #13
                          I understand why CK finds this topic a trifle boring: it's primarily a technical control consideration, and he has his own well-developed mechanisms that work for him. Probably the issue therefore seems trivial. If however one is very interested in the techniques of traditional narration, and wishes to take them apart, the subject is not without interest.

                          I will agree that there is always a narrator, because telling a story always implies the existence of the teller. I recall expatiating () at some length on precisely this point in another thread a couple of months back. I do not agree that there is "no such thing" as third person narration, but I understand CK's POV. In third person the narrator may be the fictionalized author's voice, or the verbal equivalent of a camera's eye, or some combination of one of those with a bit of narrator's ventriloquism that uses an apparent "transcription" of a viewpoint character's thoughts. So third person narration in its various forms is, in effect, a bag of narrative tricks. They are devices, people, nothing more, but devices that have certainly stood the "test of time," as it were.

                          The question of which collection of narrative tricks best suits the author's intentions for a given story is without a neat and tidy answer. It depends on a lot of factors.

                          Of course, if one is engaged in experimental writing of one sort or another, these narrative tricks may be discarded or replaced with some collection invented for the occasion by the author. That doesn't mean that the standard bag of tricks in invalid. It means that the writer chose (one hopes) consciously to violate the traditional guidelines. If it works, people will then appropriate those new tricks for later use, of course.

                          LSN

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                          • #14
                            I shouldn’t limit myself with some kind of grammatical cement walls in this sense. Write what you want, and leave the details to work out themselves. To paraphrase Alistair Crowley, “Write what thou will." (which might also please you ubermenchen out there in internet land)....

                            Originally posted by Carter Kaplan
                            First person is much easier. Just throw the switch and listen to the person An omniscient thrid person narrator is still an "I" in some sense, at some level of creation, at some scale.
                            Check out Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter. "The Custom House" is of course in first person, but the story that follows is in third person--but we know all along that it's the clever Hawthorne persona from the wacky introduction who is behind all those crazy/clever/beautiful/magic lines that make up the story.

                            Once more: in the upcoming PX check out "The Wind Haunted by its Own Ghost"; specifically the chatty passages reflecting on the biography and persona of the New World Order bureaucrat type who meets with Bronson and Nabnak on the off-shore oil terminal. Third person narration/grammar--but mark the first person persona behind that mask.

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                            • #15
                              For something as long as Perdix's novel, there is a variant of limited omniscient 3rd person that I have found helpful. I plan and write each chapter from a different character's POV. If the story revolves around, say, 3 major characters, I may cycle through those 3 in a pattern that is part of my overall design.

                              In a l-o-n-g story I sent Perdix sometime back called The Spirit of Man, there were 9 characters of varying importance to the story. I structured this 170 page novel as 9 chapters using 3rd person limited omniscient, each chapter from the POV of a different one of those 9 characters. The more integral/important characters tended to get longer, more structurally and dramatically important chapters.

                              I found this a helpful trick. It's an interesting technical challenge to keep shifting the voice and the focus from chapter to chapter. It gives a somewhat prismatic view of the story, since every character is in possession of somewhat different pieces of the overall puzzle, and consequently sees events differently.

                              Perdix is one of the few people to see this book, so he is the only one on the forum who could probably judge whether this technical structuring experiment "worked."

                              I add this to the discussion as an idea and nothing more. It's not THE way to do things. (There are not a lot of "rules." There are lots of guidelines.)

                              LSN

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