Point of View

Perspective is a companion of distance.  When something is examined up close, it is easy to find the smallest details about the object being examined.  One could determine, through a microscope, that skin is a compilation of billions of tiny cells, linked together to provide a covering for our muscle and bone beneath.  One gets to know skin very intimately and in a very detailed manner when it is examined on the cellular level.  However, it would be time consuming and impractical to try and examine an entire body of skin on the cellular level just to describe its color.  One would need to step back and examine it at a greater distance to take in the entire body and determine the apt description of the various colors of skin.  The same is true of writing.  A change of perspective can add more or less narrative distance and either increase of decrease the intimacy of the writing and how deeply a character or situation is described.  1st person writing is intimate, as is 3rd person omniscient.  However, standard third person is for distance.  Does your writing reflect the narrative distance you want for your novel or, specifically, in each scene or chapter?  Will changing the point of view add more details about the character or the scene that would enhance the story?

Language and Point of View.  Whichever point of view you choose, your language must match.  Are you going for third person, but slip in some thoughts by the character, hidden as part of the narrative?  That’s really third person omniscient.  If writing in 1st person, are you writing with too much narrative distance by describing what other people are doing that the character from whose point of view you are writing would not notice?  Your point of view has to match your narrative distance and vice versa.  If you want to describe a battle scene, it might not be the best idea to use 1st person – third person might be better.  If you want to describe the emotions and effects of the battle on one particular soldier, 3rd person omniscient or 1st person is probably better.

Emotion and Point of View.  Emotion is directly tied to point of view.  If 1st person or 3rd person omniscient is for intimacy, it stands to reason that more emotions can be conveyed when one has a direct look into that person’s mind.  That is not to say that the same emotions can’t be shown just as powerfully in standard 3rd person.  You just have to do it differently.  You have to show the results of the emotion, rather than the emotion itself.  You have to show, not tell (see how that keeps coming back up – that’s why it was first on the list).

What’s the point?  What point of view you choose determines your narrative distance and vice versa.  When writing, choose whichever point of view will most enable you to tell your story, and make sure that your language and emotion match.

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2 thoughts on “Point of View

  1. You should also put careful consideration into which character is your point of view character. The character should be one the reader identifies with, and that conveys the experience you want the reader to have. Consider how Sherlock Holmes is written from the perspective of Watson.

    • Thank you for that response, James. That is exactly correct. By narrating through Watson, Sir Arthur Canon Doyle was creating narrative distance between the reader and Holmes. The reader is able to understand the legendary skills and powers of deductions that the great detective possesses as an outside observer, without having to follow the crazy, mixed-up, and tangential thoughts that are going through his brilliant mind. Thanks for expounding!

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