Forum: Writer's aids

Discussing: Point of View

Point of View

A lot can be said about point of view. I'll be concentrating one just one aspect in this post: Perspective for lack of a better word. There probably is a better word, but I can't think of it now.

There are several perspectives from which one can write:

First Person
Second Person
Third Person Omniscient
Third Person Limited


Third Person limited is, by far, the most popular way of writing these days. First Person has been done very well, but can be tricky. Second Person? Even trickier and quite rare. Third Person Omniscient? Many people do this on on accident when trying for Limited. Doesn't mean it can't be done well. It can, but it's also a bit tricky.

First Person puts the narrator into the story. In fact, you spend the whole time writing from your narrator's perspective. You can't get into anyone else's thoughts (unless your narrator is psychic, which could happen, I suppose) or feelings. Only what your narrator can hear or observe from other characters. You'll use a lot of "I" pronouns in a first person story.

Second person makes the reader into the narrator. That's why it's tricky. You'd have to get your reader to really buy into this one. You'd use "You" pronouns in a second person story.

Third Person sets up a separate narrator. The narrator may not be a character at all. You'd use "He" or "She" pronouns in a third person story.

But what's the difference between Limited and Omniscient?

Think of Omniscient as God, or Eru. The narrator is omniscient and all knowing. He even knows more than the characters themselves. He can look into more than one mind at a time. And that's what makes this tricky. There almost has to be an arrogance or otherness about an omniscient narrator.

Limited is limited to one brain at a time. Basically the narration is told with "He" or "She" pronouns, but told through the point of view of one character. That character, unless psychic, cannot know what another character thinks or feels, except by his or her own perception. Meaning that perception can even be wrong. That point of view can change to different character but it requires a scene change. Kind of like switching your camera lens from behind one set of eyes to another, requiring a breakaway.

Be sure not to mix your perspectives. If you are going to write in First Person, you may never name your character (unless someone names him or her in dialogue). If you write in Third, you will not use "I" pronouns except in dialogue or direct thought.

--Ainaechoiriel

 

 

Re: Point of View

Limited is limited to one brain at a time. Basically the narration is told with "He" or "She" pronouns, but told through the point of view of one character. That character, unless psychic, cannot know what another character thinks or feels, except by his or her own perception. Meaning that perception can even be wrong. That point of view can change to different character but it requires a scene change. Kind of like switching your camera lens from behind one set of eyes to another, requiring a breakaway.

There is a big difference between "limited" 3rd person & what you've just described.

True 3PL is limited to one character only. It never switches to another character's brain. Even dialog is only written as percieved by the primary character.

This is far trickier than the 3p you are describing, where the viewpoint of another can be added to the mix as needed. It is, in fact, quite close to omniscient POV, and, realistically, OP. Just because the narrator isn't openly injected into the story does not change the fact that the narrator is "omniscient".

Frankly, I've always hated that term for that style of storytelling; it smacks of the early Hawthornesque method of the narrator suddenly interrupting the flow of the story to tell us something. Thackery's "Vanity Fair" has one of the most egregious abuses of this--at the end, he tells us, basically, to put the toys away, the story's over. (Can't get into the library right now--we had to clean for "company", and all the stuff had to go somewhere!)

ANyway, the better term for the POV is "shared" or "open" 3P. Shared because, well, there's several characters involved; and open, because it isn't limited to a single character's perception.

khazar

 

 

Re: Point of View

This is far trickier than the 3p you are describing, where the viewpoint of another can be added to the mix as needed. It is, in fact, quite close to omniscient POV, and, realistically, OP. Just because the narrator isn't openly injected into the story does not change the fact that the narrator is "omniscient".

I disagree. There is a very big difference between what I described as 3P Limited and Omniscient. Omniscient does require a narrator that is not one of the characters. Omniscient means more than "multiple POV's". It means "all knowing". There is an arrogance, if you will, of the narrator. But it usually doesn't get as close in to a character as "limited". In "limited" the narrator may or may not be one of the characters. The narrator may be invisible, there to provide the prose between the dialogue, but never drawing attention to himself, leaving the focus entirely on the characters, what they see, what they hear, think, feel, etc.

A second POV "added to the mix" implies to me an additional POV within the same scene, and that is almost as jarring as a bad omniscient POV. It is very uncommon these days to find anything but a very short story or vignette told entirely in one character's POV. The much more common standard is one POV per scene.

ANyway, the better term for the POV is "shared" or "open" 3P. Shared because, well, there's several characters involved; and open, because it isn't limited to a single character's perception.

I've never heard it called that. "Shared" doesn't bother me. It is shared, over the whole of the story, but not within scenes. "Open" to me does imply any number of POVs as the writer chooses, regardless of scene changes. That's downright annoying. I know of two authors who otherwise write very well. One would swap back and forth between two characters, the other would use every character in the room during a given scene. They wanted the closeness one gets with "limited" but the freedom to get all the viewpoints they wanted as with "omniscient" and that just can't be done. We must limit ourselves to one POV per scene or per story or go omniscient.

And it's a very tricky thing to go omniscient. It takes a exceptional writer to do that well, which is why, I think, you hate it. And why I won't even try it. (But then, I did say I'd never write 1st person either, and I did....)

3PL as I described is still limited; call it what you will.

--Ainaechoiriel

 

 

Re: Point of View

I don't "hate" omniscient POV; it's what most people do. I hate the old-style usage of it, which shatters the story's moods faster than flinging crystal into the wall.

Tolkien used the OPV. He wandered from character to character, but never settled solely on one. In some paragraphs he even jumps from one character to another.

That's still omniscient, though, because there is a narrator, even if he isn't self-inserted. Someone describes what happens, and that someone is often just as surprised as the characters. That same someone uses words like "Behold!" when describing a particularly amazing scenes.

Limited 3pv was really perfected by Henry James. All the reader sees is what the main character sees, whatever that may be.

So the difference is this: Limited = one character Omniscient = many characters.

khazar

 

 

Re: Point of View

So the difference is this: Limited = one character Omniscient = many characters.

There is still a bigger difference than that. Perhaps we can settle on "shared" and leave it at that.

--Ainaechoiriel

 

 

Re: Point of View

I dug out my old "Glossary of Literary Terms", because there is some confusion here over just what we're talking about.

Omniscient POV "This is a common term for the assumption in a work of fiction that the narrator knows everything thast needs to be known about the agents & events; that he is entirely free to move at will in time and place, and to shift from character to character, reporting (or concealing) what he chooses of their speech and actions; and also that he has "priviledged" access to a charachter's thoughts and feelings and motives, as well as to his own overt speech and actions.

"...the intrusive narrator is one who not only reports but freely comments on his characters, evaluating their actions and motives and expressing his view about human life in general; ordinarily, all the omniscient narrator's reports are to be taken as authoratative." (The list of authors given who use this method includes Dickens, Thackery and Austen.)

"Alternatively, the omniscient narrator may choose to be unintrusive or impersonal: he describes, reports, or "shows" the action in dramatic scenes, without introducing his own comments or judgements."

The limited POV The narrator tells the story in the third person, but confines himself to what is experienced, thought and felt by a single character, or at most by a very limited number of characters, within the story. Henry James...described such a character as his "focus" or "mirror" or "center of conciousness". In a number of James' later works all the events and actions are represented as they unfold before, and filter to the reader through, the particular conciousness of one of his characters..." (Abrams goes on about James here, because he is the one who refined & defined it. He also wanders out into stream of conciousness, and James Joyce; but that is way beyond the frontiers of this discussion.)

(Emphasis is Abrams'.)

HTH

khazar

 

 

Re: Point of View

Thank you. That is very informative.

--Ainaechoiriel

 

 

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