Sunday 1 March 2015

On Writing: Point of View

In The Craft of Novel Writing Diane Doubtfire considers the point of view to be next on the agenda for the writer after theme. She describes the different points of view that the book can be written from including the first person, third person or omniscient.

Kate Pulinger, writing a piece on Point of View for the Guardian, considers the first and third person perspectives (limited and omniscient) to currently dominate fiction writing.

Points of view/narration types:

a) First person or the 'I' point of view.

'I had a dog once when I was a child' 
 The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, p.8, 2014

b)Third person limited's use of 'he' and 'she' for a limited number of characters

 'Although he was only forty, Kerans' beard had been turned white by the radio-flourine in the water, but his bleached crew-cut hair and deep amber tan made him appear at least ten years younger.'
The Drowned World by JG Ballard, p.11, 1962

c) Third person omniscient where the story is told from an 'all-knowing' perspective and/or the various points of view of the various characters in it.

'As young readers like to know `how people look', we will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, who sat knitting away in the twilight [...] 
Margaret, the eldest of the four, was [...] 
Fifteen-year-old Jo was [...] 
Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was [...] 
 Amy, though the youngest, was [...]  
What the characters of the four sisters were we will leave to be found out.'
Little Women, by Lousa May Alcott, p.2-3, 1869  

Why choose one over the other? Is it just a style or is it important who tells the story?

I think its important who's point of view we hear the story from. We then know the biases that might ensue and what part of the story we are actually hearing. In Wonder by RJ Palacio, we hear the story of a disfigured boy called August from August himself. The story written in the first person, gives us an intimate view of what August is going through. However it is not until we see the same story from multiple other 'first person' perspectives, like that of his sister or friend that we see the full picture or know the whole story. 

I am writing my novel with a first person point of view. I want the reader to have an intimate relationship with Jez, and get to know the story from his perspective. The problem with this will be that we will only know the other characters and their actions through Jez and with that comes all of Jez's prejudices and assumptions. Also we will only be in the room with the other characters when Jez is. We will know nothing of the other characters or plot points unless Jez tells us. And on that basis we will have to trust Jez to tell us what we need to know and to give the other characters a voice. 

But then, isn't that like real life? We only have one perspective - our own. We have to gain and elicit trust. We don't know what other people are thinking, we listen and watch and get to know people and their stories. We are interested and want to know more. We want to develop, grow in knowledge, skills and understanding. If we knew it all already why would we bother or need to learn? 

We live our lives in suspense, with a first person narrative, our own stories unfolding before our eyes. Eyes blinded by sun, darkness or rose tinted glasses, because no matter what level of skill, knowledge or understanding I acquire in life I still have only only one point of view - mine.

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