During the final rewrite phase of my novel, Misfit McCabe, leading up to publication, I worked with a class of young readers to preview the manuscript and provide feedback. This is the fifth in a series of articles about fiction writing aimed at young writers. This article discusses the what is meant by point of view and how it is used.
Before you start writing a story, you need to determine what voice and point of view you are going to use.
Voice: Are you going to write using the first person or third person voice? When writing in the first person voice, you use "I" (or for first person plural, "we") and the storytelling is limited to one character's viewpoint. When writing in the third person voice, you use "he" or "she" and you have some additional options, like telling certain parts of the story from different characters' view points. Most of Misfit McCabe is written using first person. See if you can tell when third person is used.
Point of View: What point of view boils down to is who is telling the story? Is one person telling the story, do you need several people to tell the story? Does the reader only get to experience the thoughts and feelings of one character or do you want them to know things that happen outside of your main character's perspective? Sometimes a story will have so many different points of view that it becomes confusing to the reader because they are not sure who is telling the story now. If you are writing a story that has a shifting point of view (you want to tell the story from more than one character's perspective) then you need to make sure that when you change point's of view that the shift is well defined. Some ways to capture this is the start of a new chapter or paragraph (for shorter stories). As someone is reading your story, they should always know who is "talking".
Misfit McCabe is written in first person and from the point of view of Katie for the majority of the book. We know what is happening to Katie, what she is thinking and feeling and we know it as if she herself is telling us the story. We don't know anything outside of Katie's perspective, what is happening to other people in the story when they are not with Katie, and we don't know what the other characters are thinking or feeling. If you choose to write something in first person, you can only write about that one character's thoughts and feelings. For example, when Katie and Timmy are in the shed, I couldn't write what Timmy was thinking or feeling, I could only tell you what seemed to be happening through Katie's eyes, or what Katie thought Timmy might be thinking. What first person allows the writer to do is to bring a reader closer into the mind and feelings of their character. The use of first person is less common than third person, because in some ways it is more limiting. Sometimes detective or mystery stories are written in the first person, because the writer doesn't want the reader to know anything outside of the point of view of the detective. That helps the writer to sustain a little more of the mystery. I chose to write Misfit McCabe in the first person because I thought it would help the readers identify more with Katie and help them to understand some of the way she was feeling.
When using third person to write your story, you can introduce the point of view of more than one character and you can describe thoughts, feelings, and actions that happen away from the main character. You can also choose to write a story from one point of view, but use third person to create a little distance between the reader and the character whose point of view is telling the story. For example, if you were writing a horror story and your character was a horrible person who went around killing people, you could choose to tell the story entirely from that character's point of view, but you might want to use the third person voice because you want to create some distance between the reader and the character. In this case, you probably don't want the reader to identify with the killer.
I am going to try and illustrate how the use of first person can help the reader identify with the feelings of a character vs. how third person can create a little distance.
Here is the first person example:
I was so mad that I felt like my head was going to burst. I had taken all of the insults from him that I could stand. It felt like they were churning inside me and any moment would come spewing back in the bitterest words I could find.
Now for the third person example:
Lorraine was so mad that she felt like her head was going to burst. She had taken all of the insults from him that she could stand. She felt like they were churning inside her and any moment would come spewing back in the bitterest words she could find.
Because first person uses I, it is easier for us to think in those terms of ourselves. We can say - "Yes I have felt just that way before too." Using third person, we, as the reader, feel more like it is happening to someone else.
There's actually a lot more I could say about point of view, but I think I'll save that for another time. I just wanted to give you something to think about so that when you write a story, you know that you do need to think about these very important items and make a choice about which voice and point of view you want to use and why.
LK Gardner-Griffie is the author of young adult novel Misfit McCabe which is available now through Lulu.com , Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.com in paperback and as a Kindle edition at Amazon.com.
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