Write Lara Write | Comparing and Contrasting different Points of View #writing

POV Part 2—v.s. (compare and contrast)

Write Lara Write | Comparing and Contrasting different Points of View #writing

Today is my second in a short series on Point of View. First was an introduction to terms. Now, a comparison of the different choices of narration. Coming up next, examples of each type. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. First Person
  3. Third Person Omniscient
  4. Third Person Limited Omniscient
  5. Third Person Objective/Cinematic

Introduction

For each of the categories below, I’ll talk about pronouns used for the protagonist; the “number of heads,” that is, the number of POV characters; intimacy, or how connected the reader feels to the characters;  whether the narration style is presentational or representationalif the story or the writing style is more crucial; and in which circumstances you should use each (Should you use it?).

First Person

Pronouns: I, we, me, my, us, our

Number of heads: Just one, the “I” talking. Other chapters might feature a different “I,” though.

Intimacy: Pretty intimate. We feel like we are reading a diary or listening to a friend telling a story. But limited third can be even more intimate, as you’ll see below.

Presentational vs representational: A bit of both. A first-person narrator is aware of the audience and speaks to the audience, which can make it presentational. But if it’s presented in the form of a diary or an interview, it also represents real life, so it feels less fictional.

Story vs. Style: The voice of the narrator is more important than what’s going on in the story. It’s crucial that the writing style is intriguing, interesting, or amusing. The plot of the story doesn’t matter as much as what’s going on in the narrator’s head. One of my guilty pleasures is the Georgia Nicolson diary series by Louise Rennison. There are ten books, and each book has exactly the same plot. But Georgia’s voice never ceases to make me howl with laughter, to the point of abdominal pain, so I own all the books, and have read the first book several times.

Should you use it? First person will work better for you if you have a history in acting. You need to become the character and find his or her voice, not just replicate your own. I could listen to Benedict Cumberbatch read the back of a cereal box and be hanging on his every word. Because he has a great voice. If you can 1) take a menial task and 2) make it interesting and not boring for 3) readers that aren’t on your Christmas list, then you could probably write first person successfully. Just don’t include the cereal boxes in your manuscript.

Another thing to remember about first person is that if the narrator wasn’t physically present for an event, it can only be depicted through after-the-fact dialogue, or seeing it on the news, or some other way of portraying the action. If it’s an important scene, the narrator HAS to be present for it, or the reader will feel cheated. If it’s not an important scene, consider summarizing. If it’s important but the narrator is unconscious or dead, then you’re going to have to switch narrators.

Third Person Omniscient

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: limitless. Omniscient means “all-knowing,” so an omniscient narrator can see into everyone’s thoughts. Omniscient narrators are also omnipresent, so they can go to any time or place. If you’re trying to establish a setting by using people as texture, then you can consider starting with omniscient and segue into limited omniscient.

Intimacy: Omniscient is the least intimate. The more heads the narrator jumps into, the weaker the connection the reader has with anyone. However, in comedy, you might want that comic distance.

Presentational vs representational: Omniscient narration is the most presentational. In real life, there’s no way you can see into everyone’s thoughts. (You aren’t Bruce Almighty.) Since it’s presentational, your narrator needs to be just as well crafted as a first-person narrator. The narrator can have a neutral point of view, but the writing style still needs to be interesting.

Story vs. Style: The reason to write omniscient is to see into other’s heads. If you’re going into more than one head, then the story has to carry the reader through the transition, or else the narrator does. You’ve got to have a fantastic story or an incredible narrator to justify not focusing on one character.

Should you use it? If you’re hilarious, yes. If not, just pick one or two heads and go with limited omniscience. Epic fantasy can sometimes get away with omniscience, but the most successful bits of epic fantasy are told in limited third. Readers want to get attached to characters. Let them.

Third Person Limited Omniscient

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: Just one per scene, but technically limitless.

Intimacy: The more time we spend in a character’s head, the more intimate it gets. Which means the fewer the POV characters, the better. Remember in part 1 when I talked about filtering and deep vs light penetration? Limited third person allows the reader to experience things not just as a friend of the protagonist, like in first person, but as the protagonist. I talk a bit more about it in part 3.

Presentational vs representational: A limited omniscient third person narrator is the least presentational apart from the cinematic narrator. It is generally neutral about the characters in the novel and will disappear during the deep penetration scenes.

Story vs. Style: Because the narrator is pretty neutral in tone, story is more important with limited third person. However, the voices of each of the POV characters still need to be distinct during deep penetration scenes.

Should you use it? Limited Third Person is the novel standard because it’s the best of all worlds. It allows you to pick more than one POV character if necessary. But please, don’t give every secondary and tertiary character their own few paragraphs in the spotlight. It’s annoying. Writers using limited omniscience third person effectively will limit the omniscience and the number of persons involved.

Third Person Objective/Cinematic

Pronouns: he, she, it, they, his, hers, her, their, theirs, him, them

Number of heads: Zero. Any thoughts and emotions have to be shown through speech or actions. The narrator is silent and objective.

Intimacy: While this doesn’t sound very intimate, because we never see anybody’s thoughts, it’s as intimate as you can get with people in real life. Readers feel connected to the characters because they get to know them by their words and actions, not by the perception of a narrator. We never get into Darcy’s head, but how many people have fallen in love with Mr. Darcy?

Presentational vs representational: Representational, for the above.

Story vs. Style: It’s difficult to do objective narration well, without boring your readers to death. It really is showing versus telling. Nobody tells the reader what to think of certain characters, the reader has to figure them all out, even the protagonist. Things have to happen to the characters in order for them react, so story is important. But figuring out how to flesh out all of the characters while not commenting on them might take some figuring.

Should you use it? If you’re the next Hemingway, go for it. He did it. Whether he was successful or not is up to the readers. But if it doesn’t work for you, try writing limited third person instead of blowing your brains out.

Actually I’m reading a book right now that is written in first person, but the love interest had been written in an objective way for the first part of the book. And it’s spectacular. The protagonist mentioned what she observed this guy doing, and what he said, but she never commented on him or his actions. I was able to get to know him apart from her opinions. And that meant that I, as reader, was able to “fall in love” at the same time as the protagonist. Of course, later on, she realizes that she loves him, and then starts describing him from a biased point of view, but until that point, any opinions were completely my own. What a refreshing change from the books that assume you have to like a character just because the narrator keeps telling you to! Bottom line: experiment with objective storytelling, showing who a character is rather than telling what he is.

Read Part Three: Examples of the Different POVs.

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