The Fiction Writing Workshop: Point of View

By Kristin Bair O’KeeffeKristin Bair O'Keeffe

Confusion
When I ask a student, “In which point of view is this story written?” I often get a blank stare, a long “uuummmmm,” or a wrong answer with a question mark tacked onto the end (for example, “First person?”).
 
Clarity
When making decisions about point of view, you must consider two important questions:

From whose perspective is this story going to be told? (In other words, whose story is it?)

Who is going to tell the story?

The Breakdown
First Person: an “I” (or sometimes a “we”) tells the story; everything in the story is filtered through that narrator
          Example: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
           1.   This is Holden Caulfield’s story. No doubt about it.
           2.   Holden is the first-person narrator. He is the “I” in the story.
 
Advantages: strong sense of intimacy; constant opportunity for characterization; a strong voice that draws readers into the story
 
Challenges: a first-person narrator walks a fine-line between interesting and self-indulgent; readers might doubt the narrator’s interpretation of events (thus creating an unreliable narrator); readers can only climb into the head of the narrator
 
Second Person: the protagonist (or another main character) is addressed by using “you” (This creates the sense that the reader is the “you.”)
          Example: Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
          1.   This is the main character’s story. (Yes, he remains named throughout the book, but he is most definitely the “you.”)
          2.   The narrator is the main character talking to himself. (He’s a little screwed up so this direct address using “you” makes sense.)
 
Advantages: a sense of immediacy and urgency; fun to write and read; readers feel included
 
Challenges: if readers don’t like or don’t relate to your main character, you might lose them; some readers are uncomfortable if they feel they are being addressed directly; hard to sustain readers’ interest over many pages
 
Third Person: an outside narrator tells the story using “he,” “she,” and “they”
          Example: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
          1.   This is Mamah Borthwick Cheney’s story.
          2.   A third-person narrator tells the story but via Mamah’s perspective.(We see what other characters do, but don’t get into their heads.)
 
Advantages: more leeway to move around a story; opportunity to observe the protagonist from the outside; ability to get into the heads of your secondary characters (if you choose to); able to create a more complicated world; more objective than a first-person narrator
 
Challenges: less intimacy; temptation to include too many characters; a narrator who accesses the thoughts and feelings of too many characters
 
Caution: It’s Not Just About Pronouns
At first glance, it may seem that changing the point of view of your story is as simple as changing the pronouns, but it’s not. Deciding on a point of view requires you to consider many aspects of a story, including information to which the reader has access, voice, attitude, language, and which scenes to include (among others). Take your time here, and when in doubt ask yourself: Who matters most? 
 
 
October 2007 Family Fun MagazineKristin Bair O’Keeffe’s debut novel, Thirsty, will be published by Swallow Press in 2009. Since moving to Shanghai, China, in 2006, Kristin has been chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in her blog, “Shanghai Adventures of a Trailing Spouse.” Her essays and articles have appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Baltimore Review, San Diego Family Magazine, and The Gettysburg Review. She teaches fiction and nonfiction writing and is the curator of Out Loud! The Shanghai Writers Literary Salon. To learn more, visit www.kristinbairokeeffe.com.

About these ads

1 Response to “The Fiction Writing Workshop: Point of View”


  1. 1 Angelo Crapanzano September 17, 2009 at 2:58 am

    All of my books have a piece of my life in it. But I don’t think I want people to know that it is. I always tell them in the third person. Though some part of my stories are real they always slip into absolute fiction. Some of the romances are from my life before I married and one of them is how my wifw and I meet. All the names of cource were changed.


Comments are currently closed.



RSS RSS Subscribe to Writers on the Rise

  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
    The Writer Mama

RSS RSS Subscribe to WOTR Comments

a

Christina Katz's Facebook profile
September 2009
M T W T F S S
« Aug   Oct »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930  

Blog Stats

  • 252,454 hits

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers

%d bloggers like this: