My name is Who, which is a strange name, but all will become clear. I’m still recovering from a good amount of beer downed last night while trying to imagine myself as a protagonist in a story. It doesn’t really matter what story. I need a couple of pals. They have strange names, too. Where, he’s the tallest of the two, and Viewpoint. I was leaning up against a bar in Sausalito, when I thought how I don’t give my pals enough thought. I’ll explain, but let me run and get something for this damned headache…
Okay…I hope that works.
Where, after downing his fourth pint, and keep in mind he’s a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking, is always fun to have around when writing a story. The other pal is called, Viewpoint. I never quite know where his head is. Sometimes he’s here, sometimes there, but always necessary.
Who will speak, in what form and at what distance from the action? With what kinds of limitation? Who, of course, is great fun. Who can be: She, You, he, or I. Who is generally the protagonist.
I probably enjoy most working with who when he becomes I. It allows me to write as if writing directly to the reader, telling the story in his or her own words. For example: “I am writing this to you at five minutes past midnight, I have a bumper headache. After I got home, I realized I’d left my stuffed moose in the bar.” In this case, I can become one of the characters, not the author as in the third point of view.
First person, past tense is the most common narration technique, especially among beginning writers. That’s me.
The advantage of writing the first-person viewpoint.
1.) It gives a great deal of intimacy with my viewpoint. When I am writing from the “I” perspective, I quite literally invite my readers into my head and show them the world through my eyes.
2.) It allows me to show my personality rather easily because every thought, feeling and opinion expressed in the narrative comes from me, it’s mine. Naturally I must know myself very well before starting the story; if not I’m going to write a flat, undeveloped character unlikely to hold the reader’s interest.
BUT, there are disadvantages writing from the first person viewpoint.
1.) In order to write from the first-person point of view, I must be able to create a character strong enough and interesting enough to keep my readers going for an entire story or novel — yet not so eccentric or bizarre that my readers feel trapped inside my head. Hello, want to know why I don’t write longer works!
2.) What I gain in intimacy, I lose in perspective. I can’t write about anything I couldn’t know, which means I must have myself on the spot whenever I want to write an immediate scene. I can only show my thoughts and can only see the events my own eyes see. The thoughts of other characters must be expressed through dialogue.
3.) The first-person point of view limits my perspective in another. Whenever I write from only one point of view, my readers only get to know me directly. Sorry about that. One way around this is to write in the first person from several different viewpoints with different scenes done from inside the heads of different characters, a technique that can be highly effective in the hands of an experienced novelist. Not me!
The limitations to this viewpoint are that I must always remain actively involved in the story, otherwise I end up standing on the sidelines and describing the action in long, telling passages. Physical descriptions of the main character come through the dialogue from other characters (“I’ve always loved your humour when you’ve had a drink,” Jenny told me) or by the main character comparing himself to another person (I have my dad’s blue eyes, but not his genes). Rarely does a character stop and describe herself for no reason.
Third person: With third person I get to use the pronouns “he” and “she,” but I am still telling the story through one character’s eyes. When third person narration is limited, I get close to my main character by showing only his or her thoughts and feelings and following that character through the story, but I don’t have to write the narration as if it’s coming out of my main character’s mouth. This is often the easiest point of view for beginning writers to master. (Oh, yes. This is me alright. I’m a bumbling fool and need easy. Easy is good.)
Third-person is divided according to the degree of knowledge, or omniscience, (I had to get a dictionary for an explanation of that word. I’m a long time away from a school desk.) It’s important I let the reader know early on as to what degree of omniscience I’ve chosen.
Editorial omniscient — I know every universal or eternal truth. (Yea!)
Limited omniscient — I may know what’s in the mind of one character but not in another’s. (Tricky)
Objective — I know only what can be observed externally.
The omniscient author, sometimes referred to as the editorial omniscient author because she or he tells us directly what we are supposed to think, is the most difficult POV to control. The omniscient narrator has total knowledge. As omniscient author I am God.
- Objectively report what is happening;
- Go into the mind of any character;
- Interpret character’s appearance, speech, actions, and thoughts, even if the character cannot do so;
- Move freely in time or space, know what has happened elsewhere or in the past or what will happen.
- Provide general reflections, judgments, and truths.
Okay, that’s enough right now. I need a shower, a walk, and a bloody good drink before I set about using what I’ve learned, and it’s only step one.