January 2019 - WritingClubWorld.com

Archive Monthly Archives: January 2019

Point Of View | First Person

The Point of View (POV) in a story or novel is the narrative perspective from which the story is told. When you tell a story about yourself you use ‘I’ (or ‘We’) to describe the events you experienced: that is a first-person narrative.

A first-person narrator, by definition, can only see and interpret the world from one position and that is their own. The reader will be intimate with the opinions, thoughts and feelings of the narrator but not of other characters.

So how do you tell a rounded story from only one view point? And can you be sure your character
is interesting and engaging enough that the reader wants to ‘listen’ to them for hundreds of pages.
Perhaps more challenging is how you expose things that have happened in another room or
between other characters if the narrator cannot witness them?

Of course, the narrator may overhear conversations, read someone’s diary or accidentally spot a text message, read a newspaper article, find a letter or receive a third party report of something
material. All of these things could happen but be careful of overusing such devices. It soon becomes obvious to the reader that these expositions are unnatural and can create a feeling that the story lacks authenticity.

Some authors have more than one first-person point of view to tell a whole story. It can be
interesting to highlight characters’ differing interpretations of the same event or to get a different perspective on the world. If you choose to have two characters speaking in the first person you will need to be very sure the reader can distinguish them by giving them particular tics or obsessions.
For example, in ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ by Barbara Kingsolver there are five first-person narrators: a mother (Orleana) and her four daughters (Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth May).

The family move to the heart of Africa when the husband and father, Nathan, decides to be a missionary there.

Adah is disabled from an accident at birth so likes to play with words in her head, Ruth May is obsessed with small animals, Leah strives to be the son her father never had and Rachel longs for the teenage life of lipstick and music she left behind in America.

Because their characters are so distinctive, as a reader, I was never in doubt as to who was speaking to me. But that’s Barbara Kingsolver! For us mere mortals, two distinct narrators may be a challenge.

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman is written from first person point of view.

“The doctor was doing that thing where they talk to you but don’t look at you, reading my notes on the screen, hitting the return key with increasing ferocity as he scrolled down.
‘What can I do for you this time, Miss Oliphant?’
‘It’s back pain, Doctor,’ I told him. ‘I’ve been in agony.’ He still didn’t look at me.
‘How long have you been experiencing this?’ he said.
‘A couple of weeks,’ I told him. He nodded. ‘I think I know what’s causing it,’ I said, ‘but I wanted to get your opinion.’ He stopped reading, finally looked across at me.
‘What is it that you think is causing your back pain, Miss Oliphant?’
‘I think it’s my breasts, Doctor,’ I told him.
‘Your breasts?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You see, I’ve weighed them, and they’re almost half a stone – combined
weight, that is, not each!’
I laughed.
He stared at me, not laughing.
‘That’s a lot of weight to carry around, isn’t it?’ I asked him. ‘I mean, if I were to strap half a stone of additional flesh to your chest and force you to walk around all day like that, your back would hurt too, wouldn’t it?’
He stared at me, then cleared his throat.”

Eleanor is the first-person narrator of the story, telling us (the readers) what happened to her. We are ‘seeing’ the story unfold from her perspective.

However, while we have intimacy with Eleanor, we can only INFER the other character’s thoughts or motives from his behaviour, facial expression, body language or dialogue because Eleanor is filtering those ideas and interpreting them in her own way. This tells is about Eleanor as well as the way she sees the doctor.

For example, ‘The doctor was doing that thing where they talk to you but don’t look at you’. This suggests the doctor is in some way disinterested in Eleanor and she, in turn, has seen this kind of behaviour before. The picture we get of him, ‘hitting the return key with increasing ferocity as he scrolled down’ shows perhaps irritation? Anger?

And then his dialogue, ‘What can I do for you this time, Miss Oliphant?’ hints that she is a regular visitor to his surgery, perhaps even a hypochondriac?

Look at the final line of this excerpt, ‘He stared at me, then cleared his throat”. Again Eleanor is reporting what he did but in such a way that we can infer his surprise at her curious (even bizarre) conclusion that the weight of her breasts is a problem and we can even see him trying to process that she has gone to the trouble of weighing her breasts (on kitchen scales as we discover later).

WRITING EXERCISE:

Rewrite the extract above (about Eleanor Oliphant’s visit to the surgery) from the Point of View of the doctor.

Perhaps his surgery is running late and he is anxious to get away? Maybe he is simply fed up with Eleanor’s demands and increasingly bizarre assertions.

Post your ideas in the comments below for others to review.

Point Of View | What Is It?

The Point of View (POV) in a story or novel is the narrative perspective from which the story is told.

The point of view you choose can have a big impact on everything in your story – from it’s mood and atmosphere through to the way the reader perceives and interprets your characters. (‘On Editing’ by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price)

The choice of point of view from which the story is told is arguably the most important single decision the novelist has to make, for it fundamentally affects the way the readers will respond, emotionally and morally to the fictional characters and their actions. (‘The Art of Fiction’ by David Lodge)

Viewpoint and narration compromise a dedicated elaborate facade, in which on tiny break or inconsistency can be disastrous, the equivalent of striking a dissonant chord in the midst of the harmonious musical performance. (‘The First Five Pages’ by Noah Lukeman)

The POV could be:

First person – simply, this is when the ‘I’ (or ‘We’) tells the story. This is the way you’d naturally tell a story about something that happened to you and you were probably asked to write this way as a child when your teacher asked you to write a daily ‘news’ exercise or an essay on ‘what I did during the holidays’.

Third person – the narrative is told referring to ‘he’ or ‘she’. This the way you’d naturally tells stories about other people.

There are two main ways to use third person narrative: close (or limited) or omniscient (or roaming)

• Third person close/limited – this is where the entire story is told by a single narrator but only from the viewpoint of one character. Imagine the story teller was sat on the shoulder of the character for whom they are telling the story with occasional insight to what that character thinks or feels. They can’t tell us about things that happened when this character wasn’t present because they can only interpret evens from the characters point of view.

• Omniscient/ Third person roaming – the story teller sees and knows all. They are privy to the thoughts and feelings of all the characters in a story and there are no barriers to what they might witness because they can access to all areas of the story.

FIRST PERSON POV – EXAMPLE

“The doctor was doing that thing where they talk to you but don’t look at you, reading my notes on the screen, hitting the return key with increasing ferocity as he scrolled down.
‘What can I do for you this time, Miss Oliphant?’
‘It’s back pain, Doctor,’ I told him. ‘I’ve been in agony.’ He still didn’t look at me.
‘How long have you been experiencing this?’ he said.
‘A couple of weeks,’ I told him. He nodded. ‘I think I know what’s causing it,’ I said, ‘but I wanted to get your opinion.’ He stopped reading, finally looked across at me.
‘What is it that you think is causing your back pain, Miss Oliphant?’
‘I think it’s my breasts, Doctor,’ I told him.
‘Your breasts?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You see, I’ve weighed them, and they’re almost half a stone – combined weight, that is, not each!’ I laughed. He stared at me, not laughing. ‘That’s a lot of weight to carry around, isn’t it?’ I asked him. ‘I mean, if I were to strap half a stone of additional flesh to your chest and force you to walk around all day like that, your back would hurt too, wouldn’t it?’
He stared at me, then cleared his throat.”
(from “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Debut Sunday Times Bestseller and Costa First Novel Book Award winner” by Gail Honeyman)

THIRD PERSON CLOSE POV – EXAMPLE

““I didn’t know there was like a baby,” she said finally.
Willa resisted pointing out it wasn’t like a baby, it was the actual article. This was not much of a friend, if Tig hadn’t mentioned the baby bomb dropped on the family.
“I mean, that you guys were still, you know, parents. It’s little.”
With some effort Willa worked out the girl’s mistake, and nearly laughed. She could have been flattered but knew better; fifty-five and thirty-five look just alike to the more self-absorbed of the younger set. They don’t see themselves reaching either of those ages, so it doesn’t matter. And it wasn’t a compliment: braless in her sleep T-shirt and sweatpants, Willa was the picture of worst-case motherhood. And in no mood for chitchat about the family tragedy, frankly. She opted to stick with small talk until she could be dismissed.”

(from “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver)

THIRD PERSON OMNISCIENT POV – EXAMPLE

“During the confusion and bewilderment of the second day Mary hid herself in the nursery and was forgotten by everyone. Nobody thought of her, nobody wanted her, and strange things happened of which she knew nothing.

Mary alternately cried and slept through the hours. She only knew that people were ill and that she heard mysterious and frightening sounds. Once she crept into the dining-room and found it empty, though a partly finished meal was on the table and chairs and plates looked as if they had been hastily pushed back when the diners rose suddenly for some reason. The child ate some fruit and biscuits, and being thirsty she drank a glass of wine which stood nearly filled. It was sweet, and she did not know how strong it was.

Very soon it made her intensely drowsy, and she went back to her nursery and shut herself in again, frightened by cries she heard in the huts and by the hurrying sound of feet. The wine made her so sleepy that she could scarcely keep her eyes open and she lay down on her bed and knew nothing more for a long time.

Many things happened during the hours in which she slept so heavily, but she was not disturbed by the wails and the sound of things being carried in and out of the bungalow.”

(from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

It is worth noting that it is possible to use more than one POV in a single novel or to use more than one narrator using the same POV.

For example, in ‘her’ by Harriet Lane there are two narrators each telling the story from their own first person POV in alternate chapters. Barbara Kingsolver uses no less than five first person POV for her novel ‘The Poisonwood Bible’.

Stephen King uses both first and third person POV in his novel ‘Christine’.

POINT OF VIEW EXERCISE:

Review a random passage from the last three books you read and decide which POV the author has used. Post your observations in the comments below or on the Writing Club World Facebook Page

Word Factory Apprentice Award – It’s Not Too Late!

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Writer’s who can’t afford the application fee can still apply. Make a start today and get your application in by Feb 7.  Learn More Here >>>