Point Of View A Crash Course Courtesy of Card
Voices • Who is telling your story? • You are, of course. You choose what story to tell, which incidents matter, which scenes to show, which events to tell about. It is out of our mind that all the invention comes, all the characters, all the background details, all the ideas. • But when it comes time to speak the words of the story, whose voice will the reader hear?
When it comes to telling a story, far more choices open up to you. • You can use voices in writing that you never use in speech. I’m not just talking about regional dialects, either, though the cadences of Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, or the San Fernando Valley can bring color and life to the telling of a story. • There’s also attitude—cynical, flippant, wondering, cold, nostalgic. • And level—crude, slangy, informal, formal, elevated, magisterial.
“I find that when I’m at the keyboardtelling a story, its’ almost as if I’m acting. I’m ‘in character’ . ’’ • Link Note: When characters develop their own distinct voice (and worse yet, begin doing things that horrify or disturb you, or that you simply do not want them to), it’s official, they have become their own people.
Person Singular Plural First Person: I go We go Second Person You go (thou goest) You go (ya’ll go) Third Person He goes, she goes They go Most stories will be written in either first or third person
Definitions • FIRST PERSON is used for the eyewitness account, the story in which I tell you what I saw and did, what happened to me. • THIRD PERSON: is when the narrator was not present as a character; instead the narrator tells you what happened to other people.
Tense (Link Note) • Most stories are (and should be) written in past tense. Present tense is extremely hard to consistently pull off and is hard on your reader. • Tense change must be consistent. Changing tense is distracting and jarring to your reader.
Third Lmtd vs. Third Omni • Third Person Omniscient: As an omniscient narrator, you float over the landscape wherever you want, moving from place to place in the twinkling of an eye. You pull the reader along with you and whenever you see something interesting, you explain to the reader exactly what’s going on. You can show the reader every character’s thoughts, dreams, memories, and desires; you can let the reader see any moment of the past or future.
Third Limited • The limited third person narrator doesn’t fly freely over the landscape. Instead, the limited narrator is led through the story by one character, seeing only what that character sees; aware of what that character (the “viewpoint character”) thinks and wants and remembers but unable to do more than guess at any other character’s inner life
Switching Viewpoint Characters: • You can switch viewpoint characters from time to time, but trading viewpoints REQUIRES A CLEAR DIVISION—a chapter break or a line space. • THE LIMITED THIRD-PERSON NARRATOR CAN NEVER CHANGE VIEWPOINTS MID-SCENE.
MAKING UP YOUR MIND • First Person and Omniscient narrations are by nature more presentational than limited third- person—i.e. readers will notice the narrator more. • If your goal is to get your readers emotionally involved with your main characters, with minimal distraction from their belief in the story, then the limited third-person narrator is your best choice.
If you’re writing humor. . . • First Person or Omniscient narration can help you create comic distance.
If you want brevity. . . • Covering great spans of time and space or many characters without writing hundreds of thousand of pages to do it, the omniscient narrator may be your best choice.
If you want . . . • The sense of truth that comes from an eyewitness account, first person usually feels less fictional, more factual.
If you’re uncertain of your ability as a writer. . . • While you’re quite confident of the strength of the story, the limited third-person narration invites a clean, unobtrusive writing style—a plain tale plainly told. You still write beautifully using the limited third person, but your writing is more likely to be ignored—thus covering a multitude of sins. • Link Note: This is far and away the most popular approach in literary fiction right now.