Friday, April 23, 2010

More on Point of View

Last week there was a quick look at first person viewpoint in a story. Now we come to second person. This is you. I've never used this viewpoint but I'm sure there are writers out there who have. If anyone can think of one, let me know. This might be a point of view for a mind reader or a computer. But now I'll move on to third person.

Third person, he and she is the most usual point of view used in fiction writer. There are several variations of third person viewpoint. There is limited where one person's view is the sole one used. In some ways this is almost like first person in that all is shown through what that person hears, says, thinks, sees and all the other senses a writer used.

Another form of limited third person is used mainly in romance fiction. Where the hero and the heroine each have a point of view. Thus all other characters are shown through the viewpoints of these two characters.

Third person can also have multiple view point characters. Many works of fiction follow this pattern. There are many he and she characters. These books become some kind of ensemble books. Third person allows the writer to get into a number of heads and show the actions and especially the reactions of more than one character,

Now we come to pitfalls of third person. One I see often is when a character think about her long blonde hair or a hero about his well-developed muscles. This a a step from third person into almost omniscent. People seldom think about the color of their hair or how well their bodies are developed. Another problem I've seen is head-hopping. There is nothing wrong with changing viewpoint in a scene, especially if it's done skillfully. But to jump from person to person from sentence to sentence can be confusing to the reader. If the view point is to be shifted in the scene try to go for several paragraphs at the least. I once read a contest entry where there were three viewpoints in the same paragraph and one of them was the horse. Needless to say this became funny when the writer hadn't intended this to happen.

The final viewpoint is omniscent. Here the writer delves into anyone's head, including minor character. I find this a hard one to maintain. Though many of my stories are in third person with multiple viewpoints. Here I stick to one character per scene or chapter or I change midway in a scene and stay there to the end.


Terri said...

Sports writers make good use of second person in their columns. I think the late, great Jimmy Cannon started this a zillion years ago, with groundbreaking columns about sports personalities, such as "Ted Willliams." Opening paragraph: "You're Ted Williams who never wanted partners. You're in business for yourself. Baseball ceased to bne a team game when you played it. You were a soloist. That's why is is strange to discuss you as manaer of th Washington Senators."
Latter day columnists, such as Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, who grew up reading Cannon and/or learned their trade as sportwriters, often adopted the conceit. If anyone has a chance to pick up NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...THE WORLD OF JI(MMY CANNON," I highly recommend it. He could teach a lot of us a thing or two about riveting writing.
I've read a few novels in second person. The most famous is probably BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY by Jay McInerny. The most compelling is A PRAYER FOR THE DYING by Stewart O'Nan.
I've read a number of short stories and essays done in second person. Seems to lend itself more to shorter format.

Jennifer Probst said...

I have been experimenting again with short story fiction and found while researching the market many magazines seem to favor first person stories. I am not comfortable writing first, I prefer third. Of course, this was an opportunity to stretch so I made myself write one in first person to get a different feel for the story. I still prefer third!

Margaret west said...

Great blog. Really interesting.