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Point of view

April 19, 2011

Emily Perkins, author of Novel About My Wife, writes a really lovely article on ‘point of view,’ in the ‘Masterclass‘ section of Booknotes, 167 (summer 2010, pp14-15) (freely available download – listed under different date!).

In it, she writes about point of view/narrative position and the influence this aspect of writing has over the impact of the entire piece. It’s nice!  She writes:

You might find that your story doesn’t quite lift off until you have this point of view right.  Whose story is it?  Should it be told by the subject or by an interested (or seemingly disinterested) observer?” p14

She goes on to discuss the options (first, third, second person…):

On the First person, the ‘I’ narrator, she writes:

Your first person narrator could be the story’s protagonist, or one of the other characters, or outside the story altogether.  One of the main decisions to make is whether they are reliable or unreliable.  Using an unreliable first-person narrator might be a way of getting at the inherent subjectivity within storytelling (and life).  How much does the ‘I’ know about the story? Do they have all the facts? Do they have attitudes or limitations that prevent them from understanding the significance of the story? Does their unreliability contribute to the fiction’s preoccupations or themes?” p14

But one of the challenges posed by first person is that it can become relentless, like getting stuck talking to an ‘I’ specialist at a party.  Some narrators dominate more than others, and it might be useful to consider whether your narrator can function as an observer as well as an actor in the piece, and whether or not they have an engaging voice – first-person point of view will influence the language in which your fiction is expressed.” p14

Novel About My Wife

Third person: he, she  and it      Close third-person narration – point of view that sits on the shoulder of a particular character, not behind their eyes – might use the kind of language the character would use of itself.  In fiction that moves from one close third-person point of view to another, language shifts can indicate that change in perspective.” p14

… oh it continues on – and it’s great!

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