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50. Points of View in Storytelling

50. Points of View in Storytelling

Whose eyes are you looking through in your stories? Typically, if you’re writing, you will tell you story from a limited third person point of view. Limited because the narrator (the person who you are writing about) is stuck in his or her own head. They only have information that they could derive with their senses. If someone is balling their fist, they can assume they are angry; if someone is smiling broadly, they might decide they are happy.

The point is that this perspective keeps you strongly rooted within the emotional context of a single character, instead of third person omniscient that has you flitting back and forth across every character in the scene.

Movies are also almost exclusively told from third person objective viewpoint. In this case the narrator acts as a “fly on the wall,” showing the scene without having any direct interaction with the characters thoughts. Imagine if every few seconds of a film, you were put behind the eyes of another character, hearing their thoughts and feeling their reactions. It would be difficult to follow and even more difficult to create dramatic tension.

Perspective shifts can happen, that’s not a problem, but it’s best to save them for the end of chapters or the end of scenes.

Other types of stories use other points of view, the one you choose should be based on what you believe would give your story the most emotional impact. Consider your audience, how they will be viewing the story and what you want them to see. Once you understand that, choosing the right point of view for the situation won’t be difficult.

Here’s an example from SFWriter of a comparison between a story told in third person limited and one told in third person omniscient.

‘Hello, Mrs. Spade. I’m Pierre Tardivel.’ He was conscious of how out-of-place his Québécois accent must have sounded here — another reminder that he was intruding. For a moment, Mrs. Spade thought she recognized Pierre.

In the opening of the paragraph, we are inside Pierre’s head: “He was conscious of how out-of- place . . .” But by the end of the paragraph, we’ve left Pierre’s head and are now inside another character’s: “Mrs. Spade thought she recognized Pierre.”

Here’s the same paragraph rewritten as limited third person, solely from Pierre’s point of view.

‘Hello, Mrs. Spade. I’m Pierre Tardivel.’ He was conscious of how out-of-place his Québécois accent must have sounded here — another reminder that he was intruding. There was a moment while Mrs. Spade looked Pierre up and down during which Pierre thought he saw a flicker of recognition on her face.’

Speaking of perspective, what you are watching is Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The first half of the movie was shot from a second person perspective, one of the few movies that were.

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