Part i. Point-of-View (POV)

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In the majority of modern novels, each scene is narrated by one of the characters. The protagonist narrates most of the scenes, but other characters may have scenes where they get to "hold the camera" and tell the story from their own perspective, showing what they see, think, feel, and experience.

What is Point-of-View?

Point-of-view (POV) classifies the stance and the identity of the person who records and reports the action—that is the person whose eyes and mind become ours as we read the story. POV is the vantage point from which the story is told—the consciousness through which the character's experiences are filtered.

There are many different POV's in which you can experience a story.

We'll consider two core aspects of POV: The first aspect has to do with the appropriate vantage point for the story; the second has to do with the narrative mode—that is, whether you choose to employ first-, second-, or third-person POV. The next three parts will go into depth on each POV, but this part will focus on the first core aspect and briefly touch upon the second core aspect.

Vantage Point

Deciding whose consciousness you will use to tell your story is an important consideration. Some vantage points are undoubtedly more interesting than others.

Whose story is this? Consider the various characters that play a part in your story. Whose perspective is the most interesting, the most engaging, both emotionally and intellectually? Author of Write and Revise for Publication, Jack Smith, suggests to think of it this way:

• Whose perspective would give us a better understanding of the human condition, the human experience, human nature, human psychology?

• Whose perspective would tell us the most about the nature of human relationships? Of some social or cultural practice?

Consider the narrative technique in The Great Gatsby. While Jay Gatsby is a major character, the novel is nonetheless told from Nick Carraway's POV, not Gatsby's. It's Nick's take on Gatsby that counts—we view Gatsby from the outside, filtered through Nick's consciousness.

What would the novel have been like from Gatsby's POV? Could Gatsby have seen into himself the way Nick does? An important point needs to be made about Nick. Quoting Jack Smith, Nick Carraway isn't just a "peripheral narrator" who's uninvolved in the story. Smith mentions that "by the end of the book it is Nick's life that has been changed by what he has observed."

First-, Second-, and Third-Person Narrative

The first-person is "in" today. Not that this narrative wasn't used in the past, but you will find a plethora of books on shelves, especially of the contemporary fiction kind, that write in the first-person, as well as in present tense.

What we have, then, is a first-person narrator talking to us about what is happening now—unless the narrator is flashing back. This gives the work a sense of immediacy it might not otherwise possess.

If first-person allows us to enter, with immediacy, into the main character's life, second-person grabs the reader and says: it's "you" doing this. "You're" going through this.

Third-person POV provides more emotional distance from the character. Depending on the story or novel, you may decide that you prefer the third-person and choose this as an alternative to the first. Perhaps the first-person seems to identify you too closely to the character—you feel the need for some emotional distance. Third-person has multiple modes to choose from, which we'll delve into later on.

Oftentimes in contemporary fiction, the author writes a story in a multiple POV approach, taking in the perspectives of several key characters. This is done most often in third-person limited form.

Keep in mind that POV may affect the voice of the narrative. Because of its intimacy, a first-person narrative may create a different kind of voice than would a third-person narrative, which will be more distant.

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