Different Perspectives, Different Emphases

Status: I’m doing a massive edit of my current Blog Novel. Hopefully, I’ll have it done tonight and updated so I can get back to writing on track!

Dear reader, this week we’re covering Points of View. As Hunger has covered in the first post, there are different Points of View (POV), and in fact, there are many people who experiment with the three ways of writing before finding one that easily fits them. Raven, in the second post of the week, has covered certain advantages and disadvantages of using a certain POV, and also encourages you to try out each style of writing to see which one would fit your novel/story best before committing to it.

For me, I’m going to talk about how each point of view elicits a different emphasis on certain parts of your novel writing process. How a POV will affect what comes into greater prominence as you write. Of course, this comes from my experience with experimenting with each writing style, so there is a certain bias that will inevitably creep into my writing. But then again, that’s how things work. Feel free to read on or jump off this post.

Good? Good. Let’s go.

First person narratives are within the ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’ style of writing. For me, when I think of this kind of writing style, there is a very strong emphasis on how a person feels and reacts to a situation. The importance of being ‘in character’ for first person is that you have you ultimately make us feel what the character feels. This includes showing the reactions that he/she/zir would have to various things, how they would react to familiar and new situations.

In this case, it is important that there is a slightly heavier emphasis on describing new people and places, while going lighter on familiar ones. Indeed, describing the narrator himself/herself/zirself will be ridiculously weird, if not downright egotistical. Instead, first person narratives run by the ‘unreliable narrator’ format, where certain things can be twisted by perception of the reader so that a ‘false’ chain of events are given to the reader. For example, in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Lestat and Louis both share a similar storyline, but their retelling of the events differ significantly because of their personal bent and needing to lie by omission, or by deliberate misinformation.

First person narratives therefore can be ‘unreliable’ (a potential plot device) and can also be a powerful tool for getting a person to sympathise with your main character. Reaction is the key.

Second person narratives are different in that they tell the reader directly how to feel. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a fantastic book that showcases the strength of second person, and I highly recommend (as I have on my own blog) that you get your hands upon it if you want to see how second person works, and also if you want a fantastic book.

And also because I see that Raven didn’t mention an excerpt of Second Person, I’ll try my best to make one myself.

The droning of the professor’s voice is a pleasant hum, something comfortably distant away from reality such that you can rest, lying your head on the cool table in front of you. The buzz of a lawnmower working on the Quad floats in from the window, while a cool breeze tugs gently at a lock of your hair.

Cracking an eye open, you look around the class. The other students unlike you, are busy listening to what the professor teaches. You know you should try to listen in… but the drowsiness you feel drags at your eyelids. Relaxing once more against the table, you idly contemplate how this is going to affect your grades. But never mind, you’re too tired.

Or are you?

Okay, that got way too much into the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ format. -nervous cough- Moving on.

The way I see things, second person narratives have a strong emphasis on what is there to see. Strong on impression and description to immerse the reader in the world, but not to force them into a certain character mold, the second person POV is very much one that has an empty character ‘shell’ for a reader to insert themselves into, and thus allows one to experience the story as if it is happening directly to the reader. Other than obvious cues (such as getting tired when running, or a scene where you get drunk after drinking three cups of ale etc.), the reader’s experience is very much that of looking in on the world and story that the writer has created.

In this case, it is important not to force upon the reader what they are ‘supposed’ to feel, especially if there is a choice they can take for it, unless it is only to be expected. The emphasis here is that of description of the world that a reader is supposed to see. However, I strongly urge against literally creating a blank character that has no feelings or motivations. Should a plot necessitate that the main character should react in a certain manner, do it. If not, a characterless character will strain the plot greatly.

Third person narratives are the ones that work with all characters, rather than a ‘I’ and ‘You’, it is a ‘Character’ viewpoint. A more balanced viewpoint than the previous two, third person needs to (in my opinion, of course), strike the balance between action, feeling, and description.

On a side note, I must mention that one thing that third person has as an ‘advantage’ over the previous two POVs is the choice between choosing the omniscient and limited viewpoint. One allows the reader to know every feeling of every character, while another focuses on one character. Once you pick either omniscient or limited third person, stick with it. It is so important that you do that or you’re going to end up confusing your reader. Now that we’re done with that, let’s move back to what we’re supposed to be focusing on.

The emphasis that I believe is needed in third person is the balance. Though there isn’t a need to describe everything through the use of a character viewing something, it is important that unless you are choosing heavy description as a stylistic choice to do so, most third person POVs require a bit of this, and a bit of that. Needless to say, it is a tough style to work with because the only way you can improve is to constantly experiment with what you have and see which format and combination works better.

One tip I always think of in this situation is that third person works best with a screenplay. Writing a screenplay is almost like writing out a movie, and a third person has always translated strongest for me in terms of ‘seeing’ the prose. Conversely, translating a screenplay or what you could ‘see’ of the book and scene into writing would help. Positions of characters, backdrop, dialogue, expression, feeling. These all are covered in a screenplay, and can be translated well into third person narrative (with certain changes).

And so, third person? The emphasis is balance. Balance everything in moderation though, because even moderation must be conducted in moderation. Simply speaking, write and see what works.



One response to “Different Perspectives, Different Emphases

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