First? Second? Third? I’m talking about narrative points of view. Which is best? I have touched upon this topic before as have many others. There is no definitive answer, however the collective consensus is by all means stay away from second person point of view—a story told from the reader’s vantage point: “You reach for the doorknob and slowly turn it. The hinges squeak as you pull it open and you stop and wince at the sound.” It can be awkward and unconvincing and you would be better off telling the same story from the first person point of view.
First person has it’s advantages of narrowing the focus of the story and controlling the information, only that which is experienced by the narrator is shared with the reader. A detective story is a prefect candidate for first person point of view allowing the reader access only to the information and clues available to the detective (assuming he or she is the narrator). This draws the reader in, an invitation to pit themselves against the wits of the detective and try to beat him to the solution. An interesting twist would be to tell a detective story in first person from the criminal’s point of view watching the detective take wrong turns and then narrow down the evidence until it points him to the murderer.
Third person or omniscient point of view provides a writer with the most flexibility. You can get inside the head of any character and any detail can be shared. Simultaneous tracks or plot lines can be followed. Multiple points of view, however, can ramp up your story by adding some interesting perspectives to your story.
Not to beat it into the ground, but, Mark Haddon’s The Red House (I know, I know. This is the third post in a row to make mention of that book.) uses multiple view points inventively and effectively. He strings together small scenes or vignettes to tell a whole story. In one scene one character might hear part of an outburst by another. A scene or two later you will find out what that outburst was all about through the eyes and ears of one personally involved in it. At points he seamlessly shifts from character to character but handles it in such a way that it isn’t confusing or distracting.
You can use multiple points of view with either first person or third person. Haddon gives us the feel of a third person/first person hybrid by showing us scenes through varying characters eyes but without using the usual I, me, or my first person identifiers. An example of how a writer might take advantage of multiple first person view points would be by alternating between two or more main characters in separate plot lines that inexorably head towards a convergence at the climax of the story.
The whole flavor and focus of a story can be determined by the perspective you choose. A story told by a child will be a different story than one told by and adult which would be different from a story told by an elder with Alzheimer’s. A majority of stories seem to be told from third person point of view and it can be so easy to fall into the rhythm of writing in third person, but take different or multiple points of view under consideration to take your writing to a unique place.
Question: What’s your point of view on different points of view?