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Monday, January 7, 2013

Point of View and Narration: Who saw what?

Picture Credit: http://awinlanguage.blogspot.com/
Before you begin writing, take a good look at your planned point of view. Who has the most to loose in the story?  Which character is the most interesting?

Remember, the main character is generally near the same age as your intended audience. But that doesn't mean he or she must be the same age as the audience. Think of "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. Scout Finch is only 6 years old at the beginning of the book, yet Lee is masterful in making the book all the more appealing because of Scout's young age. If you choose to have a character that is significantly different in age from your intended audience, stop and think about your reason for doing so. As long as there is a compelling reason, go for it. Just be careful to keep from alienating your audience through actions or speech that they can't appreciate.

Many books today have multiple viewpoint characters and switch from one character's head to another's. That's fine, just make sure you switch at a chapter break or at a scene break. Also, make sure that their points of view are different enough that the reader won't get them confused. There should be a definite reason for each viewpoint character. And be careful of having too many. Unless you've got some real experience using different points of view, two is plenty and three is pushing it.

Once you pick your viewpoint character, your next decision will be how the story should be narrated. As a general rule, use the same narration voice for all viewpoint characters.

  • First Person- This narration voice is growing increasingly common for young adult books. It is used when a character is telling about himself or herself. First person can be useful in gaining empathy for the character because the readers spend all their time inside the character's brain. It can also be easier to help the reader understand motives because the character's thoughts are shown. There is also room here for twists as the reader tries to learn how reliable the character's view of the world is. However, I believe there should be a clear reason as to why first person must be used. If narrating in first person doesn't add to the story, I'd strongly recommend considering third person. Also, keep in mind that the reader must be privy to everything the character knows, and confined to what the character knows. The character can not have a secret from the reader when the reader has access to his or her thoughts. On the same lines, the reader can't find out about anything that the character doesn't know. Think of it as camera placement in a movie. If the audience is confined to what the character sees, then they can not know about the serial killer who is creeping up from behind.

  • Second Person- Basically speaking, don't use this one. This narration voice involves talking to "you" or telling about "you." It gives me a headache to think about trying to compose a story in this narrative voice. If for some reason your story absolutely requires this narration, then proceed with extreme caution. Otherwise, don't consider it.

  • Third Person- This narration voice is still the most widely used, although it is becoming less frequent in young adult than it used to be. A third person voice is one that tells about "he," "she," and "they." This voice is expected to be honest about what is happening (compared to first person, which can be skewed to whatever psychotic interpretation the character has). A third person voice can be omniscient or limited.
    • A completely omniscient narration will know every detail about every character's inner-most feelings. Unfortunately, this tends to draw readers further outside the characters to the point that they don't connect well. Also, frequent switching from details about one character's thoughts to another's is confusing.
    • One way to limit the voice is to make the third person a fly on the wall who observes every action, but doesn't know intimate details about any one character. The downside is that it can be very easy to turn the story into a list of dry facts--no actual emotion is known.
    • More commonly, a limited third person voice is one that knows everything about only one character. This technique has a similar feel as first person because there is a specific main character who the story follows and the reader is privy to his or her thoughts (though not in the same degree as first person). One additional benefit is that the camera can zoom up close in intense parts to show every thing that goes through the character's head and then zoom back out to show what is going on around the character (but only to the extent that he or she can be aware of it).

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