A new thought on point of view

Ah, point of view. It’s one of the first things we learn to identify in junior high language arts classes. There’s the classic first person (me, I, us), the oft overlooked second person (like someone is telling the story to you), and third person (someone is telling the story that’s not in the story). It’s so basic that when we decided to go over it in one of my workshop classes I had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes.

But as it turns out, I had a thing or two to learn about point of view. Good thing I didn’t actually roll my eyes because that would have been hard to take back. Some writers don’t know what point of view to start their story in. At first, I thought this was ridiculous, but when we discussed it in workshop, I saw the arguments for both sides. It’s clearly very trendy to write in first person these days. Then again, there are some writers, such as Jonathan Get-Off-My-Lawn Franzen, who think third person is the only way to go.

My fellow workshoppers lobbied questions at our instructor, Bill Henderson, who basically boiled down point of view to this simple stance: you must examine your protagonist, and then go from there. If your protagonist is compelling, has a distinct voice, and the audience would benefit from their view of the story (though it may be slightly slanted and biased), then by all means, first person! Sometimes though you will have a character who simply does not have the faculties to make a good narrator. For example, if it’s a woman who lives on the prairie and stopped going to her one room schoolhouse when she was nine, she may not be fully equipped to narrate a satisfactory story. In that case, you would use third person because you, as the writer, do have the ability to tell it (hopefully).

When I heard this, I immediately seized on it and wrote it down in my workshop notes. I had never thought of point of view like this before. Just goes to show you (or rather, me) that you don’t know everything there is to know about an aspect of writing. In a way, you’re always learning, always workshopping (go ahead and apply this metaphor to life, too).  Also, like most things in writing and literature, there are probably thoughts and practices to contradict this, but if you’re struggling with point of view for your new novel (NaNoWriMo is coming….) I’d consider looking at it from Bill’s lens.

Anyways, that’s all from me today! Short, but sweet. I’ll be back on Tuesday, and the blog schedule is going to shift some because I’m going out of town and I get my novel back TOMORROW and I’ll be up to my neck in revisions and therefore emotionally all the over the place. Should be fun [deep sarcasm]. Have a great weekend, everyone. If you miss me while I’m gone, you can come follow/talk to me here. Until next week, I’m out.


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