Thursday, September 27, 2012

Differing Perspectives

One of the hardest things to figure out when telling a story is deciding on a point of view to tell it from.  Do you want to come at things from a first person perspective so that the audience gets the feeling of intimacy with the main character?  Do you want the audience to know everything that is happening from a third person omniscient point of view so they can read all the characters' thoughts and try to figure out the varying ways they interact with each other?  Each one will greatly affect how you tell your story, which will, in turn, affect how your target audience views the tale.
(She sees things a little different)
Most writers pick one perspective and stick with it throughout most of their career.  I usually use third person limited - the main character is the focal point of how I get the story across, but I rarely let the main character know everything.  I use it because it helps build suspense without giving too personal a look into the soul of the protagonist.  Some of my stories are raw enough emotionally as it is, so I have to have the reader maintain a little bit of distance or the experience could be too personal and might cause discomfort.

I also favor third person limited because most of my favorite authors use it.  JK Rowling weaves in a little omniscience, but not until the later books in the Harry Potter series; her first few show the world entirely from Harry's point of view, and this helps keep the audience guessing about what will happen next.

That's not to say I haven't experimented with other styles.  In Wrongful Death, a story still looking for a different title for, the main character is a teenager, and a lot of teenagers can be jerks(I know I was, but fortunately for all of you, I grew out of it!  Don't laugh, I did so...).  In order to create an empathetic bond between the character and the audience, I had to allow the reader to get more intimate with the protagonist than I normally do, so I went with a first person limited point of view.  This showed the reader that Christian was a likable person underneath his teenage bravado, and it kept the suspense that goes with not knowing everything.

Some people go with second person omniscient, like the way Christine Rice did in Freelance Writing Guide: What To Expect In Your First Year As A Freelance Writer.  Most of the books that do this are "how-to" books that are trying to allow the reader to envision himself or herself accomplishing the tasks set forth.  Whether it's writing freelance, building a deck, or learning the various positions of the Karma Sutra, in second person omniscient, the reader needs to be able to truly believe he or she can do what they are reading.  This isn't some distant character that they need to develop an attachment to - it's themselves personally, a person hopefully they already give a shit about.

I've just started to use a bit of a hybrid in my most recent work.  I usually disdain third person omniscient, but aspects of it have become necessary to show the breadth of the story.  I'm not even sure it's truly an omniscient perspective since what it really does is bring together several third person limited perspectives, but the effect is the same - the reader has greater knowledge of what is happening than they would if they only followed one character, and the reader also knows more than the main character is capable of knowing.  It's challenging to keep these points of view separate, but it's necessary for so the story can have the depth to achieve the desired effect.  Harry Turtledove does this a lot in his alternate version of America if the Confederacy had won the Civil War, bringing everything together in the final chapters.  If I can pull it off half as well as Turtledove does, it'll be a resounding success.

What's your favorite perspective?  Do you like to think you're in the middle of the action, or do you prefer to watch from a distance and empathize with the main character, and what books do you think pull off your preferred technique the best?

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