Extract from podcast episode 2 (August 2010) – viewpoints

The second episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 30th August 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links so I hope you find this information useful.

Viewpoints: most stories use first person (I or we) or third person (he/she/it) but rarely used is the second point of view (you). Below is a summary of all three…

  • First person narrative is told from the character’s point of view as if you are seeing what happens from their eyes. An example of this would be (from my third novel): “As I drive out the underground car park, I wave and smile at the security camera. I imagine Mike grunting back as he eats his doughnut. He’s always eating. Donna says it’s to maintain his security guard physique. I think she has a soft spot for him. It takes all sorts.”;
  • Second person is a point of view as if speaking to the reader. It’s rarely used in published fiction, which is a shame as I enjoy writing it. Probably the most well-known example is Jay McInerney’s 1984 novella Bright Lights, Big City which he later turned into a film starring Michael J Fox. An example, taken from one of my short stories is ‘You’ve taken for granted everything she’s ever done for you over the years; making the breakfast, cleaning your shoes, reminding you of people’s names. You were supposed to be the man of the house but she was the linchpin; holding everything together. Only you’re not holding anything together. You feel your legs wobble when you slide them out of the bed and put them on the floor; one cold foot after the other. The carpet’s warm, Axminster’s best, but it doesn’t make you feel any better.’;
  • An example of third person would be ‘Emma followed her brother into the house with the shopping, kicking the front door shut behind her.’ Unlike the limited viewpoint where the reader only knows what’s happening with the characters and the immediate world around them, the omniscient point of view has a godlike knowledge of time, people and places.

Take a look at Wikipedia’s point of view literature page. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point_of_view_%28literature%29

First and second person viewpoints are the most intimate, and the reader can perhaps relate to them better. However, a story in first person can only tell what the main character (the protagonist) is feeling or thinking, with that character and therefore the reader, only being able to imagine what is going through other characters’ heads. Some novels are written from different points of few, often by switching between first and third person in alternate chapters. Examples of this are Barbara Kingsolver’s A Poisonwood Bible and Judith Allnatt’s A Mile of River.

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