Saturday, August 18, 2012

So What's Your Point of View?

[Thank you for your patience last week.  The short version of the story is that my brother-in-law got quite ill. I took him to the ER.  His health is improving now.  Thank God.  So I'm back to blogging.]

                 WRITING BASICS TOPIC TODAY: Point of View, Part 1

Many people misunderstand what Point of View means as a writing term.  In everyday conversation, the phrase has come to mean "position" or "stance."  "Well, my point of view on the healthcare system in this country is...."  That is not what a Point of View means in writing.  The literary terms for position, stance or point are thesis (non-fiction) or theme (fiction).

So what then is Point of View?  In writing, Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told or a paper written.  There is a direct connection between this and grammatical Point of View.  In grammar, there are twelve (yes, twelve) Points of View.  They are:

First Person Singular Subjective
First Person Singular Objective
First Person Plural Subjective
First Person Plural Objective

Second Person Singular Subjective
Second Person Singular Objective
Second Person Plural Subjective
Second Person Plural Objective

Third Person Singular Subjective
Third Person Singular Objective
Third Person Plural Subjective
Third Person Plural Objective

Are your eyes rolling back into your head yet?  Actually, it's not as complicated as it looks.  Really.  It all boils down to which pronouns will be used CONSISTENTLY in a piece of writing.  And the good news is: Second Person only uses ONE pronoun.

First Person Pronouns: I, me, we, us

Second Person Pronouns: You, you, you, you

Third Person Pronouns: He, She, They, It, Him, Her, Them  

[Note to the Grammar Police: Yes, I left out possessives.  I'm trying to make this BASIC]

So what's all this got to do with writing Point of View?  All writing, even non-fiction, has a narrator.  There is a voice with which the writer communicates the information or story.  That voice is an entity and it has a perspective.  That perspective is the lens through which the written word is communicated and it is a single lens.  (Remember the first writing basic: consistency.)  In a single piece of writing, the perspective or lens should be changed ONLY if there is a really good reason for doing so.  Sometimes people need to put on reading classes to read more easily.  Sometimes the author can change a POV lens briefly in order to make something clearer.  However, when the author keeps changing the POV, it can make a reader dizzy.  Think about eye exams when the doctor keeps switching lenses on you and saying, "Which is better--A or B? What about B or C?  A or C?"  You get to the point where you have no idea because he never stays on one lens long enough for you to know.  By the same token, a writer who keeps changing POV will either confuse his readers or give them a headache.

Now if you were paying close attention, you may have noticed that the paragraph above was written from the Third-Person point of view with a short change of lens to Second-Person in order to illustrate the point, then back to Third-Person.  If you didn't notice it as you read, good.  Point of View shouldn't distract the reader from what the writer is trying to communicate.  Anyway, look at the pronouns list, then re-read the paragraph and notice not only the pronouns, but the nouns, e.g., a narrator, a voice, the writer.  All of these nouns can be replaced by third-person pronouns.  The Second Person pronoun you (meaning "the reader") only shows up in the example and there is no mention of me or I.

How much a writer has to worry about staying in a consistent POV will depend on the type of writing he / she is doing and who his / her audience is.  If the writing is informal, an email for example, the writer can worry less about consistent POV -- as long as it is an informal email.  Writing an email to a prospective employer doesn't qualify as informal.  If the writing is more formal--a business letter, a college paper, a piece of writing the author hopes to publish--a consistent POV becomes a non-negotiable.

Next time: Narrative Points of View and examples of how to use them.

Have a great weekend.

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