Monday, September 3, 2012

Narrative Point of View

     In the last post, I listed grammatical points of view and mentioned that keeping a consistent point of view is important to good writing.  I promised to write next about narrative points of view, so that's what today's post will focus on.

     Spot Quiz: from what point of view was paragraph above written?  Just kidding!  Those of you who read this blog are savvy enough to recognize first person when you see it.  It's the other persons that cause the problems, and especially the mixing of the persons.  NO MIXING ALLOWED!  Again, mostly kidding. Mostly.  The fact is, though, that a writer needs to choose one point of view from which to write and then stay in that point of view UNLESS there is a good reason to change it--and then the change should be brief.

     Last time the focus was on grammatical points of view.  This post is about narrative point of view.  They are related since the pronouns used in first person narrative point of view are the same pronouns used for grammatical first person.  The same goes for second person and third person.  So if you know which pronouns go with which person, you are at least three-quarters of the way to understanding narrative point of view.  There's just a little more to the story.  Speaking of stories, as you already know, stories have narrators.  The narrator is the person who is telling the story--not to be confused with the writer who wrote the story.  Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but Huck himself tells (narrates) the story.  Don't believe me?  Read a bit from the story, then read Twain's "Notice" at the beginning of the book.  What? You don't have the book handy?  Okay, fine.  Here's a sample:

     From the narrative: You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.  That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.  There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.  That is nothing.  I never seen anybody but lied one time or another.... (11)

     From "Notice":  Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
                                                               BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR

     These are distinctly different voices and the first one is written from the first person point of view while the second is written exclusively from the third person point of view.  (Did you notice?)  But what about those "yous," you may ask.  Isn't that second-person?  Very astute observation, but actually, no, not with narrative point of view which is slightly different from grammatical point of view.

     First, here are the narrative points of view (and there are fewer than twelve, yeah!):

     First Person 
     First Person Detatched
     Second Person
     Third Person Limited
     Third Person Omniscient

     (Again to the Literary Police and to all English Teachers: I'm trying to keep this as basic as possible, okay?)   

     So what do these labels mean?  Well, this blog has gone on for a bit, so I'll save examples for next time, but here is a brief definition of each:

     A First Person narrator is a character in the story who tells the story from his / her perspective and uses pronouns such as I and me.  Generally, the readers know the name of this narrator / character. A Detached First person narrator tells the story AFTER it has happened and so is in a position to reflect and can provide foreshadowing.  Sometimes a first person narrator will address the readers directly (using the pronoun you).  A Second Person narrator is talking to someone (sometimes writing a letter to someone) OTHER THAN THE READER.  The readers listen in on the conversation, but the you in the narrative does not mean the reader. A Third Person Limited narrator is an anonymous person who knows about the story and can tell it from his / her limited perspective.  So this narrator may know what some of the characters are thinking and feeling, but doesn't know about everyone and can tell only what those other characters say and do, not what they think or feel. A Third Person Omniscient narrator still is anonymous and doesn't take part in the events of the story, but knows EVERYTHING about EVERYONE. A Third Person narrator never uses the pronouns I, me, we, us, or you.  The Third Person narrator appears to be telling the story from an objective point of view (but don't completely trust in that!).  The next post will give examples of what these narrative points of view look like and why and how to use them.

Which point of view do you prefer to write from?

Do you prefer to read stories that are told from a First Person viewpoint or a Third Person one?

Have you ever read a story told from Second Person?  What do you think of it?  
(BTW: many song lyrics, especially those of love songs, are written in Second Person)

Happy Labor Day!