Want to be God? Probably not, doesn’t exactly sound like a likable job. Maybe you’d rather be the firing of synapses between neurons, the real powerhouse behind thought. The mind doesn’t move without you. Too much responsibility? You might enjoy watching from afar. In the corner, perhaps, or on the side of the road, out of harm’s way.
You’re a writer. It’s up to you.
Point of view is an important part of any story and one of the first decisions a writer makes. By the end of your first paragraph, it’s most likely already established. For this reason, it’s a good practice to sit down and consider what you want out of your story and how a certain perspective can help you to achieve that goal. Otherwise, you might find yourself deep in to your narrative and becoming frustrated with the limitations of your choice. And if you think editing sucks, try editing a manuscript that needs the entire point-of-view changed.
So let’s get in to it. This isn’t meant to be a guide to point-of-view, but rather my thoughts on the three main ones. It’s writing, damn it: nothing is set in stone.
You see and hear all. Luckily, you get to choose what of that actually transfers to the reader. Otherwise, where’s the fun? Follow multiple characters, provide backstories for any old geezer you wish, introduce the dead man lying in the middle of the road before your main character speeds around that bend. You have an all-seeing eye, a backstage pass. Just be sure to use your power correctly. The reader doesn’t need to see everything, hear every thought, or be presented with wiki-pages on every character. As much as you have the power to show the reader anything in your written world, you have the right to keep things hidden.
The best example I’ve seen of this is Stephen King’s Under the Dome. Not because it is the best thing written, but because the novel touches on so many different people’s perspectives and twists stories and details together while still keeping the reader in enough mystery to make you want to turn the page. We see things that no character would be able to see, but still enough is left untouched so that there is a story to move along, so that it means something as the characters unravel the unknowns of their unique situation.
Down-side? Often, this choice doesn’t allow much room for intimate character development. Which leads to…
This is a lot like first-person, depending on how ‘close’ the author decides to get. We mostly follow one character, see things from his or her perspective. It’s an intermediate between the aforementioned omniscience and the yet-to-be-discussed first-person. We can follow a character through their darkest fears, deepest love, and greatest triumphs and feel just about everything we could with first-person, yet we can still take those breaks to show the reader things the main character doesn’t know. Also, we can provide insight in to other characters’ thoughts, which can be cool plot devices where the reader knows an antagonist’s motives but the protagonist does not.
Imagine following someone with a camera. We aren’t exactly seeing through their eyes, but we experience the world a lot as they would, but still maintain the freedom to swivel the camera to a temporary new focus when something exciting happens. Honestly, I think there isn’t much you can’t do with this point-of-view and is my favorite to use.
This can be the most interesting to pull off at times because its considerably more strict than the others. The catch is, if you choose to tell your story in first-person, you have to make sure you are keeping to that limited point of view. Is Ricky lying, or does his actions make John suspect he is? Basically, any knowledge that your main character comes across needs to be justified in some way. Think of yourself as that character and consider elements you would know as fact versus those you could only guess at.
But don’t think it’s all just rules and restrictions. First-person can lead to some interesting devices. My favorite is to tell stories through journal entries. Another crowd-pleasure is the personal connection you can make with the reader by creating the illusion that the character in the story is talking directly to them. There is a noticeable difference in how a novel may be written and how a person who tell someone else a story from their own lives. Take advantage of this. Pretend you are the main character: how would you tell your story? What voice will you have? Another big difference between the third-persons is that the writing style can become a part of character-development. After all, this is the character writing (technically), not you.
First-person tells an intimate story. The whole world could be crashing down around a character (the apocalypse, if you will) with events worth thousands of pages, but with first-person the story is about that specific character’s struggle, emotional conflicts, and experiences. War of the Worlds is a good example (the newer one with Tom Cruise). Also Cloverfield. If you’ve seen either, you know that throughout the audience is essentially left in the dark about where these aliens come from. Why? Because the main character doesn’t know shit, so how could we? There is no opening credits with the background of a meteor falling to Earth, or a mid-movie divergence to Washington to see how the nation is dealing with such a crisis. Of course, they could have gone this route, but that wasn’t the story they were trying to tell. Everything else is just background.
That’s one writer’s spiel on perspective. What’s yours?