Point of View
Here are two fundamental principles to understand with presenting point of view (POV) in storytelling, and two key formatting techniques. An assignment follows, as well as a list of other tips.
1. Diction and Syntax. POV means thinking and storytelling using someone else’s brain. Choose the way of expressing things—words, phrases, etc.—that fit the POV.
Bad: I donned one of the body coverings known as burqas that people in my country, Afghanistan, wear. My father, a Muslim like all of us, had brought it back for me, his ten year-old daughter, from his pilgrimage to Mecca, called the hajj, which is important for Muslims.
Better: I put on the scratchy blue burqa Papa brought back from the hajj for me.
2. What Is and Isn’t Noticed. POV means being in someone’s body, turning their head at what catches their attention, and focusing on the details that catch their attention. Some people will notice every bit of music playing anywhere; others will notice certain features of every attractive person; others will note the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of everything. Some people’s attention constantly wanders; others are focused to the point of deep stillness.
1. Direct thoughts quote the brain and are italicized and in first person, present tense. They may be followed by an attribution (he/she thought/wondered/etc.).
Ex.: She glared at him. She is such a bully, he thought. Why the heck am I friends with a mean person? “Hi, Sue,” he said.
2. Indirect thoughts still quote the brain but are in the same tense and POV as the story (which is usually in past tense, 3rd person). They may be followed by an attribution but are often better without. This makes them blend in with the descriptions. This is the single greatest technique of fiction and narrative nonfiction writers.
Ex.: She glared at him. She was such a bully. Why the heck was he friends with a mean person? “Hi, Sue,” he said.
Put all of the above together. Write a scene or story in 3rd person past tense that thinks using someone’s language and notices things according to their priorities and attention span. Include italicized direct thoughts as well as lots of indirect thoughts that blend with the descriptions (past tense, not italicized).
Other Things to Understand About POV
- There are two kinds of 3rd person narrations: omniscient and limited. Omniscient means the reader can hear everyone’s thoughts (that the writer feels like sharing). Limited means you only follow one main character’s thoughts.
- First person is from the “I” point of view. It’s the same as the 3rd person limited point of view, but with different pronouns.
- Second person uses the pronoun “you” to tell a story. It’s rare (for good reason).
- You may tell your story in past or present tense. Past tense is more common and natural to most people. Present tense can feel more “immediate.” Blending the two is unwise in most hands.
- When you switch points of view in a 1st person, 2nd person, and/or 3rd person limited story, you should have a double line break (hit Enter twice).
- 1st Person narrators may not die (without some explanation of how they’re speaking from beyond the grave). And if they aren’t in a scene, they can’t know what happened as if they were, but have to get that information somewhere.
- You have a choice of whether or not to acknowledge that you’re telling a story for a specific audience. You may choose to indicate who that audience is. You may choose to address them directly or not. This may be just a “regular” story, or it may be a letter to a lost brother, or a petition to the court, or a message to someone in a distant place or time.
- You may decide when, relative to the events in the story, the story is being told.
- “Unreliable narrators” deliberately mislead their audience. They may also mislead themselves!
- “Dramatic irony” is when the audience understands something the narrator does not.
- "Thought to himself/herself" is redundant. Cut the "to himself/herself" part.