Developing Your Writing Skills: Point of View

Point of view is among the least understood craft challenges but, along with the related question of narrative distance, it is perhaps the most powerful in effecting readers’ emotions.

The Norms

Point of view is usually categorized as first-person (using the “I”) or third-person (using the “he/she”) depending on from whose vantage point the story is told. Most advice to writers is to stay consistent within the chosen point of view in a given story or novel or risk severing the reader from the fictional world being created. So to play it safe, many writers stick to what comes naturally, a limited first or third person. But many great writers can, and do, play around both with point of view and with narrative distance, to great effect.

Narrative Distance

Think of narrative distance as you would a camera. You can focus close in, capturing the bugs on the petals of a flower, or you can pull way back for a panoramic view. In fiction, whether using first or third person, you have many choices of vantage point. You can focus on one character and her every thought and feeling. You can pull back to a middle distance and shift among two or more characters. You speak with authority, in “godlike” omniscience, or you can act like that camera, in “dramatic” point of view, and show your characters only from the outside. You can even combine these approaches within the same story or novel. Here are a few examples of different narrative strategies:

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