Close-in, first-person point of view

(Aria, by Susan Segal):

“I only got weak when Charlie and Jessie were gone. I didn’t recognize it as weakness right away because I told myself I was waiting for them …. I didn’t know my own weakness until the middle of the next day when the sea had gone silent and gentle, after I righted the dinghy for the last time and climbed into it from the warming waters, when the sun seared my back as I lay like drying clothes across the bottom of the dinghy…. My fingers had refused to do what they should have done by instinct as soon as Charlie and Jess were gone. Red and split, cramped into claws, they had absolutely refused to let go.”

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This paragraph brings us so intimately into the character’s experience that we can feel the water, the sun, and the intense loss as if it were our own. It demonstrates the immediacy that can be achieved with first person point of view and perfectly suits this novel about an extreme moment in the character’s life and her personal growth.

Middle distance, limited third-person point of view (Mohawk, by Richard Russo)

When Harry throws back the bolt from inside and lets the heavy door swing outward, Wild Bill is waiting in the dark gray half-light of dawn. There is no way of telling how long he has been pacing, listening for the thunk of the bolt, but he looks squitchier than usual today. Driving his hands deeper into his pockets, Wild Bill waits while Harry inspects him curiously and wonders if Bill’s been in some kind of trouble during the night. Probably not, Harry finally decides. Bill looks disheveled, as always, his black pants creaseless, alive with light-colored alley dust, the tail of his threadbare, green-plaid, button-down shirt hanging out, but there’s nothing unusually wrong with his appearance. Harry is glad, because he’s late opening this morning and doesn’t have time to clean Wild Bill up.

Although we are shown two characters, we only know what Harry is thinking and feeling; we aren’t given entrée into Wild Bill’s mind. In choosing this approach, the author gives us a stronger visual sense of Wild Bill than if we were in his head. Our curiosity is aroused, because we can only guess, through his actions and words, at what Wild Bill is feeling. This results in a very dynamic, engaging scene.

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