Despair, Inc., home of demotivational everything), and in addition to always making me smile, it reminds me that different people can look at the same thing in a variety of ways. Often, this helps to fill out the bigger picture of an issue. Other times, it only serves to confuse things, like when writing a book.
It takes real talent to write from multiple points of view. Some people do it without even realizing it, but that's not what we're discussing today. Well, maybe we'll use those people as bad examples, but for now, the ones we're talking about today and next time are those writers who actually do it on purpose.
When an author sits down to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard, or crayon to napkin, or Sharpie to forearm—the story that flows usually takes on a voice that's easily discernible. Sometimes it's in the form of a first-person narrative, sometimes a third-person "outside voice."
There is no "right choice" that an author can make for every occasion. Each book's POV choice should be as individual as its plotline. It all depends on what you hope to accomplish, and that's where a few guidelines help.
I recently read an article featured on the Writers After Dark website, titled "The Complete Guide to Point of View," by Harvey Chapman. Not only did the post feature the two most common points of view (first person and third person), but it linked to another article (same author) which explained the logic behind the different choices. According to Chapman, many authors are tempted to skip the fundamentals and simply look at the pros and cons, but there are a few things which should be understood before choosing.
The theory and logic behind choosing a point of view boils down to the roles of four people: the author, the narrator, the viewpoint character, and the protagonist. Now of course, the author is the author, but the narrator (the one who tells the story as compared to the one who writes the story) takes on a different role, depending on the POV chosen.
In the first-person POV, the narrator is also the viewpoint character. We see what he sees, but only what he sees. This can keep things simple and focused, but can also be tricky in a few ways. Anything that happens "offscreen," so to speak, can only be learned through conversation or eavesdropping. In other words, if the main viewpoint character wasn't there, it didn't happen . . . unless the event is discovered through other means.
First-person narrative also has the tendency to give us a not-so-objective "truth" as we read along. Think of any occasion where there is more than one person. There will be, of course, more than one opinion, and each person is sure his is the right one.
Chapman's article points out another interesting aspect of the first-person narrative: because a first-person narrator/viewpoint person is retelling something that happened in the past, the viewpoint may change, depending on whether that action or event happened in the immediate past or many years ago. As he states, ". . . if a forty-year-old adult tells us something that happened to him as a thirteen-year-old kid, that makes the narrator twenty-seven years older than the viewpoint person. And which of us can claim to be the same person at forty as we were at thirteen?"
The first-person narrator/viewpoint person may also be the protagonist, but this not a hard and fast rule. The person telling the story may just as easily be recounting a tale that happened to his best friend.
The important part is to know why you're choosing the point of view you're working with, and the rest should sort itself out much easier as the writing progresses.
Part 2 of this post will explain these roles (author, narrator, viewpoint person, protagonist) in the context of the third-person point of view.
Do you have a favorite POV to write from, do you have to think about it at great length, or does each book just present itself to you with a POV already chosen by the characters? I'm curious.