Unraveling Point of View: Can of Worms

Let’s see if I can use point of view to make you want to reach out and slap me through the screen.

That moment when you eat an apple and fat worms greet you with smiles on their faces. I threw that apple so hard I hurt my arm. She spun around, holding her arm, and ran into a low-hanging branch. Curse that tree. Curse those worms! Little did she know the worms would stage an attack later that day.

Mother of God. That was second, first, third, and omniscient all in one paragraph.

tin can full of wormsOpen a can of worms with me and explore point of view

Point of view shows the story through a lens. Notice the tense, as in past or present, sometimes changes with whatever sounds best.

First Person

This is when the narrator uses pronouns such as “I” and “we”.

Worms writhed everywhere. Their bodies squirming against our bare feet drew blood as my sister and I waded through them and onto the dirt path. I picked one up and balanced it on my finger, trying to discern what made the worm so sharp.

Second Person

This is when the narrator refers to the reader as a character by using the pronoun “you”. Dialog does not count.

You don’t understand what you are seeing. Each worm has a tiny sword and shield. The one in your hand has a mustache that it shaves with its sword while looking at its reflection in your eyeglasses.

Third Person

This is characterized by the use of “she”, “he”, “it”, and “they”. This is by far the most common point of view.

She narrowed her eyes and adjusted her glasses, not sure if she needed a new prescription. Did that worm just scoff at her? She brought it closer to her face.

Let’s talk about Third Person Narrative voices

A narrative voice is a format with which to tell a story. Since many people are interested in the Third Person narrative voice, I think it prudent to discuss it as well.

How much do you want the reader to see from your characters? It is useful to make a character profile first and then decide how to best tell the story.

Third Omniscient

Omniscient is when the narrator knows all, sees all, and can relate as much info as wanted about what happened before, what happens now, and future events. The narrator can even see inside all the characters’ minds. This is useful in 19th-century books and epics. I grew up with books like these by Charles Dickens and J. R. Tolkien, and I thought it would be fun to write one. It’s definitely out of style, and though I got a few compliments, most readers struggled. It was too much for my first try at a novel.

Third Subjective/Limited

More commonly used today and in the 20th century, this is when the reader gets inside the mind of character(s). Subjective is when the reader can experience the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters. Often, Omniscient can take on some of these qualities, but a truly subjective story usually breaks POV into sections. Third Limited is when the reader can only experience thoughts and feelings of one character, usually the protagonist.

If presented in it’s most close manner, this point of view can be used as though the character is the narrator. This is called Deap POV. Click here for this awesome article I saw on creating effective Deap POV.

Third Person Objective

Unbiased, this narrative voice is a “fly on the wall” and recalls events. It can reveal events the characters may not know, which gives it a feel similar to a play. Outside of fiction though, this is best used in newspaper and magazine articles.

Third Person Alternating

Pretty hard to hold down, these stories alternate between multiple characters in third limited, third omniscient and third limited, and other combinations. It’s not supposed to be confusing because it alternates between points of view with sections and chapters. Confused anyway? Take another look at the Harry Potter series and flip through the pages. It can work rather well.

That sums up my explorations in point of view, for now. I’m still learning the intricacies of point of view and narration, so any comments are welcome. In fact, while researching this, I learned that omniscient is not a point of view but a narrative voice. Learn something new every day!

Want to read more on narration and point of view? Check these out:



POV and Perspective


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