Tuesday’s Tutor: Who’s Story Is This?

EASY AS A, B, C . . . from BB

A reader asked “My story is in third person. For the most part I’d like the story to be from my main character’s perspective, but is it ever OK to hear someone else’s thoughts or get their POV in the story? Or does it interrupt the flow?”

Point of View (POV) can be very confusing.  Clint Johnson, who often speaks to Utah’s writers groups, says that when your story begins, you set up expectations in the reader.  He or she begins to know—usually—your Main Character (MC) or protagonist.  If you suddenly switch, a chapter later, or several paragraphs later, the reader may or may not like the character as well, and you may lose his/her interest.  And yet, we have various ways of telling the story: first person, second person (though I don’t normally recommend this one), third person, omniscient, etc.)

Whatever you first set up becomes the reader’s touchstone or expectation.  No matter what or who that is, you must be very clear when you introduce changes.  In first person, it would be very difficult to follow the thought process of a second, third, or fourth person.

In third person, it is much easier, but could still be confusing.  The issue here is one more of clarity than of “rules”.  I’ve seen many writers use third person and alternate who that person is from chapter to chapter, or section to section.  Being aware of Clint’s suggested problem above, you should think of the reader: how can you make it clear whose “head” you are in?  If you are clear enough in the switches, and the reader has some hint as to how to anticipate those switches, you are probably fine.  Look for books and stories which use multiple POVs and see how the author pulled that off . . . or didn’t.

In other words, just like everything else, if it works it doesn’t matter what the “rules” say.

See you day-after-tomorrow for Thursday’s 13

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2 Comments

Filed under Teacher

2 responses to “Tuesday’s Tutor: Who’s Story Is This?

  1. Justin Cole

    Can you imagine writing the book “Sybil” in first person and the challenges you would face as an author? You would not only have multiple first person POV, but they would become tangled by the mere fact they are all physically the same person. Just a thought as I read the article.

  2. benschwensch

    Good point! However, a lot of YA and even MG books are written in 1st person . . . and I don’t know how such readers would have deallt with SYBIL anyway! Thanks for your comment, Justin!

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