Point of View and Other Devices
by Sandy Tritt
One of the most important decisions you will make in
writing your story is choosing which point of view to use. The point of
view is the "head" or "camera angle" from which the action will be
filtered. Depending on which source you study, there are a variable number
of points of view to choose from. However, I have selected the five I
think are most often used and the easiest to understand.
- First Person Point of View - The narrator is the main
character ("I"): I knew I shouldn't have let Grandma go down there.
She isn't too steady on her feet to start with, and then she gets those
dizzy spells. But she insisted, and the next thing I know, she's
tumbling down those stairs like a gymnast . . .
- Second Person Point of View - "You" are the main
character: You know how it is. You think you shouldn't intervene, you
think she'll get mad at you if you don't let her do what she's always
done . . .
- Third Person Point of View, Panoramic - The narrator
sees all the action, but doesn't read minds. This can best be understood
as being like a movie camera. Mrs. Smith stood
at the top of the stairs, her son John next to her. Clinging to the
handrail, she planted her trembling foot on the first step. But the
other foot caught on the carpet and . . .
- Third Person Point of View, Controlled Consciousness
- Like first person, we see all the action through the eyes of a single
character, and we can only see what that character sees. The
difference is we use "He" or "She" instead: John knew he shouldn't
have allowed his grandmother to go down the stairs alone. She wasn't
steady on her feet and sometimes she grabbed onto the nearest object
when dizziness overwhelmed her.
- Third Person Omniscient - God-like; the narrator
knows and sees everything, and can move from one mind to another.
John stood next to his grandmother. He wanted to help her down the
stairs. Mrs. Smith looked at her grandson, her blue eyes sharp, and
moved a strand of hair from her face. She was determined to do this on
her own, to prove she wasn't an infirmed old lady . . .
So which point of view should you choose? It depends on
the story you are telling. Take a careful look at each type and "try it
out" before you commit to any one. Most likely, the point of view you
choose will be the point of view for the entire novel. It is possible to
mix viewpoints, but only if done at chapter or scene breaks, and even then
it must be handled with care so as not to confuse the reader.
One word of caution: although third person omniscient
allows the most flexibility, it is difficult to manage. Just because this
point of view allows us to jump from one head to another doesn't mean we
can do so indiscriminately. Oftentimes when we get a vague feeling that
something isn't right but can't quite put our finger on it, the problem is
a point of view problem. Even within third person omniscient, we should
have only one viewpoint character at a time, only one character whose
thoughts and mind we visit. We have the option to change viewpoint
characters, but we must do it very carefully, preferably at a scene or
chapter break. However, if we must switch "heads" within a scene, we must
clue the reader to what we are doing and allow for a transition. I prefer
to do this by ignoring the previous viewpoint character for a sentence or
two, then have the new viewpoint character touch his face -- rub his
forehead, scratch his ear, any action, as long as it involves his face or
head -- to clue the reader that this is our new "head." Once the switch is
made, stay with it. "Head-hopping" is confusing for the reader and should
be done only when absolutely necessary.
Study point of view. Oftentimes, if a story isn't
working, shifting the viewpoint or the point of view can make a big
Besides point of view, intimacy and voice affect how
close the reader feels to the story and the characters. Intimacy is how
close we are to the action and to the character's thoughts and emotions.
Like a video camera, we can zoom in and out, getting close (into a
character's head) when we need to and then back off when things get too
hot or when we need a broader perspective.
Voice is the way in which the narrator talks -- it can
be proper and formal, conversational, or even illiterate. To be effective,
it must be natural and unique, just like each person's voice. I've heard
it said that an author's voice is one of the most difficult things to
develop. And that may be true. When we first begin putting words on paper,
we "try out" different voices, trying to find the one that suits us. Of
course, each story can have a different voice and still be the author's
(for a cheap example, look at my fiction.
The Rebirth has a
much different voice than
Jenny). The more we write, the more comfortable we become with our
Likewise, the tense chosen affects the power of the
story. We most often see past tense (he was) used in fiction, although
present (he is) can be effectively used. Past perfect (he had been) and
future perfect (he will be) should be saved for flashbacks and special
effects. It is extremely important to maintain tense. Like viewpoint
changes, switch changes jar the reader and mark the writer as an amateur.
Unless you are an accomplished writer, do not even consider changing
tenses within your novel. If you are uncertain which tense to choose, go
with past tense. It is the easiest to handle and the most invisible to the
Take full advantage of these tools. The same exact plot,
setting and character can become totally different stories by
experimenting with point-of-view, intimacy and voice. If you don't believe
me, try it. Write a short story with three characters: a grandmother, her
alcoholic son, and her five-year-old granddaughter. First, tell the story
from Third Person Panoramic. Then use either first person or third person
controlled consciousness to tell the story again from each of the
Point of view, voice, intimacy and tense are the spices
in your main dish of plot, character and setting. As such, they must
exist, but they should be invisible to the reader, allowing for a smooth,
full-bodied flavor without any jarring inconsistencies. My best advice:
keep it simple.
(c) copyright 1999 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. May be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the
url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
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Go Back in Time!...
our new all - immersion Life of Jesus (Part 1) from David C. Cook
III. You'll become a true believer. Visit...
is dedicated to the memory of David C. Cook III.
This Just In – From Paul the Apostle
By Kurt Schuller
inspired work recreating
Chicken Bones and Coffee Spoons
by Dan Masterson
Sometimes a good idea sticks in your throat like a chicken bone,
insisting on attention. And T.S. Eliot knew not to have Prufrock say,
"I'm lonely," and to say instead, "I have measured out my life in coffee
I've been directing workshops at two New York State colleges for many
years. The first time I ever showed anyone a poem was in third grade. I
asked Sister Helena to read a piece I'd written. A line into the first
stanza, she scowled and handed it back: "If you find and correct the
error, I will continue reading." I found the error and corrected it but
never showed her that poem or any other.
I went on writing but it wasn't until my second year in college that I
showed another poem to anyone. I never knew what he thought of it
because I left his workshop after he berated the first student who read
her poem. He demanded to know why I was leaving. I told him that I
didn't like him or his workshop. I never sat in a workshop again.
And I ended up teaching workshops for all these years; go figure. In my
workshops, I insist that there be no sarcasm, no psychological probing,
no snide comments. I make sure we celebrate the poem first and then
attempt to make it better.
Here are some of the comments and suggestions I've made, and continue to
make, in my workshops on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I hope you find
them helpful. Stop by again; I'll be adding others from time to time.
1. The First Element of Poetry (Memorable Language): - a line or phrase
which hangs in the mind's eye like a fishhook - good enough to be on a
tee shirt. Roethke's words from his villanelle, "The Waking," seem to
qualify - "I learn by going where I have to go."
2. The Second Element of Poetry (Remarkable Imagery): - a moment which
seems to rise up off the page, almost in a different color ink, as
though a photograph has replaced the words - as though the paper has
turned into flesh in your hands.
3. The Third Element of Poetry (Engaging Storyline): - journalists call
it the "handle" for a story - an idea the reader can hang on to. James
Dickey's soldier in the poem, "Helmets," feels, as he drinks water from
a dead buddy's helmet, that he is ingesting the dead man's last thought.
4. The Fourth Element of Poetry (Residue of Pain and/or Experience): -
there's an aura about the piece, a feeling that the poet has earned the
right to approach the subject. When we read Anne Sexton's poem, "Ringing
the Bells," or John Allman's "The Scattering," there is no need to ask
whether the poet experienced the event. The pain is there: honest,
common, lacking in self pity and self congratulation.
5. Voice: - every established poet has his or her own voice; it's as
recognizable as a fingerprint. No one's voice is quite like anyone
else's. We work toward developing our own unique voice. Early on, we
borrow from voices we admire; that's okay. Eventually, our own voices
begin to emerge; often it is a shock to poets that their desired voice
is very close to the voice they've been using in conversation. Don't
posture. Don't go up on tiptoes to reach the $10 words off the top
shelf. Stay flat-footed; tell your story.
6. Breaking the Reader's Heart: - that's what we want to do. But we
don't want the reader to say, "Oh what a nice person the poet must be; I
wish I could help." No. What we want the reader to say is, "Wow! That
was some poem; the poet really cares deeply about that." The heart must
be broken cleanly, with dignity - no melodrama or self pity.
7. Tension: - if a reader is to stay with a poem, there has to be a
compelling reason. The poem should contain tension - as though it were a
rubber band being stretched to the snapping point. If the rubber band
goes limp, so does the reader's interest.
8. The Abstract: - Ezra Pound said it best, "Go in fear of
abstractions." Avoid categories such as Love, Peace, or Eternity.
Instead, choose an event that will give the reader a visual, specific
example of the category. Abstracts allow us to talk; when the writer
talks, the reader closes both ears.
9. Identity: - it's a good idea to describe the poem's characters right
away. Readers can't care about people they don't see.
10. Foreshadowing: - it's helpful to expose the reader to language and
moments which prepare them for later twists and turns in the storyline.
Be sure the hints are not obvious and tiresome.
-all for now; good luck with your writing!
Published (with permission) from the "Chicken Bones and Coffee
Spoons" page on Dan's website
http://www.poetrymaster.com. Please read and enjoy, and feel free
to contact Dan for a free poem evaluation and a special offer for
Please write Dan at
Read... Two-bit Dancing
Life's an onion. Not a new concept—Usually, what we reveal to others
about ourselves adds flavor, distinction…making us appear just a bit more
exciting. Assume for a moment, that someone is peeling your life apart,
onion layer by onion layer. Are you still adding flavor? Distinction? Is
at the heart of the onion really a heart? Is it, then, the onion crying —
or the one who’s peeling…?
Angela Louie, mother of a teenager and a disabled child, is entering a
fine hotel while fidgeting with the business card of an escort service —
lapse of common sense? Hanson Lee Ascano is a computer genius working for
a prestigious firm — he also dances in an exotic night club a few nights
each week. Tom Lawson is taking on what should be a routine investigation
to reunite a parent with his children — instead, it rouses monsters.
For more info, visit... http://www.twobitdancing.com/
About the Author
Evelyn Schneider was born and raised in Germany. She has written
"almost anything from plant-care tags to television sitcoms." She lives in
San Diego, California.
She says, Two-bit Dancing was inspired by a television talkshow, and
laughs. Then, serious: "The true inspiration came many years ago while
visiting a police fair. I was a teenager then and should have been
impressed by the latest crime-fighting technology. But what remained in my
soul where the images of cubicles upon cubicles filled with photographs of
children -- not victims of some far-away war but sons and daughters of
modern families: burnt, starved, locked away.