MY FAVORITE POINTS OF VIEW
- First person: This is a story that is usually narrated by the protagonist. If you use this, then your first sentence--or certainly your first paragraph--should make it clear. "Sally whirled around and slapped me in the face." You know that someone (the narrator) has incurred Sally's wrath and he's going to tell the reader about it.
- Advantages: First person allows the narrator to develop a distinctive voice that no one else in the story has (or should have). The reader will learn to like or at least understand why the narrator acts the way he does. He can ramble on about relevant points inside his own head without anyone else but the reader knowing what he's thinking. The reader also witnesses the stress placed on the narrator and how that causes him to act in a certain way. The reader learns about the world of the narrator quickly.
- Disadvantages: The narrator must be in every scene or he and the reader will be subjected to a lot of retelling by other characters what happened off-stage. But even that may be skillfully handled so that the narrator doesn't appear to be just a listening post where different folks come to tell their tales. Also, other characters and not the narrator must describe him or the narrator must slip in hints at his appearance. "Sally slapped me so hard that I thought my scrawny mustache had been knocked off my face." And, please, avoid the cliché of having the narrator look in a mirror and telling the reader what he sees. Finally, avoid as many "I's" as you can. "I went to the store. I bought some eggs. I took the eggs to Sally." That soon becomes boring.
THIRD PERSON CLOSE
- Third Person: An unknown narrator is telling the story. Generally, the narrator is never identified. Writers and readers have an unspoken agreement that this is one of those "willing suspension of disbelief" that someone witnessed and is able to tell the story. There are different kinds of third person. What makes my favorite version of third person "close" (other people have different terms for it) is that the narrator is in only one character's head at a time. "Sally slapped him." That would be the first line of a book written in third person (close or otherwise). Further on in the story, the reader realizes that the narrator can see into only one person's mind. "He felt the stinging blow and didn't like the look on Sally's face." In fact, third person close is almost a first person viewpoint using different pronouns.
- Advantages: You can describe your character in the narration. As a reader of fiction, I rarely remember what a person looks like while reading the story. As a writer, my descriptions of people tend to emphasize oddities of their appearance or perhaps one or two nods to a physical description. Another advantage that draws me to this point of view is that you can still show the direct thoughts of the person. "Sally slapped him. That's the second time she's done that to me!" or "Sally slapped him. That's the second time, he thought, that she's done that to me."
- Disadvantages: You must be especially careful not to get into anyone else's head. You must show us what the other person is doing to determine his reaction to what is going on or, of course, have the other person say something that presents his state of mind. This sounds easy, but it's tricky. In one story, I had written about the protagonist and two companions doing something like "trudging dispiritedly" (it wasn't really that bad). My most heartless editor (my wife, Sharon Woods Hopkins) pointed out that I was expressing the thoughts of the other two people as well as the protagonist. Which, of course, I was.
Play around with different points of view. See what fits your protagonist the best. You'd be amazed how a character changes when you change that character's point of view!
For more information, read these two articles:
Fiction: Point of View (Writer's Digest)
Point of View in Fiction (Fiction Writers' Mentor)