Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Gaining Perspective

I did say that I would do a post on point of view (POV). So here it is. This is going to be a kind of informational type deal, because, well, I'm full of information, and every so often I have to let some out, or it'll overflow or something terrible. I'll just run around yelling random facts. It's horrible.

So, getting to the point, there are three basic POVs. First, second, and third. There are some subcategories.

  • First - uses "I." You're right there in your character's head. This comes in two flavors.
    • Central - the main character tells the story. "I" am the hero, right in the thick of it.
    • Peripheral - a side character tells the story. "I" am watching the hero, and telling you about it.
  • Second - uses "you." This isn't all that common in fiction, outside of Choose Your Own Adventure.
  • Third - uses "he/she." You're outside of the characters, but there are variations.
    • Omniscient - the narrator knows everything about everyone. You'll see what everyone is doing and thinking.
    • Limited - the narrator knows everything about one character. You'll only see what that character is thinking.
    • Objective - the narrator only reports what can be seen. It's like a movie, in that you'll see what characters are doing, but not what they're thinking.

Me, I tend to go for first, third limited, or third objective. When I find my main characters, I follow them closely. I don't report on what the bad guys are doing in the meantime. Should I? Maybe, but that's something to work on in the future.

Deciding on a POV is actually pretty important to a story, I think (I'm not an expert, at all). I had a story that I switched from third to first on the third draft. The protagonist in that was… a bit nuts. So seeing it from inside his head worked better. The plot of that story… well, that's not the issue today.

It comes down to how much the reader needs to know. Do they need to see a character's motivations? Or should they be unaware that the narrator is delusional, or a liar? Should they be aware of all the characters' secrets, while other characters remain clueless? If you want the reader to know what the antagonist is up to, you probably don't want to follow your protagonist in first person. Unless you do that thing where you switch perspectives every few chapters. Don't do that. (Still not an expert over here, I just have opinions.) if you want to go all Lord of the Rings and tell grand stories with all these characters everywhere, maybe third omniscient is the one for you. Maybe you want to tell the story of this epic fantasy war from the POV of a lowly kitchen elf, and so you might want to zoom in your imaginary camera a bit.

In the case of my upcoming venture, Cold Blooded (working title), while thinking about possible scenes, I started hearing the protagonist, Des, narrating what we need to know about vampires. Yes, I'm hearing voices. This is completely normal. Anyway, my version of vampires are not invulnerable. Sure, anything that doesn't kill them outright can be recovered from, but it takes some time. At this point, Des helpfully informed me:
It's easier to limp back to your lair than risk going to a hospital. Doctors tend to ask a lot of questions, like, "Why do you have a temperature of 52 and a heart rate of 4?"
And that voice in my head meant that I needed to write it in first person. I tend to get very… flat, I guess, in third person. It's very precise and clinical. Just the facts. They went there. She said this. I have a hard time putting just the right amount of personality into the narration. Sometimes, usually when it's late, I put in a little too much. I mean, it's either:
The house, and its burned out shell of a barn, had been built in 1838 when the Taylors had originally settled in the area. Most of them had vanished along with the town, leaving their seventeen year old son Matthew home at the farm. The land had stayed in the family for a few generations, before it was bought up by the state, along with the remains of McClellan. The house probably only remained standing because everyone had just forgotten about it.
He stood straddling a row of potatoes, his face betraying just how few fucks he gave about shooting Evan then and there … He was maybe thirty (he could have as easily been much younger), and resembled a bean pole in pants.
There is no in between. And both standard boring narration and (god damn1) potatoes are from the same story. I find it very hard to stick to a certain narrating voice in the third person. So if I want snarky commentary throughout, first person is the way to go.

What do you think, readers? What point of view do you prefer?

I'll see you Friday.

1 I don't remember if I've explained the potato thing. There are always potatoes. In every story. To the point where every time they show up, it's like, "and then they ate some god damn potatoes again." They're following me.

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