Saturday, September 22, 2012

Point of view 3

Point of View: I Am a Camera

Okay, so omniscient third-person point of view lets us know what everyone is thinking and feeling; limited third-person point of view lets us know what one person is thinking and feeling (and we will eventually get into some variants and possibilities with these). First-person point of view is narration by a character within the story. It has its own rewards and penalties.

First-person point of view can give a story a sense of immediacy and verisimilitude. Daniel Defoe discovered that in Robinson Crusoe, when he presented the story as Crusoe's own reminiscences about his forty-year sojourn on a desert island, accompanied only by the native Friday, and that for only part of the stay.

Crusoe is a character you can believe in. He's able to survive, but only just. He is candid, telling us about his foolish mistakes and failures of judgment. He invites us to share in his anxieties, his accomplishments, and his triumphs. We believe him because he says, "I was there, and this is what happened." We trust that narrating voice.

However . . . with first-person narration throughout a book, the writer is pretty much stuck with that one character. We can only go where our narrator goes, only experience the things he or she experiences, and only be aware of his or her thoughts and feelings. It's an intimate point of view, but it prevents a certain sweep.

True, first-person is all but obligatory in some forms of writing. The hard-boiled detective story is almost always told by the detective character. Randy Wayne White did the first couple of Doc Ford books in different points of view (third-person) but seems to have settled in for first-person now. It fits like a good glove.

Of course Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler paved the way with the Continental Op and Philip Marlowe. Ross MacDonald polished it up with Lew Archer, and John D. MacDonald made the narrator - Travis McGee - at least as interesting as the puzzles he tries to solve.

Here's something: my first stab at Atlanta Bones was third-person limited, because I had some idea of balancing good guy/bad guy scenes, showing each trying to outmaneuver the other. 

I didn't like the result. Going back to the good old first-person point of view solved my problems of construction on that one very nicely.

Though I have written many third-person point of view stories, I think that for thrillers I'll stick with first-person. It just feels natural to me.

Although, as with third-person there are variants and furbelows that can enhance the experience. More about them later.

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