Friday, June 1, 2012

From a Certain Point of View

Seeing is in the eye of the beholder.
Image via
Do you remember when Obi-Wan Kenobi lamely explains away telling Luke Skywalker that his father was dead (even though he wasn't) by saying, "What I told you was true from a certain point of view?"

Now, if you don't remember, I think I have to slap you (lovingly, of course) and shoo you off to watch Return of the Jedi. A lack of Star Wars knowledge is sacrilege on this blog. But if you do remember, and I'm sure you do, then you know that how we see things can affect the stories we tell and why we tell them. And the point of view from which a story is told affects the reader and how she perceives the story.

So... deciding on point of view is important for the stories you write. As you no doubt know. And yet, questions about point of view whirl around among authors like leaves in the wind, so I thought I'd talk about it in a blog series.

Let's start with the very basics first, and then we'll get into more complicated issues in later posts. In essence, point of view (which you'll see abbreviated all over the place as POV) is the voice and perspective through which you choose to tell a story. Technically speaking, there are three points of view that you can choose to write from:

First person POV, in which the I tells the story: "I went down to the corner store and bought a soda."
Second person POV, in which you tell the story: "You went down to the corner store..."
Third person POV, in which he or she tells the story: "She went down to the corner store..."

(Personally, I'd add fourth person, for when you write a collective hive mind science fiction story in which we tells the story: "We went down to the corner store and annihilated the puny humans!" But except for situations like this, you're going to stick with the traditional first, second, or third person choices.)
Oh, any excuse to show Luke.
Image via
Don't tell George!

There are some basic reasons why you select one point of view over the others. Among them: Telling a story in first person makes it very immediate, letting the reader feel like it is happening directly to them. It allows for a character with a strong voice and personality to lead the story. You get into the head of that character, and experience their thoughts.

Third person, by contrast, can be somewhat less immediate. But sometimes you want that distance as a storyteller. Third person still gives you a lot of leeway. You can still give characters a strong voice and personality. You can still reveal the character's thoughts. And ironically, sometimes the slight distance created by third person can intensify other reader responses, like the sense that you're on a roller coaster ride that you can't get off, and added sympathy for watching what the character is going through without being able to help them.

Second person doesn't get used nearly as much as first person or third person, and to put it simply, I think this is because second person gives the reader the worst of both worlds. It creates a strong, yet odd voice to hear a story from. It creates a certain immediacy because the reader feels as if she is being spoken to, yet if the reader can't relate to what the character is going through or disagrees with it, that immediacy creates discomfort. Imagine reading a story like this:

"You go to the corner store, where a little boy catches your eye. Cute. Blue eyes. Sweet face. Probably about nine years old. Still innocent enough for your purposes. He'd take such pretty pictures. You eye the cashier and then the store's video cameras, working out just what angle will allow you to snatch the boy without being caught..."

UGH! Wait, what? No!

That's your reaction, right? You don't want to go there as a reader. I don't either. But you see my point. Second person is just immediate enough that you don't want to identify with an awful character. But it's just distant enough that a normal, healthy human being isn't going to tell their story with it. Only a twisted person tells a story that way. Second person creates a weird vibe. If your story demands it, go for it. But it's hard to pull off. I only wrote only short story that way, to play with second person. But I don't think I'd go back to it.

Ask your questions!
In my next post, I'll start answering some questions and addressing some issues that my Twitter and Facebook friends have raised about point of view, including:

Positive and negative feelings about what point of view means
Is it easier/better to write in first person or third person?
What point of view do readers prefer, and why?
What do you do if you're telling a story from multiple points of view?
If I'm looking for examples of who does first person and third person well, where do I go?
How do I know if I'm better off writing in one point of view or the other?

And I'll also share which point of view I prefer to use for my stories and why. I think the answer to that question may help you finetune how you want to write your stories.

If you have any questions I haven't listed that you'd like me to tackle, let me know in the comments here, on Twitter (I'm @chippermuse), or on The Chipper Muse Facebook page, which by the way, I'd love for you to "Like." I know some people have trouble commenting on Blogger, so you're always welcome to move the conversation to Facebook. I chat there too!

Tune in next Friday for more on point of view. And invite your friends to join in. Let's make it a symposium on writing and fun! See you then.

Part 2 - First or Third: Which Viewpoint Should You Use?
Part 3 -  Multiple Viewpoints in Your Fiction
Part 4 - 

Copyright (c) 2012 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. Yay! Looking forward to this series!

  2. I love your 2nd person example. You succeeded in making me cringe :-O

    I'm most comfortable in third person, but my latest piece is intentionally in the first person. There's a large mystery element to my story and I'm attempting to use this limited view for greater effect. I hope it works!

    Looking forward to the next post.

  3. LOL! Yeah, cringe-worthy. :)

    As for your story, going first person makes a lot of sense to prolong the mystery. Have fun with it, and let me know when you've finished it. I'd love to hear how writing first person went for you.


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