In writing our stories, we share our experiences, perspectives, or a message, in some format that will resonate with our readers, or our audience. Whether the type of work is non-fiction or fiction, we share either facts or perspectives. Yet, we are careful to distinguish the differences, and to keep each in the lanes they belong.
It is in the viewpoint, which refers to the mind of the character, or narrator, sharing the story, that the reader is told the story. It is in this point of view (POV) of the creator, that the reader immerses herself, -in the world the writer creates for her. It is through that viewpoint, that the reader learns to whom the story belongs, and the message the writer attempts to deliver, as well as the value the story holds for the author, and to her as the reader.
Here are some of the basic types of viewpoints to consider in writing:
The Narrator point of view: an independent observer tells the story from an omniscient, all -knowing viewpoint. This viewpoint places the reader further away from the story, as it is told from a distance, by an outsider who claims to know what is in the mind and heart of each character in the story.
Next, there is Third Person point of view: which draws the reader closer to the storyteller, through the point of view of a (or multiple ) character (s) in the story, in which the writer uses “ he, she or it” pronouns.
Then, there is Second Person viewpoint: which creates an invasive or prying intimacy in the narrative, in which the storyteller instructs or dictates to his reader. An example would be writing a recipe; “ First, you add three eggs, then you add two cups of milk, etc”.
Finally, there is my favorite; First Person point of view: told from the “I “ perspective, drawing the reader closest to the story-teller, directly into the writer’s mind and heart. It is in this viewpoint that the reader will relate most intimately with the character from whose viewpoint the story is shared.
As the authors of our stories, we have control over how we create and convey our viewpoints, and with whom we hope will find meaning in them (our audience). We get to decide from which point of view it makes most sense to relate our facts, in non-fiction, or share our emotions and thoughts, in fiction, in order to get our point across, or to deliver our message.
Think in terms of every day life, and the different viewpoints currently flittering around us like birds in flight. The way we see things drives the way we formulate our opinions, which further drives how we share our perspectives with others. We share what we know, or how we feel, or at least that is how it should be, and not what we believe is in someone else’s mind, unless we are writing from the omniscient viewpoint, which I will elaborate on more in a bit.
The story could be told from a single character, or from multiple-characters, one at a time. Be forewarned, however; when writing through multiple character point of view, it is imperative that only one character shares her point of view at a time. We must never allow characters to tell the story through multiple viewpoints in the same sentence, paragraph or chapter, as this would be too jolting and confusing to our readers.
In addition to basic types of viewpoints, there are other elements of viewpoint to consider, as well. For instance, when the narrator of the story shares facts, rather than emotion, he is writing from an objective point of view. Conversely, when he is incorporating a character’s thoughts and emotion into his story, he is writing from the subjective point of view. He will construct his viewpoint around how he feels, and how he wants to make his reader feel in the process.
In non- fiction work, using objective fact -providing, the creator’s goal is to introduce factual material, without incorporating his own narrow perspective into his message, so that his audience might come to its own educated conclusion. In doing so, the non-fiction communicator conveys his trust in his audience to form its own point of view toward his subject matter, while he remains mindful of the reader’s ability to not become fooled by his (the creator’s) viewpoint, but to become informed.
In contrast, when writing fiction, the writer deliberately attempts to fool his reader because the reader desires to be fooled. The reader wants to live temporarily in the fabricated world created by the writer, where she can travel to places she has never been and may never go. The reader relates to the protagonist in a way she can’t in her real life. She finds comfort in the story where she has the potential to overcome feelings she has a hard time handling in her own real world, and even in some cases, where she can believe in happily- ever- after, fairy tale endings.
When the story-teller writes from a single –character viewpoint, he shares only incidents that character could experience directly, or occurrences the character conjectures from his observations of the actions of others, or through the character’s reactions during conversations with other characters through dialogue, but the character must never pretend to know first hand another character’s experiences, intentions or thoughts.
In real life, as we have witnessed these last few months during this highly political season, this problem with viewpoint is a flaw human beings have yet to figure out. Consequently, that is precisely why it works so well in our fiction, and the reason it is important to get that viewpoint right. It is our duty as creators of our own stories, to protect the sanctity of sharing only what we know directly, and not what we think we know is in someone else’s mind.
Unless, of course we are writing in the omniscient point of view.
The omniscient point of view is described as the “God-like” view of “all knowing”. In this view, the author shares perspectives of a character, or characters, in his story without living as a character in the story, himself. He remains neutral or detached from everyone in it, while knowing exactly what is in each character’s mind.
Jerry Jenkins points out in his blog article; A Writer’s Guide to Point of View, that writing from this viewpoint makes sense in non fiction, while it should be considered carefully when used in fiction;
In nonfiction, the Omniscient narrator is common and makes sense
because you’re an expert trying to teach or persuade, and so you adopt
a posture of knowing everything and telling everything.
Unlike the goal of the fiction writer, the message deliverer of non -fiction, or of any factual communication, should not be to trick his audience into emulating his point of view or to thinking the writer’s own viewpoint is the only right perspective, that the world he creates is the one and only perfect world in which to live.
While we define the omniscient point of view as all knowing, and God-like, and this works in the stories we create, it does not work in real life. No one is God-like, and no-one should attempt to fool his or her audience into believing his or her viewpoint is the only one that matters.
In my blogs, I often compare and contrast writing stories creatively, with creating and shaping our own life stories. While it is not my goal to force my viewpoint on anyone, or to convince my audience that my viewpoint is the only right one, it is my objective to open the reader’s mind, to subject readers to another possibility worth considering.
In the end, by creating the most appropriate viewpoint for our stories, as the writer, and by identifying the viewpoint from whom the story is told, as the reader, and by distinguishing between and understanding different viewpoints and how they come to be, we writers and readers, in this incredible dance partnership of literature and of life, will become better at creating the viewpoint that will best tell our own story, and in believing the story we are told.