Monday, January 12, 2009

And Yet Another Voice

After discussing some of the problems with the first person narrator, I realized I’ve taken one tool away and given nothing back. As a remedy, this post will contain further information on other narrative voice choices, their strengths and even some of their weaknesses.

Many books have been written on viewpoint and voice, a very complex subject. Basically, however, there are three commonly used narrative view-points (POV’s) in most modern commercial fiction novels. They are first person, third person omniscient, and third person, limited omniscient.

The first person narrator, already discussed in other posts, is still widely used. However, one should choose first person not out of ignorance of other, possibly better, narrative viewpoints but with the knowledge that it’s the best choice for that particular story.

Third person omniscient, a favorite 19th century POV, fell out of popularity as readers became more sophisticated and began challenging this all knowing, all seeing voice which readers recognized as the author’s. In commercial fiction, authorial intrusion should be avoided at all costs as modern readers want their stories told from a character’s viewpoint only.

One place the omniscient viewpoint works very well is in novel openings, where this narrative voice gives the reader a wide-angle lens view that can then be narrowed down to focus in on a single character by switching to limited omniscient. Steven King, in fact, uses this device in many of his novels. However, if this technique is used in the opening, there cannot be anther switch back to omniscient later in the novel. Once in limited, the author must stay in limited for the rest of the story.

The most widely used point of view in 21st century literature is, of course, third person, limited omniscient multiple viewpoint. This point of view’s ease of use, not only gives the writer the closeness of the first person narrator, it also gives many options not available in the other narrative forms. For one thing, if you can imagine yourself inside the character in this viewpoint—seeing, smelling, hearing, and touching everything he or she sees, smells, hears, or touches, you can create a realm which is so real and so comfortable that your reader actually becomes the main character. This kind of escapism is what fiction is all about. The writer can also, instead of your reader having to sense everything through the main character’s senses, he or she can switch characters and show his or her reader what other character are feeling too, something that’s not impossible, but extremely difficult to do in first person.

Now you have other POVs to study and use in the creation of your stories. Writing is a process that began when we were young children, verbally telling stories to ourselves, something infants, old people and blogger do frequently. Then we hang it all out there and begin writing into this vacuum called a blog. We never know until someone comments if anyone actually reads our stuff, but write on we must. Hope this small journey into point of view does more than confuse. If there is a question, please don’t hesitate to comment.