Thursday, January 24, 2013

First or Third?---Point of View

The holidays are behind us and you and your family have made a lot of memories. Many could make a good story. By the end of March, editors will have selected articles and stories for use in their 2013 holiday publications. So, now is the time to submit your work. If you are not ready for a magazine, consider newsletters, bulletins, or your local newspaper.

One of the first decisions to make before you start is which point of view to use in telling the story. The two most common are first person and third person. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

First person point of view feels most natural to the novice writer. It is simple and intimate, allowing the reader to see deep inside the point of view character’s thoughts. The story’s narrator is the main, or point of view, character. He refers to himself as I and usually tells the story in the past tense. He is part of the action, reveals his emotions and reasons for writing the story, and is aware of the audience. His voice reflects his background, education, and regional accent, not the author’s. An example is this snippet taken from Black Sunday, which may be viewed in its entirety by clicking the Black Sunday tab near the top of this page.

Guess I was too big for my britches. I looked over the boys real good. Thought they was all pretty poor quality. But, all that changed one night.
First I seed of Franklin Pierce Pettigrew was at a box social at Preacher Pettigrew’s. He’d breezed in from Texas on horseback. And my! From his Stetson to his boots, he looked mighty fine. Had a sassy smile that shivered my heart. But, oh was he a wild one.

Right now, the most popular point of view is third person, because it allows the reader to identify with the main character (MC). In third person, the narrator is an observer, not a character. The MC is referred to by name and the pronouns used are he or she. The reader has access to only the MC’s observations, thoughts, feelings, and memories. Though the story is told in past tense, it feels like the MC is experiencing everything in the present. The following is the Black Sunday snippet written in third person. It takes more words to tell the story, but the result is more immediate.

Caroline turned up her nose at the farm boys who were hanging over the fence railing and gawking at the girls. She flounced to a hay bale and sat with her back to them.
Mary Ann approached, handed her a frosty jelly jar filled with sweet tea, and sat next to her. “My, Caroline, seems you’ve caught the eye of half the young men in Guthrie.
Caroline tossed her curls. “I pay those chewing, spitting, hawg callers no never mind.”
“Hmm.” Mary Ann gave her a sly look. “I ‘spect you’ve got your bonnet set for one of those big-city boys. Wonder who.”
Caroline’s cheeks burned.
Yip! Yip! Ye, haw!
A cowboy on a black stallion galloped over the hill. The horse skirted the grassy area around the parsonage, kicking dust on the guests who lounged on the lawn with their suppers.
The pastor’s wife coughed and dusted her dress. “Franklin Pierce Pettigrew, you stop that showing off right now, or I’ll take a stick to you.”
The young man drew the horse up short and jumped from the saddle. “Aw, you talk so mean to your favorite nephew.”
He grabbed her, kissed her cheek, and swung her off her feet.
“Put me down, fool. I’m getting all dizzy.”
Franklin set her down. As his gaze fixed on Caroline, his sassy grin widened and his eyes grew bolder. He whipped off his Stetson and made a sweeping bow. “Howdy, ma’am.”
Caroline’s heart shivered. Unable to respond, she held her breath. This brash young cowboy was quite the finest man in all the territory.

Which point of view should you use? That depends on what “feels right” for your story and what you want to accomplish. First person feels more factual. The narrator is presenting the story and he and the reader are aware of each other. He can digress, make comments, maintain a comic distance. In third person, the reader can immerse himself in the story world and the lives of the characters. It feels natural and the narration is not distracting.

Now’s the time to write that story. If it’s not ready for publication, it still can delight your family and friends.—Quinn

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