a few short story tips: point of view

I’ve always been drawn towards the third-person omniscient point of view. There was something appealing about going inside of every character’s head and seeing the world through their perspective. When talking about the craft of fiction, point of view is often overlooked. And when writers do talk about it, I often see the analogy of point of view as the camera lens through which a movie is shot.

On the first day talking about POV, my writing teacher told us that she hated that analogy. Instead, she compared POV to Tinkerbell, a little fairy who could fly around and land on other people’s shoulders and see through their eyes.

And instead of the conventional three POVs (first person, second person, third person), she gave us a chart where POV, particularly for third person, was split into different aspects, and all these aspects consist of a range.

Here is the original chart she gave us (though rather crooked):

These aspects of perspective all work together to create a thematic relevance to the story. For example, if the story is stream-of-conscious, there should be a reason why the character is mainly occupied in their thoughts that connects to the story. If the events are reported as they happen (i.e. present tense), there should be a reason for that also.

The most common POV chosen by contemporary writers is probably third-person limited, told in past tense, so much so that it is considered the default for POV for most writers. Some writers struggle when choosing between third and first person, and there’s an argument that third person would work better if the author wanted to create narrative distance between the reader and narrator. First person often feels more intimate, and therefore choosing to use third person is a craft decision. Amy Hempel does this perfectly in In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried.

This is the last one of my short story tips, and I hope y’all have enjoyed reading them as much as I did writing them!

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