Shifting Point of View

I’ve learned to pay closer attention, with the help of a couple of writer’s groups, to who is the narrator in my stories. Generally speaking, there are four points of view in fiction writing:

  • First person. This is when “I” am telling the story. The character is in the story, directly relating their experiences.
  • Second person. The story is told to “the narrator” (you). This is not common in fiction, but it’s still good to know about.
  • Third person, limited. This is probably the most common point of view in fiction. The narrator is outside of the story and relating the experiences of one character.
  • Third person, omniscient. The story is still about one character, but the narrator has complete access to all characters and everything going on in the story.

Here is an example from my first novel, Sparkles of Discontent, of a first person point of view.:

I leave my mom watching TV, knowing she’d fall asleep, slouched over a ball of yarn and knitting needles, working on some unlucky relative’s Christmas sweater. I trudge upstairs, following my nightly routine of going to my room to study for a few hours, watch a little TV, and then slip into dreamland before midnight. But tonight, something feels different. I lower my Chemistry book and listen intently, watching moonlight shadowed tree branches dance with wild abandon across my tattered window shades. Our house is old and has always made odd, creepy noises, especially at night. I remember my Dad laughing when I’d creep terrified into my parent’s bedroom at night. He’d explain in his quivering not-scary voice that it might be our old furnace and hot water pipes shuddering and shaking the night away as they made frightfully devilish sounds down in the cellar or maybe it could be the wind-tossed branches scratching at the windows trying to sneak in. Then he’d pull back the covers to make room for me to sleep safely between him and a disapproving Mom. But I’m seventeen now and use to all the odd noises. Dad’s been dead now for a couple of years. So there’s just Mom and me to ward off the not so scary monsters left from my childhood.

And here’s an example of third person linited from my second novel, Darkness in Paradise:

They swung in an easy rhythm, blissfully unaware that with each motion the trunk was imperceptibly loosening. “Something feels different.” She peered over the edge. “Odd. My fingers are moving deeper into the sandy soil with each swing.” Rachel heard an unfamiliar ripping, groaning sound. She felt a sudden shift in momentum causing her to shift her gaze up toward the dead tree holding one end of the hammock. Her momentary confusion was replaced by a horrified realization that a large dark shape was descending rapidly toward them. Reflexively, Rachel turned her body and raised her left leg to deflect the falling trunk. Her body exploded with pain. She heard a muffled scream from the warm body nestled beside her. 

I’ve found that as I write I need to pay attention to who’s telling the story, and how much does any one person know know (and share) about the past and present? Good suspence often hinges on, as Alfred Hitchcock would say, “Making them wait.” I’d be curious what other writer’s experience has been with point of view?

2 thoughts on “Shifting Point of View

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