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Point of View

 

Disciplines > Storytelling > Story Devices > Point of View

First person | Third person | Narrator | See also

 

Stories are told from what is usually a fixed position on the part of the author. This point of view thus provides the standpoint from which the story is told.

An important note is that the effect on the reader or listener will change depending on the point of view you take.

First Person

When told from the first person, the author takes the position of someone in the story, often the main character or protagonist. They use the first person 'I', telling the story as a personal narration, explaining what the person sees, hears, thinks, feels and does.

This provides an authentic feel for the story as we generally will trust what people say they have done themselves more than second-hand reports that have perhaps been exaggerated or underplayed in some way.

Where you want to add information about situations where the first person has not been, these can be related second hand, as heard from a reliable source.

The thinking position of the first person also allows the natural injection of opinion into the story -- often that of the author, but possibly also a deliberate exposition of bias.

In changing minds, telling the story in the first person needs the story to be true. However, you can use many of other story elements, including structure and devices, to bring your story alive for others. Done well, this is the one of the most powerful ways of persuading other people.

Third Person

A common point of view taken by authors is that of the third person, explaining what happens from 'outside' the story.

Observer

One way of taking the third person is to explain from the position of an invisible observer who is there at any scene, but does not interact in any way with the characters. This position is thus highly descriptive as the author paints to the five senses of the reader.

The observer is, in effect a 'witness' and provides a neutral description of what is seen. This takes the reader directly into the scene and allows them to experience more fully the environment.

This is a strong position for subtle changing of minds, providing a neutral platform from which you can describe an unassailable truth.

Judge

Beyond the neutral role that the observer takes, the author may also take an evaluative role, judging the characters as good and bad, praising and criticizing in turn.

This allows the author to inject their values into the story, but without having to assign them to specific characters. It explicitly positions the characters as good and bad.

This must be done carefully, as it might conflict with the judgement of the reader and thus cause them to dislike the story. It also adds the character of the author more visibly into the story, albeit unseen.

Done well, this can be a powerful position for changing minds, as you influence the reader's values and judgement whilst entertaining them with a story.

Mind-reader

An addition to the third person position is that where the author assume omniscience, explaining not only what happens but what people are thinking and feeling.

This adds the deep inner world to the story and can take on even more of a voyeuristic sense than the observer.

In changing minds, this requires caution, as you mind-reading powers requires credibility. It is possible, depending on your audience and how you frame the story, and done well can be very effective.

Narrator

Another position that includes element of both first and third person is that of an individual storyteller or narrator. In this, the author shrinks further into the background, placing the voice that tells the story into a narrator who perhaps will expose a particular character or bias that the author does not want to take.

The narrator may be someone from the story who takes on the explanatory role or it may be a more abstract storyteller. As a story character, they can bring their own history and context into it, talking from the relationships that they have with other characters. As an external narrator, they take on a more traditional storyteller role and may talk directly to the reader, telling them what to think and do.

In changing minds, you can use this form when relating a story that someone else has told you. When doing this, first establish the credibility of this third person.

See also

Narrator, Aside

 

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