Monday, February 17, 2014

The Philosophy of Writing: Point of View

I, you, him, those are perspectives, points of view that we have fashioned for ourselves to understand events in our lives.

There has been a lot of stuff written on point-of-view so I won't beat a dead horse. I will say, however, a few things on how using different perspectives can change the way a story works.

If we take a particular circumstance, like a water-cooler conversation, you'll see what I mean. Here's the scenario: Steve has returned from a weekend vacation with his two boys from the lake. He rode a jet ski and taught them both how to fish. Watch how I depict this event across perspectives.

First Person (I):
"I loved it Frank. It's a great place. My kids love it there, and I get to relax and let go of work while they knock themselves out on the water. The rentals this year weren't so bad, only a hundred bucks, with the fifty dollar deposit. I know him from way, way back. It's a steal. Fishing wasn't so great this year, but they learned how to tie the hook. My youngest still caught something, but it was so little we threw it back." 
Second Person (You):
"You understand what it means to go and just lie down and feel the sun on your back as your kids ride around in the water. God knows it. Your hands feel that jet-ski rev in the water. Boys will be boys. You understand that most of all. As a kid once, you had to tie your own lure, the same that your old man taught you. Maybe a fish would bite the first time, but you always knew that it wasn't about the first fish you caught, but the chance to sit in a boat and hang out with your Pa."
Third Person (Him/Her):
"Steve had come home relaxed from his weekend, having spent most of it with his children. He spent all day talking ears off by the water cooler. After lunch he saw his friend Frank, who asked him how it went. Steve brimmed and told him about how affordable the jet ski rental was this year. He really lucked out; only a hundred dollars plus a fifty dollar deposit! His boys were able to learn how to fish, tie their first hook. It made him think about his own time as a boy on the lake."

As you can see, each perspective offers a vantage point. Normally, writing consists of a combination of these points of view. It's not often that a book will be written solely in the first person, though this is relatively easy to do. Generally, most narrative combine elements of first and third person. The situation and circumstances are laid out with third person commentary on a situation, while character insight is revealed through first person reflection. Second person is, by far the most rare in writing. I suspect that the perspective exists because it must by necessity. I've used it occasionally for experimental writing but I see it used most in speeches. Second person is very hypnotic in application. The emphasis is placing the second person (not yourself) in a state of awareness that the first person maintains. When second person succeeds, is when the individual this perspective is trying to influence begins to believe in the opinions and presuppositions of the point of view.

I would suggest playing around with these perspectives. Obviously we could go into more complicated terminology like "Third Person Omniscient," but even these designations are just clever combinations of these three foundation perspectives. If you understand how to use them, and in what context, you can build up intricate points of view and make your story better. Try it out, maybe post your examples. I'd love to see what you guys can do!


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