Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Favorite Points of View--Guest Post by Bill Hopkins

by Bill Hopkins, @JudgeHopkins

Favorite Points of View:  

FIRST PERSON

  • First person: This is a story that is usually narrated by the protagonist. If you use this, then your first sentence--or certainly your first paragraph--should make it clear. "Sally whirled around and slapped me in the face." You know that someone (the narrator) has incurred Sally's wrath and he's going to tell the reader about it.
  • Advantages: First person allows the narrator to develop a distinctive voice that no one else in the story has (or should have). The reader will learn to like or at least understand why the narrator acts the way he does. He can ramble on about relevant points inside his own head without anyone else but the reader knowing what he's thinking. The reader also witnesses the stress placed on the narrator and how that causes him to act in a certain way. The reader learns about the world of the narrator quickly.
  • Disadvantages: The narrator must be in every scene or he and the reader will be subjected to a lot of retelling by other characters what happened off-stage. But even that may be skillfully handled so that the narrator doesn't appear to be just a listening post where different folks come to tell their tales. Also, other characters and not the narrator must describe him or the narrator must slip in hints at his appearance. "Sally slapped me so hard that I thought my scrawny mustache had been knocked off my face." And, please, avoid the clichĂ© of having the narrator look in a mirror and telling the reader what he sees. Finally, avoid as many "I's" as you can. "I went to the store. I bought some eggs. I took the eggs to Sally." That soon becomes boring.


THIRD PERSON CLOSE

  • Third Person: An unknown narrator is telling the story. Generally, the narrator is never identified. Writers and readers have an unspoken agreement that this is one of those "willing suspension of disbelief" that someone witnessed and is able to tell the story. There are different kinds of third person. What makes my favorite version of third person "close" (other people have different terms for it) is that the narrator is in only one character's head at a time. "Sally slapped him." That would be the first line of a book written in third person (close or otherwise). Further on in the story, the reader realizes that the narrator can see into only one person's mind. "He felt the stinging blow and didn't like the look on Sally's face." In fact, third person close is almost a first person viewpoint using different pronouns.
  • Advantages: You can describe your character in the narration. As a reader of fiction, I rarely remember what a person looks like while reading the story. As a writer, my descriptions of people tend to emphasize oddities of their appearance or perhaps one or two nods to a physical description. Another advantage that draws me to this point of view is that you can still show the direct thoughts of the person. "Sally slapped him. That's the second time she's done that to me!" or "Sally slapped him. That's the second time, he thought, that she's done that to me."
  • Disadvantages: You must be especially careful not to get into anyone else's head. You must show us what the other person is doing to determine his reaction to what is going on or, of course, have the other person say something that presents his state of mind. This sounds easy, but it's tricky. In one story, I had written about the protagonist and two companions doing something like "trudging dispiritedly" (it wasn't really that bad). My most heartless editor (my wife, Sharon Woods Hopkins) pointed out that I was expressing the thoughts of the other two people as well as the protagonist. Which, of course, I was.

Play around with different points of view. See what fits your protagonist the best. You'd be amazed how a character changes when you change that character's point of view!


For more information, read these two articles:

Fiction: Point of View (Writer's Digest)


 
Point of View in Fiction (Fiction Writers' Mentor)

 
Courting Murder by Bill Hopkins
A Judge Rosswell Carew Mystery
Available October 2012
ISBN 978-0-9830504-38
Southeast Missouri University Press
When Judge Rosswell Carew makes the gruesome discovery of two corpses on a riverbank in the Missouri Ozarks, he’s plunged into a storm of deadly secrets that threaten both him and his fiancĂ©e, Tina Parkmore. Unsatisfied with the way the authorities are conducting the investigation, Rosswell, who’s always nurtured a secret desire to be a detective, teams up with an ex-con, Ollie Groton, to solve the case before the killer can murder again. Rosswell uncovers a maze of crimes so tangled that he must fight his way to a solution or die trying.
 
 
Bill Hopkins is retired after beginning his legal career in 1971 and serving as a private attorney, prosecuting attorney, an administrative law judge, and a trial court judge, all in Missouri. His poems, short stories, and non-fiction have appeared in many different publications. He's had several short plays produced. A book of collected poetry, Moving Into Forever, is available on Amazon. Bill is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dramatists Guild, Horror Writers Association, Missouri Writers Guild, and Sisters In Crime. Bill is also a photographer who has sold work in the United States, Canada, and Europe. He and his wife, Sharon (a mortgage banker who is also a published writer), live in Marble Hill, Missouri, with their dogs and cat. Besides writing, Bill and Sharon are involved in collecting and restoring Camaros. Courting Murder is his first mystery novel.