Saturday, January 20, 2018

Viewpoints in Stories

Viewpoints and voice are important decisions in all types of writing. In fiction writing, where the author wants the reader to become involved emotionally with the characters or with the plot, this choice is often critical.

First-person narratives are often filled with “I + verb” repetitions, which the author has to work to eliminate, but it is very intimate and the author can easily get the reader into the character’s mind. Matter of fact, the reader can easily become the character because whenever we speak about ourselves, we use the first person. When a person reads "I", their mind can confuse it with him or herself. I’ve written one story in the first person and read many novels from this viewpoint. I’ve also read novels where two first-person viewpoints are used. It is difficult to switch between characters in this instance. I believe I read an Andre Norton story that each chapter switched between the hero and heroines’ first-person viewpoints.

The second person is far more difficult. Most people use ‘you’ when talking to another person, but I, and probably many other people, talk to myself in both first and second voice, and in novels, it is often a character talking to themselves. Again, this voice often allows the reader to become the character, but it can lead to confusion, too. It is growing in usage. One famous book in the viewpoint is Johnny Got His Gun written by Dalton Trumbo in 1938. It tells the story of John Bonham, a World War I soldier who wakes up in a hospital and soon realizes he has no arms or legs, no eyes, no ears, and no tongue. It is very visceral.

The third person is most often used in novels, which makes it familiar to most readers. The omniscient viewpoint lets the author tell the story. This allows letting the reader to know what any character thinks in any scene. While I’ve read many novels using this viewpoint, I find myself not quite as involved with the characters themselves.

I prefer to use the third person in character limited viewpoint. This method allows the same reader intimacy as 1st person, but perhaps more limited, because the character tells their story through their own viewpoint and senses not only through dialogue but through their thoughts. Different characters’ viewpoints are possible with a demarcation to show the reader where the narrative switches from one character to another. The trick is for the author to remember that they are in one character's viewpoint and not to introduce information the character could not know.

Please read the following authors' viewpoints on this topic:

Dr. Bob Rich       Connie Vines       Helena Fairfax       Fiona McGier

Judith Copek       Marci Baun       Anne de Gruchy      A.J. Maguire     



  1. It seems from the posts this month that most writers prefer third person. All of them have been interesting.

  2. I think that is because readers prefer it, too. That or first person. Second person can be very off-putting for some readers, it sounds both like someone (maybe yourself) is lecturing to you, or that it seems impersonal to that other 'you'.

  3. All these posts have been interesting, Rhobin - another great topic. I hadn't heard of the book Johnny Got His Gun. Perhaps it isn't as well known here in the UK. I will definitely check it out. Enjoyed your post!

  4. Third person limited seems to be the odds on favorite. It is a good way to get intimate, and yet allow for more than one character's point of view. Got to check out this Johnny Got His Gun...

  5. Great post. I, too, am leaning toward third person limited. Johnny Got His Gun sounds like a heartbreaking novel. I had not heard of it. A lot of PI novels are written in the first person. It's interesting to be inside a tough guy's head. It's great that novels offer us such a variey of viewpoints.

  6. I too, prefer third person in character limited viewpoint. Your explanation is great.

  7. Hi Rhobin, thanks for setting up another really interesting topic. I do have to remind myself that the character could not know things from time to time. Very frustrating. anne stenhouse

  8. Rhobin, your topics are always interesting and require my analyzing my personal writing style.

  9. Thanks for giving us this interesting topic, Rhobin - it's been fascinating to read about everyone else's experience and ideas. Anne