Whose story is this, anyway? My obsession with point of view

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First person:

I have become obsessed with point of view. I have a problem. I’m not afraid to admit it. I randomly pull books off my shelves to make mental lists. I study scenes for the slightest change in perspective. I walk around wondering what the story of my day would look like if it were being told from the point of view of my husband? Or my students? Or my cats? I need help.

point of view flow chart

Courtesy of Literary Terms You Should Know

Third person limited:

That morning, he found her again on the couch in the morning light, surrounded by piles of books, a frown on her face. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“I couldn’t remember if Pride and Prejudice shifts point of view. You’d think it’s all from Elizabeth’s perspective. Or Darcy. But it’s not.”

“I see,” he said, shaking his head and moving towards the kitchen where the coffee waited.

She got up and followed him, still paging through a book from one of the stacks. “It’s hard to say exactly who’s telling the story in Pride and Prejudice. They’re omniscient, though I don’t think we ever dip into Darcy’s head at all. But you start in Mr. Bennet’s head. The father.”

“Mm-hm.”

“And then every now and then you dip into someone else’s. And it’s a classic. A classic with shifting point of view.”

“Yes,” he said, looking deep into his coffee cup.

She set the book down on the counter and stared at him.

“So, see?”

Third person omniscient:

If Austen could do it, then so could she. Right? It was part of the story, the theme. The idea that there is always another point of view.

“I do see,” he answered, sitting down on one of the kitchen stools. It was far too early in the morning for literary analysis. But that wasn’t what she really wanted, anyway. He had figured out that much of the time, his role was just to listen and nod. Listen and nod. It sounded easy, but could become surprisingly complicated at times.

“What should I do?” she asked. This was the question that left her sitting in front of the computer screen for hours at a time, becoming hypnotized by the blinking line of the cursor. It was Hamlet’s dilemma all over again, without the skull or the dead father. To change the point of view or not to change the point of view? That was the question.

Second person:

Because you never know. You never know for sure what the right thing is. Maybe this is the change that makes the difference between getting published or not. Maybe this is the change that wins you the Nobel. Maybe this is the change that alters the course of your life forever. You just never know.

So you stand in your kitchen, willing your poor, suffering spouse to give you the answer. You pray for that feeling to descend from the heavens–the one that tells you this is it. This is good. This is the way it should be done.

Then you sit down in front of the computer and start again.

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