Paying Attention to Point of View
Last month, SF Signal published a two-part “mind meld” on point of view in fiction. Earlier this year, the folks at Writing Excuses discussed the omniscient viewpoint. I encountered all of these discussions recently, and it got me thinking about point of view. At first I found it challenging to recall the perspective of books I’d previously read, even if they were among my favorites. With concentration, however, I realize I can figure it out for most examples that come to mind.
(Sometimes it’s obvious. It’s a good bet that stories with large ensemble casts – like The Song of Ice and Fire, to name a popular example – are told from a third person perspective that can follow the separate adventures of multiple characters.)
Conflicts are revealed from multiple perspectives; tension arises from wondering how these perspectives will converge – or collide.
In contrast to my fuzzy recollection of the narrative perspective of some past reads, I feel acutely aware of point of view now that I’ve encountered the discussions mentioned above. I am reading Ben Bova’s Titan, and the third person perspective seems conspicuous. Conflicts are revealed from multiple perspectives; tension arises from wondering how these perspectives will converge – or collide. The plot becomes an almost secondary source of suspense.
I can’t say that I prefer one perspective over another (well, second person perspective sure is an odd duck1), but I do think it enriches the reading experience to better understand how a story is told. There’s a parallel with science here: knowledge does not sap a system of wonder, but rather equips you recognize and appreciate its even deeper mysteries.
- To read a fascinating visual analysis of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” format, you decide to check out Christian Swinehart’s One Book, Many Readings.