A discussion about narrative style
Most writers think of point of view only in terms of “I’m writing in first person or third person.”
Actually there are two parts to point of view (POV) when writing fiction. The first, which is referred to above, is called “narrative style.”
The second is called “perspective.” This is the thoughts, feelings, and even values of the character through whom the story is told. The perspective character will be the one holding the camera and providing their inner thoughts. Perspective is what creates reader immersion because it allows the reader to understand what the character is all about, what they care about, what they notice, what they think and why they do what they do.
This first of three articles covers first person point of view. Article two discusses the third person point of view. Article three will share questions to answer to decide which is best to use in your story.
First Person POV
Narrative style is the words used to tell the story. So a story told in first person narrative style uses “I” because the narrator is sharing their own story, something they were directly involved in. In this case it’s synonymous with perspective because the narrator’s values will color every word choice.
I walked through the door at my college town’s local watering hole. In 20 years it really hadn’t changed all that much. Mounted on the north wall was still the moose head that the owner, Randy Gunther, had put up after the “moose hunt” he’d crowed about during my sophomore year. In reality it had frozen to death in the restaurant’s back lot that December. He’d called in a butcher to cut it apart and get rid of it before the carcass stunk up his place. Under it were four wooden dartboards, nicknamed the “Shooting Range” where occasionally prof pictures had been posted for the more aggravated among us during finals weeks. I noticed a black and white photo up there now and drew closer. Damn. Doctor Mucklefuss was still teaching?
First person will use “he” “she” and “they” when showing the parts of the story where other people act. They’ll use “we” and “our” in parts of the story where the narrator is doing things together with others.
A throaty female voice called out from behind the bar. “You want something?”
I turned and smiled at RG. Randi Gunther — yep, Randy’s daughter — had been a classmate. She wore a gray-blue apron now, with the bar’s logo on the front. I only briefly wondered where her father was before remembering he’d passed in ’19.
I walked up to the bar, rested my arms on the polished surface, and lifted a heeled boot over the foot rail to stand a little taller. Looking directly into her brown eyes, I smirked. “So tell me. You seen any pretty women ‘round here?”
BUT they can only tell the reader things from their perspective. There’s no “my friend was frustrated and sad” in first person. “Frustrated” and “sad” are feelings words. They can only know another character’s feelings if that character says it in dialogue. There’s only observation, followed by actions and thoughts of the narrator guessing and reacting based on what they think the other character feels.
Randi frowned and dropped her eyes, busying herself with drying the glass in her hands with a pale white dishcloth. “Can’t say I’ve seen one. Recently.”
Though her tone was quiet, brittle, I couldn’t get over how good she looked. Still dark despite the years, her brown curls bobbed around her shoulders and face. And her tank top showed off still-muscled shoulders; she hadn’t lost a step since college crew. The way she bit her lip though, I guessed she was still sore about how we’d left things and was debating how much to tell me off in the bar where a show of temper might lose her other customers.
So I made the first gesture. Reaching across the bar, I took the glass from her hands. Our fingers brushed lightly and my hand tingled. I turned the glass upright and set the flat bottom on the bartop with a soft thunk. “Sorry it’s been so long.”
Some modern writers are using a first person, rotating narrative style. This means they are sharing different characters’ perspectives on the same story, and writing all scenes using the first-person narrative style. Extreme care is necessary when using this narrative style. It’s important make the two character’s “voices” unique (the “word choices” in the narrative I mentioned earlier). And head each chapter with the name of the character so readers are never lost.
Next week: Third person point of view