Today we’re going to begin discussing point of view: WHO is telling your story? What information does that narrator have access to? It sounds simple, but many are the writers who have made point of view mistakes, or who aren’t completely sure about that pesky “second person.”
Basically, there are three points of view, called (appropriately enough) “first person,” “second person,” and “third person.” Today we’ll focus on first person because, well, it’s called “first.” It’s also the point of view that writers are most comfortable with.
I lifted the sheet and examined the body.
I waited in the car almost an hour until she arrived home.
Does that mean that the narrator has to be the main character? No; Dr. Watson can narrate a story, but Sherlock Holmes is still the main character.
Please remember that when you use a first person point of view, the narrator only has access to information that the character would realistically have. For example:
I climbed the stairs to the second floor, walked down the hall to room 207, and knocked. Inside, Mary Ann, came to the foyer, paused a moment to fix her hair in the mirror, and opened the door. “Can I help you?” she asked.
So what’s wrong with this? Unless it’s a glass or screen door (or the narrator has X-ray vision), which should be obvious from the text, he has no way of knowing that Mary Ann fixed her hair before opening the door. On the other hand:
I climbed the stairs to the second floor, walked down the hall to room 207, and knocked. I could hear footsteps in the foyer. They paused, and then the door opened a moment later.
In this case, the narrator is using information that he realistically would have had by simply using his senses.
The pronoun “I” indicates that first person singular is being used, but there is also a plural form (“we”). So when might it be used? It’s common in self-help books, for example, when the author is including himself with the readers:
We continually seek happiness through accumulation of wealth and possessions, not realizing that it’s often the quest for more possessions that is making us miserable in the first place.
It should be mentioned that some writers switch between first and third person points of view in the same book, or sometimes remain in first person but switch narrators. If you use this device, you should always make it obvious to the reader that this has occurred (by starting a new chapter or speaking in a different “voice,” for example).
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