Sunday, August 10, 2008

More on Point of View

In Laraine Herring's breath-taking book on writing, Writing Begins with the Breath, she begins the chapter, "Point of View," with the following quote:
"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world." --Schopenhauer
It's a worthwhile quote to consider when thinking about point of view because of the way it sums up both the problem and the solution to selecting an appropriate point of view for your story.

Point of view is, after all, just another way of describing what a character sees in the world, isn't it?

By "seeing," I mean how a character responds to the world emotionally. Not just what a character might see with his eyes, but what he might feel or taste or smell.

These responses to the world serve as entry-points into a character's way of being in the world.

But point of view, as Schopenhauer suggests, presents a limited view of the world.

One person's view... one person's way of being... not another's.

My view, for example, which is different than your view. Or your view, which is different from the view of the person sitting next to you, reading over your shoulder.

It's why using multiple points of view to tell a story can prove compelling.

Each point of view provides the reader with a new view of the world, a different way of looking at and perceiving the world, enlarging our understanding of the world and of the differences between characters.

As Herring reminds us: "In creative writing, point of view means the vantage point (character and distance or who and where) from which the work is being viewed."

Here's what she says about using third-person point of view:
In the third-person choice, you get to play with one of our most prized tools: distance--both emotional distance and distance of time and space--and there are varying distances you can use. You can be perched on a telephone pole three miles from your main character or you can be right behind your character's eyes. These distances are reflected in the range from third-person limited (staying with one character's perceptions and thoughts) to the godlike, third-person omniscient (all knowing) choice of the epics.
The thing to remember is this: "Distance determines scope and intimacy."

And remember, too, that point of view doesn't always reveal itself immediately.

As Herring discovered in her own work:
When I began Bone Dance it was not only in third-person omniscient, but all my characters had different names than the ones they ended up with. Ultimately, the novel is told in multiple first-person voices with a third-person objective voice interjecting in short chapters within the narrative. I had to admit, after thousands of words, that third-person omniscient wasn't giving me what I needed for the story. The story, as I grew to understand it, showed me which point of view was necessary to tell it. I had to trust the story, and I had to let go of my original idea.
The chapter is filled with wisdom gained from her own writing that will help you determine the appropriate point of view for your story.

And throughout the book her insights into the writing process will take your breath away and help you dive ever deeper into your stories.

For more information about Writing Begins with the Breath, visit:

And for more info about Laraine Herring, take a look at her website:

For more on selecting a point of view for your story, visit:


Fiona said...

Thanks for the link, Bruce!


Jack said...

A point of view insight from Schopenhauer--awesome. I love reading these point of view discussions. I think it's such a pivotal decision for any particular story.