Shauna Bickley

Everyone’s got a point of view. What’s yours?

Posted on Wednesday 7th October 2015 by Shauna Bickley

The title of this post is taken from an advert I saw recently for a talkback radio programme, but as with many things, I thought about writing.

Whether you’re working on a short story or a novel, point of view is one of the first things you consider.

Who is telling the story, and who it’s about are not necessarily the same thing, and even when they are it may not always appear that way. For example, one of my favourite classic novels is The Great Gatsby. Ostensibly, the novel is about Jay Gatsby and his love for Daisy with the story being narrated by Nick Carraway, and yet by the end of the novel, Nick is the only character who has really grown and changed.

So, first we decide on our narrator and determine whose story we are telling. Then we consider how they will tell the story. Will they narrate in first person (I), second (you) or third person (he/she). If third person, then how close?

Choosing the narrator is important, as it can completely change the focus and feel of a book. Consider the type of story we would have if Daisy narrated The Great Gatsby.

Contemporary novels often use multiple viewpoints. My novel Lives Interrupted has multiple viewpoint characters, Lies of the Dead has two (siblings Tom and Andi), but in Still Death the story is told through the single viewpoint of Lexie. One of the joys of writing is the control of choosing how best to tell your story. My current work in progress also has a single narrator as I’ve enjoyed using that constraint, however, it does depend on the tale.

I’ve recently finished reading, The Girl on the Train. I bought the book simply because it had raised a lot of heated opinions as to whether it was brilliant or awful. I agree that the main character, Rachel is sad (more in the context of being a loser than unhappy, although she is also deeply unhappy with her life). However, I think the author has captured the voice of a woman who considers she has lost everything that’s important to her and who thinks she cannot change. Rachel is frustrating and not particularly likeable, but the author has created a character that inspires emotion in the reader, even if that emotion is dislike or irritation.

Rachel tells her story in first person, present tense. She is an unreliable narrator which is difficult in first person, but due to her drinking, Rachel has holes in her memory after her binges.

I mostly enjoyed the writing, while not particularly liking any of the characters. Rachel narrates the majority of the novel, but there are two other point of view characters, both females. The author also uses first person for these two characters, and this is where I found some problems. All three voices sound very similar. So similar that on a few occasions I had to flick back to check which character I was reading. I found this a much bigger negative than whether or not I liked them.

One of the things I like about writing short stories is that it gives me the opportunity to experiment with voices or a point of view that might not work so well in a novel.

I’m not sure I could, or would even want to write an entire novel in second person, but I’ve written short stories in second and it gives a very different aspect to the writing.

One of my short stories started life in third person, but I felt it wasn’t a close enough view of the central (and only) character. I then tried rewriting it in first person, but to my astonishment I found this really difficult. The character hated himself so much I just couldn’t summon up that much self-loathing. I then tried it in second person point of view, as if the character was talking to himself, and that made all the difference.

So what’s your favourite point of view?

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