An Idiots Guide To Writing III: Perspective

This is part 3 of James’ on writing series, you can find part one here and part two here.

Welcome back would be writers. I hope these articles have helped a few of you – even if it’s only as inspiration to sit down and start writing. Let’s dive right in. Perspectives and tenses are two of the most common elements of writing that people struggle with. Tenses we’ll deal with later, today – perspectives.

Perspectives come in three varieties: first, second and third. The most commonly used in fiction are first and third so we will look at these first. What’s the point of them? Well they act as a point of view for your reader and they will act as your reader’s eyes in the world you are creating.

First Person

First person perspective makes your reader see everything from one character’s point of view; whereas third person perspective allows the reader to become almost god-like hovering over the story.

First person is really good for helping you to describe what a character is thinking or feeling. For example:

‘I was walking home one night. It was dark and I felt a sense of trepidation as I walked down the alleyway which ran behind my house.’

It’s all personal and uses ‘I’ to describe who is talking to us- so you can use it to explain how a specific character is feeling really easily. It is, however, quite dull after a while because you only ever hear one person’s point of view.

Third Person

Third person is what you want for most stories, as it explains what’s going on from a god-like point of view.

‘The man walked home alone. It was a dark night and he felt a sense of trepidation as he walked down the alleyway that ran behind his house.’

You’re giving the details but you don’t have to narrow everything down to one character’s point of view. Here’s another example:

I took a long drag on my cigarette and thought to myself, it’s going to be a long night.

Or

He took a long drag on his cigarette and sighed,

“It’s going to be a long night.”

The main difference between the two perspectives is that they change the angle of how you are looking at things. Is everything coming from inside a guy’s head? Is he thinking about everything that is happening and you are writing it down, or are you god looking down on the whole scene and explaining to the reader what is happening?

There are no hard and fast rules about how you use perspective; however, there are several things to keep in mind. Switching between 1st and 3rd can be confusing, especially if you do it often. Help your readers out and make it as clear as possible what you are trying doing to do.

So, for example:

It was a cold night and I couldn’t be fucked anymore. I had spent the evening waiting outside the coffee place but she never turned up. What a mess. I placed my hands in my pockets and started walking home. ‘Fuck sake.’ I mumbled under my breath.

***

The gun in the man’s hand was pressed into the girl’s forehead. Pressed hard. The gunman was a tall man, grim and dark. She was young; must have been in her late teens. She was crying and had probably pissed herself.

“I’m sorry, Mr.’ She blubbed through tears. ‘I didn’t mean to!’

By changing the scene and characters, I could change from 1st to 3rd person perspective without it throwing the reader into utter confusion. If I were to go back to the first character, I could go back and write it from either perspective as long as it’s obvious to the reader what I am doing.

Second Person

Let’s look at the last of our three varieties: Second person perspective. It’s rarely used and that’s because it’s pretty weird. Second person perspective directs the action at the reader. Here’s an example:

You place the gun in your pocket. The girl stops crying. She looks at you with relief but you know it’s only temporary. Your boss wants the girl dead and you do what your boss says.

See what I mean? It’s bizarre because it puts the reader in the action and makes them part of the narrative. It empowers the reader and at the same time throws them off. It’s not used very often when writing as it’s hard to sustain for more than a couple of pages, but if you want to play with your reader and put them in the shoes of your character for a mere moment – it’s perfect.

That winds up part three of our writing guide. If you like the series and would like me to focus on something specific, leave a comment.

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