A story’s point of view (POV) can affect how the story feels.
For instance, The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis is written in the third-person omniscient POV: The narrator knows everything, even things that some of the characters do not. The invisible narrator in omniscient POV can tell readers what one character is feeling or thinking and then turn right around and ramble around in another character’s heart and mind and report that to us.
The omniscient point of view is out of fashion today. It followed all the major characters and reported on their happenings. We today want to journey through a story with only one or two main characters because it feels more personal that way.
Here’s a portion of the second paragraph of “The Wood Between the Worlds” in The Magician’s Nephew. The protagonist Digory has just arrived in that forest by means of a magic ring:
As he rose to his feet he noticed that he was neither dripping nor panting for breath as anyone would expect after being under water. His clothes were perfectly dry. He was standing by the edge of a small pool—not more than ten feet from side to side—in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky.
That passage is about Digory and his experience, but we do not hear from his 12-year-old self what it feels like.
But what would it be like if Digory were telling his own story? Here’s my version of the same event, told in first-person point of view, with Digory as the storyteller:
I stood up and noticed that my clothes were dry. I wasn’t breathing fast, either. How could that be if I had just been under water all that time? It didn’t make any sense.
I looked around me. I was in a forest. The trees were so close together that I couldn’t see the sky, but it wasn’t as dark as I would have thought. The light was tinged with green and was warm on my face. Where were the birds? I didn’t hear any. It was so very still and quiet that I didn’t even hear the wind. At my feet there was a small pool about ten feet across, but there were dozens more scattered around, and it almost seemed as though I could feel the trees drinking from them. Even though it was so quiet, it felt like a living, breathing place.
How does this seem different from the narrator’s account in The Magician’s Nephew? First, the word choices are different in Digory’s first-person account. Despite C. S. Lewis’s simple vocabulary in this book, the story is not told as though a 12-year old fellow were telling it. It feels as if an adult were recounting it. That was Lewis’s choice, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
Second, it seems more personal to some people. They prefer stories told in first person, told by the main character, because it feels as though they are experiencing the story along with him or her.
Now it’s your turn: Choose a book of fiction that tells the story in third-person point of view: “He threw the javelin” or “She ran to the fountain and jumped in.”
Choose a passage of a few paragraphs from your book and change the point of view from third person to first person, like I did with Digory: “I threw the javelin” or “I could feel the blood tingle in my veins when I heard Aslan speak.”
Note how this new point of view changes the way the story feels.
Copyright © 2016 by Sharon Watson
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Image credit: Sharon Watson
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