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Point of View in Short Story Writing
How to Choose the Point of View
Once the short story writer has his characters clearly outlined in his mind, he can decide who is going to narrate his story. This is point of view and it depends on which character the writer most identifies with; which one is most like him in the sense of a shared emotion or experience.
Asking the following question will help pinpoint this character:
Does the character more or less share the writer's "vision" and "voice"? (Voice is defined as the way the writer speaks).
If he does, it makes it easier for the writer to attain that credibility, that “suspension of disbelief” so essential to draw the reader into his story and into his world.
In the most successful fiction, it is observed that the main character is the one that is most affected by the action of the story. This is probably the simplest way to pin down the point of view character.
Take, for example, Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby where the POV character, although not the central figure in the novel, is the one who is moved by the action of the story.
While the "central character" lies shot in his swimming pool in the end, Nick Carraway, the POV character who tells us the murdered man's story, decides to return to the Midwest. He is moved by the action in the story.
In contrast, the story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is narrated through the point of view of its hero, Charlie, who is a retarded child. The story is told in the form of a journal Charlie keeps. Therefore, the journal's tone must be authentic, and it is.
Multiple Point of View
There can be combinations of the four basic point of view methods but for the short story, a knowledge of these four is enough as there is not enough space in the short story form for experimenting with multiple points of view or combinations.
Once the point of view has been decided upon, the writer is committed to stick to it – especially in the short story.
The Four Basic POVs
Omniscient POV– The author knows it all. He knows the thoughts of every character as well as the past on which the story is built (for every character has a past and every event its cause and effect). The omniscient author guides the reader through the story and may even offer his comment and philosophy.
First Person – The “I” may be any of the characters in the story. It could even be a character like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby who is basically relating someone else’s story with only glimpses into his own life. When writing in the first person, it is important to sound as conversational as possible.
After all, the writer is telling the reader the story. He should read it aloud to check whether he has the voice right. Does it sound natural?
This is a point of view highly recommended by many authors because it takes the reader straight into the character’s mind and thus creates a sense of urgency and immediacy. Flowers for Algernon is written in first person.
And yet, writing in first person is also more difficult because the story wholly depends on the experience and thoughts of the first person character. The author’s voice and his subject must be riveting enough to hold the reader’s attention and this is where originality comes into play.
According to Grenville Kleiser, a well-known creative writing professor, the writer is original when he writes honestly from his heart. “Originality is independence, not rebellion; it is sincerity, not antagonism. Whatever you believe to be true and false, that proclaim to be true and false.”
And the writer must be careful not to use too many ‘I’s’ as that may strike some readers as too egotistic.
Scenic – The author is unobtrusive and does not comment at all. He is only a reporter. He is not inside any character's mind and knows nothing about the past or background of the story.
Omniscient-limited-to-one character, or Central Intelligence – The author never intrudes and is omniscient, knowing it all, the past and the background as well as the motives of characters. He speaks and sees through one character, usually the central character, so it is like the first person in a sense, except that it is a ‘he’ or ‘she’, not an ‘I’.
But characterisation with this method is much easier than in first person because the author can describe the character better without being obtrusive. The narrator, after all, cannot describe himself unless seen through the eyes of other characters in the story.
The Most Appropriate Point of View
When deciding on point of view, the writer must keep in mind what gives him the most freedom and enables him to elicit sympathy from his reader. He must choose to narrate the story through the character who most shares his outlook on life.
If he chooses to write about the child victim of domestic violence, he would choose to write from the child’s point of view, not the perpetrator’s since the reader will undoubtedly take sides with the victim.