Vanessa Place, 2013. Photo: Patrick Greaney.
General Writing Point of View
The point of view is the perspective that a story is told. As a writer, depending on the mood of the story or characters/worldbuilding, you may choose a perspective that fits the story the best. So, you may choose to tell your story from one of the following perspectives or a mix of them. I use some examples from Enero, one of my books to clarify all these as I use a mix of some of the following perspectives in one novel.
First-person: Mainly using "I" or "we"
"I never wanted to be on Earth in such conditions. I was the observer of the ups and downs in human civilization throughout the time. At this epoch, death was gradually increasing in velocity, thrashing on the city like rain. The whole world was on the verge of chaos."
The main character of my book, Geras, is mostly describes everything from his perspective. Sometimes, we see him from another character's view but mostly, if it's about him, I used the first person. The reason was that I wanted to highlight him as the main character, give him a dominant manipulative power over the story and I also wanted the reader to be able to judge him from inside his mind and from other character's viewpoint.
Second-person: Mainly using "you" and "your"
"You’re confused. You’re lost. You ask yourself where you are and what has happened to you. Let me tell you. They sent you back. Your touch was a death to the arrangement of New Omniverse information. Your existence depended on nothingness. You are the end. You are the mortality. You are the death."
Enaro is an extremely complex book. I know because I, personally, struggled with writing and rewriting it as time and space in this book has almost no meaning. It's deeply co-relates with the philosophy of life and existence, similar to Plato's Cave hypothesis, of who we are in reality. This is an example from the very end of the book whereas as a reader you should ask yourself "what the heck!" was it all along about you? who is this you at the end of the book? I chose to use a second-person view to finish the book to insist on the timeless - spacelessness of the whole story, to show how we are all entangled into one being, how we are part of a whole.
Third-person limited: Mainly using "he," "she," or "it," about onle ONE character
"His face was reflecting in the metal. His wet eyes carried a weight of sadness. The metal reflected a golden light on his white stubble. Numb and wan of thoughts, he was incapable of any facial reactions."
This is a chapter of the book, focuses only on one character name "Kes" and as it is an introduction to this character, I wanted to focus on him and his behavior from a third-person perspective. All the characters in this book, except Geras, are written in third-person person limited or Omni perspectives depend on the situation. For example, in the last chapters of the book, some characters are written in the first-person.
Third Person Multiple: Similar to limited but focus on several characters' minds
Using this POV, we can enter the minds of multiple characters in the story. We still use “he,” “she,” and “it,” but now we follow multiple people.
"Geras sat next to the rotten body of Roxana while Pius was whimpering by Roxana’s body.
- This is abnormal. What happened to her?” Lewinski’s face torn with conflict.
Geras moved his four fingers through her burnt to coal, body,
- I can’t explain Lewinski”
Here, I used myself as a viewer. It means I am there with Geras, Pius, Lewinski, and Roxana. I just explain what I see as the writer like a hidden camera. I do not exist as a character. I only exist as a viewer.
Third-person omniscient: Similar to multiple, focuses on several characters but we are the GOD!
"Kes almost forgot himself seeing Pius in that condition. His face was chalk pale. He wanted to ask about Adeline but he assumed, Pius was as unaware as he was."
Similar to multiple POV but, actually, you know what every character is thinking and you know it all. With this POV, we actually know what every character is thinking. Here, we don't trick the reader, we are telling them what this character is thinking and feeling. We know all the secrets about them. I didn't use Omni for ENARO as I didn't want the reader to know about everything. I wanted to uncover the story gradually and let the reader judge the characters based on their evolution or the story they are building up. I use a small part of ENaro which I thought might be a good example of Omni as it is where we are almost finishing the book.
In this scene, the reader knows the back story of Pius and we read that Pius possibly kill Roxana but Kes doesn't know it. So, we are the secret keeper of Pius here or possibly want to shout "Damn it, Kes. He killed your lover!"
In Omni, we’re not shifting between characters unlike the multiple. From the beginning, it is clear that we know the inner voice and intention of each character’s minds, all the time. This is something I didn't want in ENARO.
Which POV is best and when to use it
Choosing a POV depends on a variety of factors: the type of fiction, whether short or long, the genre, the writer's choice, and preference, etc. Keep in mind, what point of view you choose in your story depends on how you want the story to be directed. For example, if you're writing as if it's a journal/diary/letter, normally you're describing everything from a first-person perspective, and sometimes, you talk to your diary as if it's a second-person. For example, Jean Webster in "Daddy-Long-Legs" is telling the story from the perspective of Judy/Jerusha (the main character) through letters to Daddy Long Legs. Here's an example from the book:
You never answered my question and it was very important.
ARE YOU BALD?”
This means that we see things from her POV which can be a mix of, First and Second-person. This is one of those moments in life where there’s no clear right or wrong answer. But don’t let that bring you down. Rather, let it enlighten you. You can use whatever point of view flows most naturally for the story you want to tell. So:
Choose First-person if: it's intimate, personal, or you have a particular interest in one of your characters. This POV provides a sense of intimacy and closeness to a character or specific story/scene. With this POV you are the character, we read the story through that character's eyes and we know whatever he/she is thinking.
Usage: Perfect for character development, no limit to what you can describe when you talk, see and feel from the first-person view which is normally the main character or the narrator. It is also good if you want to hide something from the reader because they might know what the main character is thinking, but they don't know what the others are thinking. Best fit for short stories.
Choose Second-person if: You're giving instructions, talking with your reader, or assuming your reader is the other character (like Daddy Long Leg example). This was used in "Choose your own adventure" books or in general gamebooks. It is the most inflexible POV.
Usage: to guide the reader in a particular direction, writing children's books, gamebooks (like choice books, RPGs, CYOA), or in general instructional writing like travel writing. Good writings that try to help the reader or guide them to do something.
Choose Third-person limited if: you are an observer. Third-person is the most popular POV for fiction and creative nonfiction.
Usage: lead your readers to one particular character’s mind but also learn about other characters through their interactions with this character. Work well in short and long fiction and creative non-fiction.
Choose third-person Multiple if: You want to explain how each character feels, what they're doing, what's their feeling and reaction toward the same situation, etc.
Usage: move the story forward using multiple characters, works well with long fiction or creative non-fiction. Not really recommended for short fiction.
Choose third-person omniscient if: You want your reader to know about everything. You can't keep the secret from your readers.
Usage: To let the reader know about everything. Some thrillers and crime fiction use this method to add thrill to the story when, for example, the detective BFF is the serial killer but he doesn't know and the BFF invites him for BBQ with fresh meat of one of his victims. The police will enjoy it, but what will your reader think? Long fiction or creative nonfiction. For me, this won't work with a short story as it kills the shock value of short fiction.
The key is to be consistent in your writing and focus on one POV throughout especially if you're new to writing. This makes it easier for you to write and for the reader to follow.
Here is an exercise for you. Feel free to download :)
What POV fits Transgressive Fiction?
To conclude, personally, I use the first person a lot as I like the freedom it provides to create a voice with personality and sarcasm. However, sometimes I find myself annoyed by my own narrator so, that is when I know either that's not the right narrator for the story or it is the issue of POV. Transgressive fiction, just like any other fiction can be written in any POVs. This depends on your taste, the number of characters, type of story (novel, short story,...), or simply what you're comfortable using for writing your story.
As Anne Lamott said, "You are going to love some of your characters because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason" (in Burroway 73).
For me, each book or story that I have written had a different need. My latest anthology: Feminomaniacs is a good example of how I choose a perspective. The favorite I can say is the third person and unreliable narrator which mostly is used in narratives with a first-person POV. Stories in Feminomaniacs are written about people who are disgusting to be in their heads, a pedophile, a fetish that makes tea out of female underwear, or characters who are mentally unaware of the impacts of their actions on themselves and others.
For some, I used a first-person unreliable narrator to add a sense of confusion whether or not we should believe or accept what the narrator is saying or I used it to explore what is in the mind of certain social rejects that we can't and shouldn't understand. In other stories, I used the third person POV because I wanted the story to be told from outside of the head of the character to be able to explore the impact of the environment or situation on them.
"multiperspectivity"(Hartner 181) in this anthology is nonexistent as I believe that a short story should be limited to a few characters and only one POV. However, for novels such as ENARO, this seems more realistic and more akin to life’s events occurring through different viewpoints. The reason for this is that I wouldn’t have to focus on one voice throughout the entire novel and I could jump from character to character without dulling the tone and pace of the story.
Vanessa Place is a writer, artist, and criminal defense attorney. She wrote a new book on the topic of rape, "You Had to Be There: Rape Jokes — a collection of exactly that" and it issued provocations on rape. Place told Observer interviewer Helen Holmes that she became interested in rape jokes in 2012 when comedian Daniel Tosh suggested that an audience member ought to be raped for interrupting his act to protest a joke he made on the subject. "There was a debate online," Place elaborated, "about whether you could tell a rape joke, or whether anybody could. And the conclusion was that no one could because rape jokes aren’t funny. I remember at the time thinking, Oh, that’s interesting, because they are." The idea that any online debate ever reaches a conclusion or even a consensus, is absurd, but even interpreted in the loosest possible way, this, too, is untrue. Prominent feminist commentators allowed that while it’s entirely possible to make a funny joke about rape, most of the jokes being defended were not, in fact, funny, because they sided with rapists. Nevertheless, to be transgressive, Place must have false piety to rebel against, even if she has to invent it. (source)