Discussion in 'Character Development' started by The Backward OX, Oct 6, 2009.
Are they interchangeable terms for the same thing, or is there more to it?
Viewpoint Character is the one you follow; point of view is the narration style (first-person, third-person distant, third-person omniscient, third-person limited, etc.). In first-person narration, the viewpoint character and the point of view are interchangeable, because you see through the viewpoint character's eyes- what they see and what you see are the same thing. Except in the case of unreliable narrators, but let's not go into them here.
In third-person narration, the viewpoint character is the one that you read "through." What is good and bad in that part of the narrative is what is good and bad to them. The point of view is where the story is written from; omniscient means it's a free view that can see anything and hear any thought, limited means it can see some things even if the viewpoint character can't, but it can't hear anyone else's thoughts, and distant (I'm sure there's a better word for it) means that you can't hear any thoughts, only see actions.
Most stories are written in limited third person, with the main character being the viewpoint character. Some are written in first-person from the point of view of a Watson or other secondary character (the viewpoint character) who observes and aids the main character.
I hope that has answered your question.
Ok, the explanation’s good, as far as it goes.
However, I can’t help but think of some guy and his wife out in a cabin in the wilds somewhere, a million miles from anywhere, and the wife has a sudden and urgent need for immediate, complex, lifesaving surgery, and the guy gets a surgeon to tell him on the phone what to do to save her life.
I think if he had the choice he’d prefer to be shown what to do.
So it is with this thread. The old show don’t tell is a good rule.
So, if I give you a rough idea about a scene, could you write just a line or two that shows a character named Sally as the viewpoint character and that is written in, say, third limited? In other words, one example that covers both of my questions. That way I might save the patient.
Here’s the idea:
“Sally sits at a table at an outdoor café. With her is her friend Paula. Sally observes some guy that she's met previously, let’s call him Harry, leave a bakery on the other side of the street. He sees the couple and waves. He then thinks to himself that it’s his lucky day. He crosses the street. Sally says hello and this’s Paula. Paula tries flirting and fails. Harry and Sally set up a future meeting.”
Thanks, and sorry for being a dummy.
I'm sitting at a table wth Paula when I see Harry walking out of a bakery across the street. He walks over waving and I introduce him to Paula, who flirts shamelessly. I ask him to stay for a coffee but he says he has to be somewhere, but we agree to meet for dinner.
Sally sits at a table with her friend Paula. Mid-sentence, she sees Harry walking out of a bakery across the street. He waves to her and walks over. Sally says 'hello' and introduces Paula, who flirt shamelessly. Sally asks him to stay for a coffee, but he says he has to be somewhere so they make plans for dinner instead.
As for your original question, POV is not a person, its an abstract concept that refers to the way the reader is invited to read the story, hence first- or third-person POV. View-point character is simply the person the POV focusses on; in first-person, that will be the narrated character, in third-person it is the disembodied (or not) narrator.
Try using the search tool, I wrote a post on another thread recently that relates to this sort of thing.
A key word or two might help
Okay, umm, view point character point of view first person third person
Use your imagination a little...
That was my own thread. I didn't understand it there either. Why can't people show instead of telling when it comes to explaining these things?
I already wrote two passages to attempt to answer your question, and explained it as clearly as I could. What part of it specifically are you having trouble understanding?
tone it down, guys.
arron89, The Backward OX was wondering whether you can provide him with a link to your previous thread, or could show him your previous post, or give him some better key words so that he could find it. He wasn't questioning the passage you wrote.
Back on the subject at hand, in your example, OX, you have "He then thinks to himself that it’s his lucky day." This is called a POV slip, unless it's written from his perspective- there is no way anyone could know that except for him, and at the beginning of your passage you've clearly set Sally up as the viewpoint character (since she was the first to be introduced and Harry didn't show up for three sentences). In third-person limited, the viewpoint character is the only one whose thoughts you can hear.
Since I'm good and remembering analogies and bad at writing examples, here's a quick illustration, based on one of Hitchcock's best analogies:
A couple gets home and finds a burglar robbing them. The man fights the burglar. The audience cheers for him. (in this case, the viewpoint character is either the man or the woman, and the POV is limited to them- we didn't know about the burglar before they did.)
A burglar cuts his way through the chain-link fence, gets stuck, frees himself, tranquilizes the dogs with a home-made dart gun, clambers up the wall, slips, hangs on for dear life, steadies himself, cuts through the window, cleverly foils the infrared cameras and the laser motion-detectors, and sets to work breaking into the safe using a stethescope. Outside, the couple arrive home from the theatre earlier than expected and make their way for the door. The audience says, "Hurry up, you're gonna get caught!" (the viewpoint character is the burglar, and the POV is not limited to him, because we know about the couple before he does.)
Show, Don't Tell
If I were to write this scene, I would first write the dialogue. Dialogue is pure showing and not telling.
I can't agree. Dialogue has often been used for cheap exposition. Moving the narrative voice into a character doesn't automagically change it from telling to showing.
In any case, dialogue vs narrative is pretty wide of the thread topic,
Let us then agree to disagree.
Lighten up and live!
It's not that I'm having trouble understanding. I'm having trouble doing. That's why I asked for an example. Go back and read my Post # 3 and note the words I've bolded.
That is a passage where Sally in the viewpoint character and the narrative is written in third-person limited.
Ok. Now I understand. What threw me was the opening paragraph.
I didn't see what that had to do with anything. Still don't.
That is in first person. It was to clarify the difference between third and first.
OX, what you are asking about deals with narrator, the person telling the story, as you called POV character, and POV.
First we have the author, the one writing the novel.
Then we have the narrator. This is the personality the author chooses to be when he writes the story. It is like acting. The author is pretending to be a different person, let's say Lestat, by Anne Rice. Anne Rice is the Author. The narrator of the novel Lestat is Lestat, who she's pretending to be.
The third thing is POV. Point of View deals with the style the author chooses to write the story in while pretending to be someone else. Although, at times the narrator is the author, but most of the time the author is pretending to be someone else. There are three major types of point of view. First, third limited, and third omniscient.
Example of first: I sat by the pond eating tacos while listening to Bach on my I-Pod. My girlfriend sat next to me. I wondered if she would like to see a movie tonight.
Example of third limited: Charlie sat by the pond eating tacos while listening to Back on his I-Pod. His girlfriend sat next to him. He wondered if she would like to see a movie tonight.
Example of Omniscient: Charlie sat by the pond eating tacos while listening to Back on his I-Pod. His girlfriend sat next to him, thinking about what dress she would wear tonight. He wondered if she would like to see a movie tonight. Little did they know that high above them a man was falling and his parachute didn't deploy. Soon he would hit the water and die.
First choose what POV you will write in. Let's say third limited because it is the most popular. You can tell the story as a blank narrator, or as one of the characters in the story. Usually it's as one of the character's in the story. Let's say you choose to write it from the girlfriend's POV. Then anything you write should be something she knows or is experiencing with her senses. You can only share her thoughts.
Charlie sat by the pond listening to something Sally couldn't hear on his I-Pod. Sally sat next to him pondering what she might wear tonight.
I can't mention what Charlie is wondering about, unless Sally is a mind reader. I can't mention the guy falling from the sky, unless Sally happens to know this. In this example the narrator is Sally, as you called it the POV character. The POV is third limited.
But let's say in the next scene or chapter, I choose to change the narrator to Charlie. Then everyting I write in that chapter or scene must be from Charlie's POV. I can only share things he experiences with his senses, or things he happens to know.
I can't share Sally's thoughts, or write about the man falling from the sky, when Charlie is the narrator.
if you still have questions, let me know.
Arch, in third person the narrator cannot be the character the narration describes. In some cases in limited third person the narrator may affect the voice of the narrated character (though this, really, is uncommon; the narrator is usually another 'character', even if they never explicitly appear in the text).
It's for that reason, among others, that I strongly disagree with the idea that limited third person should be restricted to only what the narrated character can physically see or feel or think. It makes much more sense for limited to simply mean that the focalisation of the narrative is 'limited' to that one person, limited therefore being an alternative to omniscient, which by definition has no consistent locus. So, in what I believe to be third limited, the narrator would be well within their capabilities to describe the narrated character, to describe things unknown to the narrated character that relate to that character, to draw on knowledge the character does not themselves possess. Obviously there are still limits (the narrator should not have access to the thoughts of other characters or we must say the focalisation has shifted, which is possible), but writing third person limited as though it were first person seems absurd to me.
I didn't say to write it as first person. Limited third makes it easier to pull away from the narrator, which I will treat as the POV character because that is basically how it is. When third limited is tight, the narration has the same voice as the POV character. They become one and the same thing, as if I am telling my story in third person, thus refering to myself as Neil, as him, as he.
If the POV character is in the car, what third limited allows me to do, if I transition well, is to pull out of the car and describe how it fish tails around a courner, sparks flying from the one flat tire.
Some would say you can't do that in third limited, but authors do it all the time. As long as one transitions smoothly from inside the character's head, to his other five senses, to his surroundings, I don't see a problem with it. The reader most likely won't even notice.
But if you shift suddenly, not only might they notice, but they might get confused.
Charlie sat by the pond and listened to Bach on his I-Pod. He wondered if Sally would like to watch a movie tonight. A man fell from the sky, trying to get his parachute to open. He screamed all the way down, the grass and pond getting closer and closer, then he bounced on the ground next to Charlie.
Let's say something as drastic as this was allowed in limited. We would still need to transition. As it is now, the camera was zoomed away from Charlie, so we can see him sit down by the pond, then it zooms into his thoughts, as close as we can get to the character. Suddenly the camera zooms to the sky where a man is falling.
Charlie wondered if Sally would like to watch a movie tonight. He sat down by the pond and listened to Back on his I-Pod. The sun glistened on the still water. Ducks quacked in the distance and pecked at bread that a family was feeding them. Above the tall trees, a man was falling, trying to deploy his parachute. etc
Now there is a slow transition from inside Charlie's head, to him sitting by the pond, to a big view of the park, to above the tall trees. Much smoother, but still breaks limited POV IMO.
If the camera stopped at the trees, and didn't zoom high into the sky on the falling man, then the POV wasn't broken.
Oh, another distinction I'd like to point out between third limited and first person. In first person the camera is the character's eyes. In third limited the camera can be the character's eyes or it can be an over the shoulder cam, or it can be a cam that follows the mc closely.
I believe I can even zoom way out, still focused on the POV character, and describe the scene.
You're making the same point I made, for the most part; that it is accetable in third person limited to go beyond what the character knows or sees.
But treating the character as though they were the narrator is a big misake. Its never true. Ever. The voice of the narrator, in third person, can never, ever be the voice of the character the narrator is describing. It would be like you or I talking about ourselves in third person - it makes no sense. You have to keep the three voices of the author, the narrator and the narrated character seperate or you will run into the kinds of problems that prompt threads like these in the first place.
When I write limited I pretend I am the POV character. So to me the narrator and the POV character are the same. When I switch POV, I pretend I am a new character.
In my sci-fi novel I write from the protagonist's and antagonist's POV. When I write as the antagonist's, I pretend I am him. He is narrator as far as I am concerned. It makes perfect sense for a person to tell his own story in third person.
I've studied novels this way and found no reason to view the narrator as someone different than the POV character, unless the narrator happens to be different, which at times he is.
In close multiple third person, I pretend more than one person is telling the story.
It works for me. But I like tight limited.
Reasons for having the narrator be different is to write more objectively. Another might be to construct sentences more complex than the POV character could write.
In short, I disagree that a narrator can't tell his own story in third person.
...besides the physical impossibility, you mean?
No book I've ever read supports your way of thinking. The narrator is always distinct. It's not even something that can be argued, really - the narrator, in third person, is by definiton not the narrated character, except for the extremely unlikely circumstance of a person telling their own story, where they are clearly the narrator, in third person, which again, I've never ever seen. Your post (I've studied novels...") shook me a little, so I went to my bookshelf and sure enough, there's no way, in any of the books I read, that it would make any sense for you to read the narrator as being the main character. Perhaps you are not explaining what you mean correctly, or you haven't considered the implications of what you are saying?
As I said, there's no reason the narrator can't take (affect) the voice of the narrated character, but that should never be confused as the two distinct entities becoming the same. Theoretically, the narrator can never be a character, it is always a voice: in third person omniscient, this is obvious, the narrator is always disembodied, and can be nothing else. In third limited, the narrator is usually disembodied, but it is possible that the voice of the narration is entwined with the voice of a character so that the novel is told in a hybrid of two voices. This is also the situation in first person, where the three distinct voices of the author, the narrator and the character all inhabit the same body.
In Dean Koontz novels, Odd Thomas and Fear Nothing, Odd Thomas and Christopher Snow are the narrators respectively. Of course the author's humor and what not is going to come through, but Christopher Snow is the narrator. These are both written in first person. I do not in any way read three distinct voices. I have no idea where you are getting that idea from.
The same is true for Lestat, by Anne Rice. Lestat is the narrator. There is Lestats voice and if Rice every comes through, it is because the writer can't help but come through when we are pretending to be someone else. Just as the real person comes through when a person is acting in a movie.
Perhaps you could show an example of three distinct voices in those novels.
An example of third person, if you wish to show three distinct voices, would be Blood and Chocolate.
For these novels, I could only see two voices, but only because the author slips up and allows their voice into the narration. For the most part, the POV character remains the narrator.
Unless the three distinct voices can be clearly pointed out to me, I see no reason to change my views.
Separate names with a comma.