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Poor Hanno

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Intelligence and Happiness?

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Buried by the Sea

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Cycling Two Abreast

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Indoors / Outdoors (Defuse)

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Nürnburg’s Extra Bombs

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Law & Morality

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Foy – The Bodiless Head

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False Flags 2

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Plastic 55 Years Ago

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Blinking Morse

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Synecdoche is a powerful, expressive linguistic device

The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking


The Corleck Head is a stone sculpture found in Cavan, Ireland. It is a tricephalic head, showing either a trinity, or 3 points of view, depending on who you ask.

The Corleck Head is a stone sculpture found in Cavan, Ireland. It is a tricephalic head, showing either a trinity, or 3 points of view, depending on who you ask.

In beginning a piece of creative writing (fiction to the less pretentious) one of the first considerations is the point of view (POV) from which the piece will be written. It is a hugely important decision which a successful author ought to be able to fully justify as it will open avenues of investigation while closing others.

It will also affect the overall feel, tone and emphasis of the work. It isn’t something that can be over-stated – the decision is absolutely pivotal.

Broadly speaking, fiction can employ any number of plenty of points of view. Generally though, it will be one of the following:

  1. First Person. The first person is a less frequently used device than third person, but can be a rich resource. The first person narrator will more often than not be the main protagonist and therefore be well placed to record and interact with the action which surrounds them. A strong example of this would be in Camus’ The Outsider where it is the narrator who commits the act on which the whole book is centrifugally balanced. We can see his motivation from inside his own mind. A more recently successful example would be Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger.
    The first person voice is a fantastic vehicle for an unreliable narrator, a story can be told with the reader doubting the objective veracity of it, either entirely or in part. For example, the narrator’s voice may show a certain bias or preference toward a specific character or place. They may make excuses for an action or be overly understanding toward something inexcusable.
  2. Second Person. Second person narrative is a rarely used, somewhat experimental device in most form of fiction other than interactive gaming-books such as the Fighting Fantasy series, which will mean next to nothing to readers outside of the 30-40 years old age band. John McGahern’s 1965 novel The Dark is a prime example of second person POV fiction.
  3. Third Person. This is the most prevalent voice in fiction and may be either omniscient or a witness. Giving an example is pointless – pick up any book of fiction and it is likely to be written in the third person. As with first person, the third person may be deemed unreliable and subjective.
    Third person is more often than not the POV of choice in crime fiction. Allowing the action to shift time and space it means an author can follow both a protagonist and an antagonist and any other number of subplots.

Changing POV

According to Colm Toibin a novel is one or two thousand details and the issue is choosing them.

Sometimes this choice may only apply to a chapter at a time and a writer may consciously change POV from one section to the next. One device that bridges these perspectives is the subjective third person, where we externally follow a character and yet the language is imbued with descriptions which are purely subjective. We feel that although we are external, our view as readers is also somewhat internalised also.

In The Corrections Jonathan Franzen manages this twist in point of view eloquently within a single sentence. The sentence starts off coolly objective but ends up using a description that is purely subjective. It gives the effect of the initial observance creating such passion in the character that it is forced to come to the surface.

The sentence?

“Across the street, a long-legged woman in tight jeans and excellent black boots had climbed out of the other cab.”

The word that concerns us is excellent, which is not the language of a dispassionate relayer of information. Equally so an internal monologue would not be so literally descriptive.

This article was posted by on Sunday, October 31st, 2010 at 15:55.
It is archived in Art, Culture, Writing and tagged , , , , , , .

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