Viewpoint is another way of saying point of view (POV). In the general world, point of view relates to how someone views and interprets a situation. “In my opinion” can mean “from my viewpoint.” Numerous variables can go into analyzing each person’s view of any situation. To understand another’s point of view, we need to get inside their head to an impossible degree. We may think we know someone, especially in this day of social media glut, but do we?
For the novelist, POV is essential for writing the story. Fiction writers have the god-like ability to know exactly what is in the head of their characters. They create each character. This is true whether or not they share that information with a reader. Non-fiction writers are like the rest of us with human limitations knowing only what our senses (especially seeing and hearing) tell us. So, how do fiction authors tell us about characters? The questions for them, or us (depending on your point of view—sorry), are: how much do they tell us and how do they do it? The answer to one question limits the other. The same may apply to memoir.
To determine how the story gets told, the writer considers (and the reader notices) the following.
1. Who speaks? Here are six options:
- An omniscient narrator has unlimited knowledge. They can enter the mind of any character in the story, and may pass judgment.
- An omniscient narrator may be ‘limited.’ They are objective and have knowledge from one character.
- An objective author can provide a camera-eye view. They may relate measured descriptions, actions and dialogue, and provide limited narrative summary. But this speaker provides no interior character views.
- Third person limited speaks with knowledge of one person. This is a common viewpoint, and may be intimate or objective.
- A second person speaker provides direct address, talks to self, and is the author addressing the reader.
- The first person/narrator has two options and is considered less objective (and less reliable) than third person limited. Option one is a subjective narrator, intimately involved with the story. Option two is an observer narrator who tells someone else’s story.
2. To whom are they speaking? And, who is listening?
3. On what occasion? What event created the situation?
4. From what distance is the story or event being told? Is the telling near to foreground events or removed? This is important and beyond this blog’s scope. Here are two good blogs on distance.
Understanding POV is fundamental to fiction writers. But, even experienced, published authors talk about it, write about it, and teach it emphatically. A story cannot be told without a point of view, regardless of how you look at it.