In my last post, I shared my love of short stories; one of the reasons I’m fond of them is the impressive manner in which they follow the full narrative path in a short amount of space. We are currently exploring the narrative arc and writing style in my Freshmen English classes, so the topic is fresh in my mind—and while many of us like to read and write, we have grown familiar (at least somewhat) with each stage of the narrative cycle.
For anyone not familiar with the “narrative arc” concept, I’ve included a diagram similar to the one I used in my classes. If you Google images of the narrative arc, you’ll find that more commonly the arc is the same height in the beginning (“exposition”) and end (“resolution”). But if you think about it, most protagonists experience at least a minimal amount of growth in their narrative path, so I started drawing the resolution stage to indicate a character’s change through the course of the story (a big thanks to my clever colleague for pointing this out!).
Over the next several posts, I will be exploring the art of the narrative. I think this is valuable for two reasons: one, as writers, we get to experiment and play with the arc in our writing, but each stage is essential to whatever we create; two, as readers, the narrative arc helps define the stories that we treasure and love, and sometimes it is that very arc that perplexes/irks/mesmerizes us with the more unusual pieces we discover.
To kick off our Art of Narrative journey, I’d like to briefly talk about point of view, or POV. POV is a hot topic in the blogosphere of late, and in a moment I’m going to point you to a couple fantastic blog posts on the topic. As a refresher, there are four types of POV: first person, second person, and third person (limited or omniscient).
- First person uses the “I” voice to maintain a story through the eyes of a single character who narrates the tale (either as a participant in the plot or a voyeuristic player of sorts). While it may seem an easy feat, the first person narrative can pose a challenge in its limited view of only one person’s perspective.
- Second person addresses the narrator or protagonist as “you,” in essence turning you, the reader, into its character. This form is not as commonly used, but it does pack a creative punch.
- Third person limited is perhaps the most commonly used POV; while we tend to reach for first person narrative as early writers because it is closer to home with its comfortable use of “I,” forcing oneself to step outside a bit—and still stay in the right person’s head—definitely requires some attention. This POV style may remain in one person’s perspective for the entirety of the work, or it can shift from scene to scene depending on the length of the piece.
- Third person omniscient is less common but provides a “god-like” perspective, allowing the reader to see everything, but often not at such a great depth.
Because point of view has been such a popular topic of late, I don’t want to get into much more detail except to suggest you hop on over to two other blog posts that covered the topic in heavy (and exquisite!) detail. The first is by fellow blogger Katherine Checkley at the Intrinsic Writer. Katherine’s lovely piece on What’s the Right Point of View for Your Story? highlighted the pros and cons of each POV style, and is worth a good perusal. I’d also like to reference editor Beth Hill over at The Editor’s Blog for her thoughtful piece, The Curse of First-Person Narration. Ms. Hill points out some definite concerns that arise in the usage of the first person point of view, all of which should be kept in mind when using the style.
Though I have used a little of the first person POV in my writing, I have found I’m most comfortable writing in the third person limited style. I also prefer reading works of this point of view because I enjoy shifting across perspectives (though shifting is definitely less common in short stories). Each has its own value, and every author has a preference and best practice.
What about you? What is your favorite POV to write in? What POV do you prefer to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!
Please stay tuned next week, when I continue an exploration of the Art of Narrative. In the meantime, make sure to grab a good book this weekend and enjoy the narrative flow. 🙂
September 28th, 2012 at 4:11 am
Thanks for an interesting post and the links to books on the subject. I have trouble with perspective sometimes as I do still drift between third person limited and third person omniscient and have to be very careful when I revise.
I’ve written in first and third person before. I would really love to be able to write a whole story in third person omniscient but don’t have the skills not to confuse the hell out of teh reader yet.
I enjoy reading all perspectives although I’ve never read a whole book in second person before.
Looking forward to next week.
September 30th, 2012 at 9:38 am
Thanks! I’ve seen very few books in second person, and I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever read a book in third omdiscient. It could be interesting, if handled well. I, too, have to be careful about the occasional third person limited POV violation—thank goodness for revisions! 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting!
September 30th, 2012 at 8:36 pm
I’ll never forget all the times I’ve taught the story/novel diagrams like that: comparing the traditional “male” story to the “female” story….comparing the rise and fall of it to orgasms. Good times.
October 1st, 2012 at 8:13 pm
Nice. I think of this too—though I’m 100% certain this would never fly in my 9th grade English class. 🙂
November 19th, 2012 at 6:08 pm
[…] The Art of Narrative, Part One: Introduction and POV (evarieder.com) […]