Some Interesting Point Of View Writing Decisions
NEMESIS BY PHILIP ROTH
This story is told by an omniscient narrator. At least, we think it’s an omniscient narrator, residing mainly in Bucky Cantor’s head. Then, on page 108 we get:
The next morning was the worst so far. Three more boys had come down with polio — Leo Feinswog, Paul Lippman, and me, Arnie Mesnikoff.
Unless I missed it, this is the first time the readers learn that the narrator is also a character in the story.
Why leave it til page 108? Well. Why not, if your name is Philip Roth?
TWO GIRLS, FAT AND THIN BY MARY GAITSKILL
In this novel, every second chapter is written in first person from Dorothy Never’s point of view, while the other chapters are written in third person point of view, about Justine.
That’s not unusual. What struck me as unusual was that on page 274 out of 325, the point of view switches mid chapter, with only a space break. The point of view chops and changes several times over the course of a single conversation between the two main characters in a cafe. I suppose this signals to the reader that the end of the book is near. (The book is breaking its own ‘rules’, which kind of preempts Armageddon, don’t you think?) Also, the two main characters have met up — as they did at the very beginning of the novel — and are having a real sort of interaction this time. They’re coming to blows. The chopping and changing POV within a single scene mirrors that tension.
MIDDLESEX BY JEFFREY EUGENIDES
Eugenides writes the first portion of his book with an omniscient first person narrator who hasn’t yet been born. This fetus can see into the minds of his parents and grandparents. Or rather, he imagines he can…?
Eugenides isn’t the first to do this in fiction. Passenger by Australia’s own Thomas Keneally is written the same way. More recently, Ian McEwan wrote from the point of view of an unborn foetus in Nutshell.
CARRIE BY STEPHEN KING
Carrie is an epistolary novel made up of omniscient narration, newspaper clippings, court transcripts, newspaper articles, interviews and the biography of a surviving character. The omniscient narrator who links all of these items zooms in on various characters and King achieves the advantages of first person with this strange trick of putting their first person thoughts inside brackets like this:
KEEPER BY DIANE LINN
Ms. Appelt isn’t afraid to take the point of view and toss it like a ball between her characters. For the most part, it’s Keeper’s eyes we see the world through, but around page eleven things change. Suddenly we’re hearing Signe’s story from her perspective. Then later it’s Dogie, Mr. Beauchamp, a seagull, and the dogs. Such an effect should be jarring to the reader. Switch your focus too much and where do your loyalties lie as a reader? I suppose that’s the point, though. Your loyalties lie with everyone. This is a family’s story, in a sense. As such, you need all their perspectives. And except for a brief hiccup I experienced on page twelve, none of these changes to the p.o.v. struck me as anything but necessary to the book’s storytelling.
— from a Goodreads review by Betsy Bird
Further Reading On Point Of View
1. The ‘danger’ of writing in first person by Patty Jansen.
2. The Benefits Of Free Indirect Discourse from Lit Reactor
3. Third Person Omniscient vs. Third Person Limited from Nathan Bransford
4. How to layer points of view from KidLit.com
5. Point Of View In Fiction, a podcast from Paula Berinstein