Good idea, Alrik <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

I'll just borrow one of my most basic advice sheets from Hero Realm, as it seems like a good place to start - how to make the decision on which perspective to use in your writing. All writing begins with this decision, really.

Anyone who has any questions about this piece should just ask. I'll be more than happy to answer - assuming I can <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/biggrin.gif" alt="" />

First Person vrs Third Person

When you are starting a story, the first real choice you will have to make is deciding whether the character will act as the narrator, or if the author will. The strengths and weaknesses of the the two main styles differ, and the difference in emphasis in your story will consequently make or break the whole.

As such, it is an important choice, and it is vital to consider not just the type of the story, but also the characters and the way you wish them to interact and relate with each other.

First Person View

I watched, dread coursing up my spine, mouth dry and heart beating wildly as SOMETHING moved, deep within the shadows. There had been three murders already - was I to be the next?

There are two main strengths to the first person narrative - identification and depth of characterisation. If the reader can identify with the narrator, they themselves will become the 'I' in the story, and they will share each pitfall and pratfall with baited breath. The narrating character can share all of his/her innermost thoughts and feelings with the reader, to an extent that is not possible with the third person form.

The weaknesses of this view, however, need careful handling. The main weakness is that your main viewpoint character must be at the centre of events, as they (And thus the reader) will only see things from the singular perspective of the narrating character. This can be mitigated using multiple viewpoint characters, but if this is done then the reader must be quickly informed which character's view they are now reading, and the same depth of characterisation is needed for all characters.

A variation on the multiple viewpoint style is the one Bram Stoker uses in Dracula - where the entire story is told through extracts from diaries, letters, and other personal notes that give multiple first person viewpoints. This approach requires consummate skill, as you might imagine.

The second weakness of this style is simply that the character's viewpoint does not allow certain things. A character will not necessarily understand anything outside of their own knowledge, for example, and might naturally ignore things the author might prefer to describe. Also, no viewpoint character is going to describe any area with which they are intimately familiar, simply because they would not thiink about it at all. When was the last time you walked into your bedroom, and thought, "Sony stereo stands between two wooden bookcases, with CD racks on the wall above. A wardrobe is jammed into the corner, fighting for space with a chest of drawers positioned so close I can barely open the wardrobe door..." You just don't. The real trick with the first person form is balancing the reader's need to know things with the narrating character's ability and desire to tell them.

A character with a fairly limited vocabulary is not going to give fantastically elaborate descriptions of things, but can plausibly ask about any concept or difficult word that the author may feel needs some explanation for the sake of the reader. A highly educated character with an enormous vocabulary will create some wonderful descriptions, but will tend to understand ideas and concepts the reader might wish were better explained. This can best be mitigated (In either case) by the use of supporting cast.

Remember that you do not have to explain everything upon the instant it comes up, as long as you get around to it by the time the reader really needs to know. Some element of mystery is never bad.

The last potential disadvantage is that the narrating character sets the tone and the atmosphere of your story. A happy-go-lucky charmer will not create a good gothic horror. Although they may of course begin that way... Your skills at characterisation and personality building will be stretched to the limits by this style - your ability to build mood, atmosphere and elaborate descriptions will not be.

Third Person View

A man, head tucked down against the driving rain, hat pulled low over his ears and collar turned up in a futile attempt to avoid being drenched, walks slowly down the Old East Road, past the boarded up shop windows with their peeling notices, now sodden in the rain. His footsteps would normally echo on the worn flagstones, but now they squelch, his feet long since drowning, the cold clammy flesh long ceasing to cringe back from the cold, cold water that fills his shoes.

The third person view allows mood, atmosphere and description in far greater detail than the first person does. This is overwhelmingly the strength of the form, and is the reason it is so popular with many writers. It also allows every character - including the main protagonist{s} - to hide their thoughts from the reader if the author so desires.

The restrictions of this style are the main virtues of the first person narrative. The protagonist is far less easy for the reader to completely identify with, and the true depths of thought and feeling will remain unplumbed. This distancing between reader and character will lead to the reader being less emotionally affected by the fate{s} of the character{s} - but will also mean that the negative effects of a character they truly hate/despise will be similarly mitigated.

There is a form of third person narrative that blends with the first person narrative - where the protagonist is effectively writing in the third person. This is incredibly hard to do, but, done well, it mitigates the disadvantages of both styles to an extent and allows a shift of emphasis at need between the two. This style is almost never used, as not only can it be somewhat confusing for the reader, but it also requires a very skilled writer indeed (So don't go expecting an example here! <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/biggrin.gif" alt="" /> ).

End Note

Choosing a character view that best suits your intent for character and story will help you to create a memorable tale - and is one of the most vital decisions you will make as an author. The correct choice will suit your skills and cause your story to flow - the wrong choice is fatal.

And as a last note - no, nothing says the narrating character has to survive, whatever form you choose. A dying man reviewing his life in flashback is just as worthy of the first person form as any other - and can allow you to build in a real tear jerker ending.

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