#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Narrative Perspective

For this month’s Author Toolbox Blog Hop, I thought I’d expand on one of my previous posts. I’ve seen a lot of authors question whether they should write in first or third POV. Many seem to think that writing in third person won’t allow access to a character’s interiority – and that’s not true. What is character interiority? Feelings, perceptions, thoughts, changing sentiments about other characters, etc.

There’s a difference between the narrator and the focal character. They could be the same person, but not necessarily. The narrator is the one who tells the story. The point of view and opinions that drive the narrative perspective belongs to the focal character.

For example, “Jane would stay here another day. Today hadn’t gone as planned, but perhaps tomorrow would prove to be more eventful.”

Obviously, this is written in third person. The narrator is the one speaking, but they’re not the thoughts of the narrator. The narrator doesn’t have an opinion on how the day went, or what tomorrow could bring. These are Jane’s thoughts spoken through the narrator. Jane is the focal character.

So just because Jane herself isn’t speaking the words directly, doesn’t mean that third person POV won’t allow for access to her interiority. This is also an example of free indirect discourse, which I’ll get to in a bit.

There are three patterns of focalization:

  1. Zero / Non-Focalization
    • The narrator is omniscient, and therefore knows more than any one character. There are no limitations. It can see through whoever and whatever.
  2. Internal Focalization
    • The narrative perspective limits itself to a single point of view, and says no more than what that character knows.
    • There are sub-categories, but I’ll save that for another post.
  3. External Focalization
    • The narrator knows or says less than what a given character knows. He observes and tells with limited comprehension. Think of the Sherlock Holmes books: the books are written through the perspective of John Watson, because he’s always a step behind Sherlock. If we saw through Sherlock’s perspective, there would be no mystery because he sees everything. Instead, we see through Watson’s eyes.

 

Returning to free indirect discourse, it’s a way of showing the thoughts or opinions of a character as if from that character’s point of view. This is done by combining features of the character’s direct speech with features of the narrator’s indirect report. Basically, even though the narrator is the one speaking, the reader knows that the narrator is echoing the character’s thoughts. There’s also indirect speech, and direct/reported speech. I’ve listed examples below.

Examples:

  1. She thought, “I will see him in the morning.” ⇒ Direct/Reported Speech (The narrator is reporting what the character is thinking).
  2. She thought that she would see him in the morning. ⇒ Indirect Speech (The narrator is reporting what the character is thinking, but not in the character’s voice).
  3. She would see him in the morning. ⇒ Free Indirect Discourse (The character’s voice has disappeared into the narrator’s).

Personally, I prefer free indirect discourse. Reported speech is okay occasionally, but it shouldn’t be the only way we have access to the character’s interiority.

Reading Jane Austen helped a lot with my understanding of narrative perspective. If you look at Emma, for example, she’s the focal character for most of the novel – however, sometimes it’ll switch to another character, when that character has a better understanding of a situation than she does (and therefore, clues the reader in). In Pride and Prejudice, she allows us access to different character’s interiority. The focal perspective changes frequently.

So it’s not just about saying “She did this and then she did that…” It’s about digging deeper into the character and allowing the narrator to present us with the thoughts, feelings, opinions, emotions and everything else that character is experiencing to allow us to have a real connection with them.

I hope this was useful to you guys!

A few days ago, I wrote a post about healthy CP relationships (as there’s a CP match coming soon). You can read that here if you’d like.

 

 

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27 thoughts on “#AuthorToolboxBlogHop: Narrative Perspective

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  1. Oh my gosh, so much new and useful terminology for me. Thanks for this, Hoda! I’m running through my MS in my mind to see how I can apply examples of the different patterns of focalization. I think I’m going to have to refer back to this at some point. 🙂

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    1. I’m so glad this was helpful to you, Raimey! I’ll probably put up some posts later to examine the different focalization patterns more closely 🙂 I just didn’t want to overwhelm people, haha.

      Like

  2. Never heard 3rd POV properly explained like this, and this actually makes sense. I’m a natural 1st POV writer but want to write a variety of POVs. It’s uncomfortable to me because I feel so ‘separate’ form the protagonist. This will definitely help with my revisions and a short story I’ve just written. Thanks so much! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have always been a little mystified when people say first person is the only way to get “close” to a character. They both can! My fear is that I pick the wrong way to get close for whatever the story’s tone is. I feel like I more or less randomly choose a POV…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You said something that I’ve been thinking, except much more clearly, and with terms I haven’t heard before! Thank you 🙂

    (This is exactly why I hated the Sherlock Holmes books – I never liked having to drag along with Watson when the real story was happening elsewhere.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for explaining this. I’m just working on finding my voice and not confusing it with my Characters voice. You’re definitions and examples helped a lot.
    Ann

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post! Getting close to a character is so important, and it can definitely be done in first or third POV. I really like that you’ve given the specific terms for the different ways of accessing a character’s thoughts! So useful! Thanks! 🙂

    Like

  7. Definitely a strong analysis of perspective and the subtle but powerful ways in which the same underlying meaning can be expressed, but with subtle nuances to distinguish between them.

    I think the Sherlock/Watson example is a very strong example of how important perspective is. As you say, Sherlock can’t be the POV character, but he is the focus of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks so much for this clear explanation of the narrator in fiction. I always appreciate specific examples in fiction. I’ve shared your post online. Thanks for sharing this with Toolbox authors.

    Like

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