There are three choices from which a fiction writer can choose to cast their stories:
- First Person
- Second Person
- Third Person
First Person | Here the point of view can be told by the protagonist – the I tells the story. The first person can also be a witness – the I tells the story of someone observed, a story in which the witness might have played a secondary role. The first person also allows for a re-teller – the I narrates a story told to them by someone else.
- In choosing the first person the author should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the point of view and understand if the first person is thinking the story, reliving it in a memory or is reflecting upon it; the first person story can be one written in a diary or journal, or in letters; the first person could be speaking the story aloud.
- And you will want to ask yourself: What is the narrative distance between the telling narrator and the experiencing narrator.
- So, how much time has elapsed? How different is the narrator now? What has happened since? What has changed emotionally and in attitudes.
- And can your narrator be trusted? Are the narrator’s memories faulty?
Second Person | This point of view is rarely successfully used in short fiction, rarer still successfully used in long-form prose, such as novels. The You tells the story. You cross the room and you open the window to stare out at the churning sea. You feel the waves in your throat. It is an unspecified narrator which in some cases is used to indicate a talking of one self to a former or earlier self.
Third Person | There are three choices to be made if an author choose third person – Third person omniscient where the author knows everything about everyone; Third person objective where the writer knows nothing but what is heard or seen; and finally Third person omniscient in a limited way where the author knows and speaks or tells all about one character, even entering the head of this character, but knows nothing more about the rest of the characters.
Psychic Distance | In third person – in any of the forms – the relationship between the narrator to the story is called “psychic distance,” and this involves much like a camera filming a scene panning in when appropriate and panning out when needed. Here’s an example, provided by John Gardner of moving in:
- It was winter of the year 2007. A tall man stepped out of a doorway.
- David A. Bour had never much cared for snowstorms.
- David hated snowstorms
- God how he hated these damn snowstorms
- Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing, and plugging up your miserable soul…
This psychic distance is not uniform throughout the story, but should be modulated, carefully, to move in and out when needed, for emphasis, to indicate intimacy or private thoughts.
Sources: The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, A Passion for Narrative by Jack Hodgins and The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante