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  1. #31
    For me I suppose it has a lot to do with the main character's temperament. If it is a fairly well balanced character, a decent sort, I tend to like 3rd person limited omniscient. However, if I have a character that I think is a bit more of a cynical type and possessing of a matching sense of humor, then I like 1st person.

    Classic example, and one of my favorite examples of 1st person narrative, The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. Corwin tells his own tale. We only know of the other characters what he knows and can therefore tell us. However, Zelazny pulls a fast one on us at the end by taking what we all the time assumed to be 1st person narrative and slyly revealing that it was really 2nd person narrative all along.

    Or was it? He then switches us about face again as he finishes his narration for the benefit of another before turning his narration back upon himself. Wondering what to make of all that has passed. Good stuff.

    On the other issue, I read Moby Dick, Ishmael is 1st person limited as a narrator. He knows what he knows and he relates what he guesses and observes about others.

    Reminds me of the time I handed a lady in my old writing group a bit of a story I had written using that older style of prose. She informed me it reminded her of Melville. I felt elated and thanked her. She then replied with how she hated Melville...
    Last edited by Inkstain; January 26th, 2010 at 11:54 PM.

  2. #32
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS View Post
    A point of view character is the character whose view we get of the story, situations, events, etc.
    See, this is why I time and again wonder why I keep engaging in discussions, when I tear them towards semantics and theory, and then they start to disintegrate, and I confuse myself.

    To the quote above, for example, all I have to say is: Yes, what else would a point-of-view character be?

    I sometimes think I need to have my head examined.

    Similarly:

    From a linguistic standpoint, you can argue that George is a third person character, George is not telling the story to an audience as you'd have with first person: "I sighed," and therefore the George sighed part can't be from his point-of-view but must be from the author narrator.
    This is not what I'm arguing at all. I'm merely arguing that the linguistic features point towards a narrator, and thus he is present even if his point of view isn't. This is important. It's why "third limited" and "first person" are different. If third limited transcends the experiental point of view (with, say, evaluative comments) it becomes third omniscient. If first person transcends the experiental point of view (with, say, evaluative comments), it's still first person.

    By saying things like "third limited is like first person", people ignore this issue. In my online-experience this leads to an over-regulation of third person: either you have to write the entire text from the perspective of an omniscient narrator (which is not true because most omniscient books contain large stretches that read exactly like limited - try Pratchett), or you need to be very disciplined and never have the narrator intrude (which is true if have decided to write third limited and intend to stick to it, but there is no reason to make that decision in the first place, or why you can't "slip up" if you want to).

    On the other hand, you get stuff like "first person is more immediate," which - again - is not necessarily true, as third limited is actually closer to the action (while first person is often closer to the character, as the time-distance between narration and experience hint at how the character has developed in the mean time).

    What I'm saying is: it's important to keep narrator and pov-character separate, even if they are the same person, and even if all you can say about the narrator is that s/he's there.

    And you're still treating the "ouch" example as a narrative situation, which it wasn't supposed to be. I'd be grateful if we could drop this, as it has failed to get a point across (at least I think so).

    Do we count William Goldman's version of himself in Princess Bride as a first person or third person omniscient voice, given that he's not actually in the story but making first person footnotes?
    I can see several different approaches:

    Frame story. Footnotes are part of the frame, story = story. Frame = first person. Story = third person omniscient. Story takes precedence, so overall third omni (if we need to slot it in three seconds; otherwise I wouldn't bother with overall classification).

    Third omni. Footnotes = commentary =/= story - therefore does not count as narration. Third omni.

    I think the latter is more common, but I haven't read Princess Bride yet, so I can't tell how prominent the "frame" is.

    As for Moby Dick, it is a classic I have not read. Does Ishmael know, magically without being told them or guessing, the inner thoughts and feelings of other characters and relays them as those characters' thoughts? Because otherwise Ishmael isn't omniscient, he's a first person pov character. He may be "semi-omniscient" in that he's relating character thoughts he has been told or guesses at for events at which he is not present, but unless he can go into their heads, he's not omniscient.
    The part that led people to the first omni classification is the beginning of chapter 44 (here's the Gutenberg version).

    Quote Originally Posted by Melville
    Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after the squall that took place on the night succeeding that wild ratification of his purpose with his crew, you would have seen him go to a locker in the transom, and bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table.
    The argument goes that Ishmael gives an amount of detail he can't possibly know because Ahab was alone. Personally, I like Inkstain's "he knows and he relates what he guesses and observes about others" better, but I can see the first omni interpretation, too. (There are glimpses into Ahab's head, too, but it's none too wild, so here it's more a matter of "wasn't there/wasn't told" [Ahab's probably not the type to talk with Ishmael about the colour of his scrolls...].)

    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS
    She [KatG] does know what she's talking about.
    That's obvious to me. Which may be why I'm pressing the point. To see what I'm missing. [The less flattering interpretation of my online behaviour would be that I'm a... uh... trifle obsessive and get stuck in a rut easily. ]

  3. #33
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Oh, and while I'm at it: however we end up defining point of view (if at all) doesn't have any bearing on my answer to the original question. I still don't have favourites.

  4. #34
    A mere player txshusker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Inkstain View Post
    Try a few of Lovecraft's stories
    You must have been reading my mind. I just bought a Lovecraft anthology over the weekend, having never read him and been always curious about it. I'm starting it tonight, actually.

  5. #35
    Quote Originally Posted by txshusker View Post
    You must have been reading my mind. I just bought a Lovecraft anthology over the weekend, having never read him and been always curious about it. I'm starting it tonight, actually.
    I'll reserve you a nice padded room where you can later go and forget that which man should not know

  6. #36
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    This is not what I'm arguing at all. I'm merely arguing that the linguistic features point towards a narrator, and thus he is present even if his point of view isn't. This is important. It's why "third limited" and "first person" are different. If third limited transcends the experiental point of view (with, say, evaluative comments) it becomes third omniscient. If first person transcends the experiental point of view (with, say, evaluative comments), it's still first person.
    Yes, but it then means the frame has to have an explanation for the first person pov character's outside knowledge, which can range from god-like omniscience (first person omniscience,) collection of information and the first person pov character imagining the inner experience of other characters (first person semi-omniscient,) to straight first person in which the pov character gets information from others and relates it without recreation, often because the story is told as having already occurred. It stays first person, but the type of first person doesn't stay the same, just as there is a difference between third person limited and third person omniscient as an approach to text.

    Straight first person and third person limited, in which the narrative does not transcend the pov characters' viewpoint into omniscience, are, for how readers process them, pretty much the same, except in first person, the character is talking to the audience, and in third person limited, the readers just ride in the pov characters' heads when they are the pov narrator.

    Only if material that is clearly omniscient -- not in any character's pov -- or head-hopping is present will readers process narration as omniscient, whatever the linguistic indicators. And even then, if those two omniscient features are not used a lot or are used subtly, readers may not realize they are reading an omniscient narrative, even if they are processing it that way. For instance, if you tell someone that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is in third person omniscient, they might think you're wrong because most of the narrative is only in Harry's pov. They forget the first part of the book, etc. Likewise, Pratchett uses omniscient, but as you note, has large swathes of text in which we're in the head of a pov character (which is common in omniscient.) So if you say that the Discworld books are in third person omniscient, for some that may be confusing. I have worked with writers using third person omniscient who did not realize that they were doing it. But it's relatively easy to point out, not as narration, but as outside of the character's pov.

    By saying things like "third limited is like first person", people ignore this issue. In my online-experience this leads to an over-regulation of third person: either you have to write the entire text from the perspective of an omniscient narrator (which is not true because most omniscient books contain large stretches that read exactly like limited - try Pratchett), or you need to be very disciplined and never have the narrator intrude (which is true if have decided to write third limited and intend to stick to it, but there is no reason to make that decision in the first place, or why you can't "slip up" if you want to).
    That's only if you regard the viewpoint formats as prisons, which many do, which is a large part of the problem that you've run into. The formats are not a set of rules, as you know. They are tools. They are different ways to organize and present pov. So if the author makes the decision that he's not going to have any omniscience because he doesn't want to use pov in that way, but he wants to write in third person because he wants that effect over first person, he writes in third person limited. And if he wants to have the tools of omniscience in third person, a little or a lot, he writes in third person omniscient. There isn't any "slipping up" because it is not an exam. An author either chooses to use omniscient tools or not with regards to pov.

    On the other hand, you get stuff like "first person is more immediate," which - again - is not necessarily true, as third limited is actually closer to the action (while first person is often closer to the character, as the time-distance between narration and experience hint at how the character has developed in the mean time).
    First person can be immediate if written as it's happening to the pov character with no foreshadowing material. But first person is quite often written with the time distance as things that have already happened, not are happening. Third person limited is usually written as it is happening to characters, but it is possible to write third person limited of things that have happened.

    What I'm saying is: it's important to keep narrator and pov-character separate, even if they are the same person, and even if all you can say about the narrator is that s/he's there.
    They aren't going to follow it that way. Conceptually, it works better for writers to come at it from pov character on up, not narration on down, as you are doing with stating narration as a separate function. You start with first person, because that's the easiest one for everybody to follow, mostly, and you work upwards through layers to forms of omniscience and mixed formats. And then they see that it is just different ways of organizing information, not correct ways to write and horrible ways to write.

    I think the latter is more common, but I haven't read Princess Bride yet, so I can't tell how prominent the "frame" is.
    Oh, you must, you must, and don't skip the Prologue. It is a novel with multiple omniscient narration frames. Plus, it is really funny.

    The argument goes that Ishmael gives an amount of detail he can't possibly know because Ahab was alone. Personally, I like Inkstain's "he knows and he relates what he guesses and observes about others" better, but I can see the first omni interpretation, too. (There are glimpses into Ahab's head, too, but it's none too wild, so here it's more a matter of "wasn't there/wasn't told" [Ahab's probably not the type to talk with Ishmael about the colour of his scrolls...].)
    Sounds like probably first person semi-omniscience. I really have to read Moby Dick.

  7. #37
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    The memory on the forums server had some problems yesterday which seemed to have effected my post above, but we're all good now.

  8. #38
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Only if material that is clearly omniscient -- not in any character's pov -- or head-hopping is present will readers process narration as omniscient, whatever the linguistic indicators. And even then, if those two omniscient features are not used a lot or are used subtly, readers may not realize they are reading an omniscient narrative, even if they are processing it that way. For instance, if you tell someone that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is in third person omniscient, they might think you're wrong because most of the narrative is only in Harry's pov. They forget the first part of the book, etc. Likewise, Pratchett uses omniscient, but as you note, has large swathes of text in which we're in the head of a pov character (which is common in omniscient.) So if you say that the Discworld books are in third person omniscient, for some that may be confusing. I have worked with writers using third person omniscient who did not realize that they were doing it. But it's relatively easy to point out, not as narration, but as outside of the character's pov.
    Well, the problem I see is two-fold: "loaded terminology" and "arbitrary gravity centres". If we're using terms like "third omni" we're basically casting a net across a story already written, hoping to catch most of it. But the nets don't necessarily look the same. Analysts need to know that there can be a difference in terminology, but also that the terminology itself is "ordering" the field in a way that may not fit every story very well (that is with any available net we catch no more than, say, 75 % of the story).

    When we say that "readers process a story as omni" etc. we're simply turning the net onto the readers, but have pretty much the same problem (but with added complications, since we can no longer ignore different reader experiences - we shouldn't have anyway, but analysts tend to do that for simplicities sake).

    Writers are not analysts, although for some the skillset may be useful. But since writers are bound up with creating rather than analysing, it's easy to think that a problem with analysis is a problem with the story. Which it may be, but often is not. Because stories that are simple to write and easy to read are often very hard to analyse. For example, try to push epistolary fiction into the three-pov model. Is it rotating first person? Rotating second person on a rotating first person basis? It's way easier to say that the characters just write letters to each other. It causes less confusion.

    With the exception of extreme third limited, I'd say that most pov-constellations have a real-life analogue, so - for the writer - the entire analytic framework is not necessary. Even if it's not necessary, it can be helpful, but it also comes with the peril you get when you take a toolset designed to analyse into a context rife with creation.

    Earlier, I tried to make writers abandon the entire terminology, and ask questions to the story instead. This didn't work too well, because the three-pov model has already "seeded". You have to deal with it. It's a thing in the writers mind (and I think it very often behaves like an obstacle in the road).

    Now, I'm trying the hack away at the boarders, showing the endemic porosity of the system. But that's also not really successful; it's just causing confusion.

    I'm quite aware that you have more experience actually working with writers. So I'm beginning to think that I should just shut up. (Not all the time, just for general semantic posts, like this one.) Well, I'm not just beginning to think that; I really just slipped this time, but once I get going, I'm hard to stop.

    That's only if you regard the viewpoint formats as prisons, which many do, which is a large part of the problem that you've run into. The formats are not a set of rules, as you know. They are tools. They are different ways to organize and present pov. So if the author makes the decision that he's not going to have any omniscience because he doesn't want to use pov in that way, but he wants to write in third person because he wants that effect over first person, he writes in third person limited. And if he wants to have the tools of omniscience in third person, a little or a lot, he writes in third person omniscient. There isn't any "slipping up" because it is not an exam. An author either chooses to use omniscient tools or not with regards to pov.
    Yeah, but if you skip the terminology, you get none of the anxiety and lose... what?

    They aren't going to follow it that way. Conceptually, it works better for writers to come at it from pov character on up, not narration on down, as you are doing with stating narration as a separate function. You start with first person, because that's the easiest one for everybody to follow, mostly, and you work upwards through layers to forms of omniscience and mixed formats. And then they see that it is just different ways of organizing information, not correct ways to write and horrible ways to write.
    Hopefully.


    Oh, you must, you must, and don't skip the Prologue. It is a novel with multiple omniscient narration frames. Plus, it is really funny.
    It's been on my to-read list for many years. And I never skip prologues, so I won't this time, either. (I'm mostly an impulsive bookshop browser, and I've only once come across a copy of PB - a German translation, which is not what I'm going to read. Maybe it's time to go ordering books again? There's a quite nice independent bookshop in town... )

  9. #39
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    In the early years of the 20th century, my step-grandmother had a high school text called "Elements of Prose Composition" with a long discussion of point-of-view in fiction, and some brilliant examples of very skillful transition from one to another. She gave me her old schoolbooks when I was in junior high or high school (sorry, memory's the first thing to go) and I read that particular book avidly because it had other nuggets for an eager young writer--much more meat to the page than in any of my textbooks. There were chapters on exposition, narration, description, etc.

    At that time, most fiction did commonly wander from POV to POV, as we understand it--including the narrator directly addressing the reader in the "Now, dear reader, let me explain about [whatever.]" Omniscient into internal third person and back out, as the writer felt the need.

  10. #40
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
    Well, the problem I see is two-fold: "loaded terminology" and "arbitrary gravity centres". If we're using terms like "third omni" we're basically casting a net across a story already written, hoping to catch most of it. But the nets don't necessarily look the same. Analysts need to know that there can be a difference in terminology, but also that the terminology itself is "ordering" the field in a way that may not fit every story very well (that is with any available net we catch no more than, say, 75 % of the story).
    We're just saying that the writer is using for the story these tools for organizing and presenting viewpoint. So a writer using third person omniscient is using character pov and omniscient pov tools. Writers use those tools in different ways, but the format just means that the tools are there and those are the tools that the writer has chosen.

    And so that makes it easy for the writer to conceptualize -- I am using these tools. A writer who has chosen the limited 3p format has chosen to use character pov in a third person approach, but not to use omniscient pov tools. That character pov may be used in a rather loosey-goosey manner, and it may involve one character pov or several, so again different ways to use it, but the tools remain the same -- third person character pov. First person, the author chooses to use only one character pov, first person approach. Other authors may use first person but add tools -- multiple first person pov's, a character pov that can project into others' heads (semi-omniscient,) etc.

    What happened, though, is that incessant need for rules and for writing teachers to provide rules instead of techniques. And so the formats become cults of a sort, dogma, instead of just a name for using a set of tools in a wide variety of manners. But luckily, in the real world, writers largely ignore this idea of cults and simply use techniques. Which is why we have lots of different narratives. But writers do come into it wanting to know what third person omniscient is, for instance. Rather than ditch the term, you simply present it as it is -- tools for handling pov. Which then lets them play with the tools. While it is true that writers can write in third person omni instinctively without realizing it, it's better if they are aware they are doing it, so that they can better manipulate things.

    For example, try to push epistolary fiction into the three-pov model. Is it rotating first person? Rotating second person on a rotating first person basis?
    They are a form of third person omniscient writing. The letters are essentially dialogue. We don't go into a character's inner thoughts (pov,) having only what thoughts they express (as if they were talking,) in the letter. The letters are physical things (dialogue) being thus presented by the storyteller's pov (omniscient.) I think the problem is that you think third person omniscient as a term is regarded as a very limited thing. But third person omniscient is a term for a very broad frontier. Of course, you run into writers who do think third person omniscient is a very limited thing. But it's pretty easy to show them that it's wider when you show that it's not rigid but just saying that certain tools will be used by the author in some approach.

    Now, I'm trying the hack away at the boarders, showing the endemic porosity of the system. But that's also not really successful; it's just causing confusion.
    That again is presenting the formats as a rigid system of rules, but they aren't that. Again, they are simply terms that designate that an author is using certain tools, not how the author is using those tools. The 3 main formats are the most commonly used groupings of tools, just as past tense for narrative is the most commonly used. But there are novels where the author uses present tense as a tool instead, and plenty of novels which are in past tense but use bits of present tense for effect. (Let's not go further linguistically there.)

    So you show them that the format means these tools are present, not a rigid system, and then talk about different ways authors use those tools, not chipping away at a system. It's usually easiest to take them through sections of actual narrative and show them how the author uses pov in them. Your problem, Eddie, is that you always dive for the analyst's atomic level, where most people cannot follow you.

    Yeah, but if you skip the terminology, you get none of the anxiety and lose... what?
    Well no, you have much more anxiety, because it becomes difficult to conceptualize and understand what other authors are doing. You lose the concept of different forms of pov, which is kind of important for them to know. The viewpoint formats are shorthand, again, for groupings of pov tools. It's simple and it's fast communication. Once they understand the concept of pov tools in the commonly used groupings, it's way easier for them to understand more and more about pov and to play with it with different techniques.

    While I agree with the idea of ditching terminology because the definitions get confused in the abstract, the fact is third person exists. First person exists. And you have to have a way to conceptualize those and omniscience as different tools, and the formats, misinterpretations aside, have been easiest. I don't think we need to throw them out, just be clear about what they are. (Of course, this works best if one is declared king of all writers, but such is life.)

  11. #41
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Heh, I've just spent two hours trying to reply, but it's hard. I can't get into too much detail, and I don't have any evidence handy and no time for research, and without that I'll just be repeating myself in one way or another.

    I do think what pop culture made of the previously analytic terms is a confusion swamp. I do go into a lot of detail, but I think you have to at that point.

    Or not. I'm glad I'm not a pedagogue, and, I suppose, so would my potential students be, were they to learn what they've escaped.

  12. #42
    bcitsndslkSKEETSKEETSKEET keatskeatskeats's Avatar
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    I'm currently using first person, but I don't think I have a preferred pov--whichever pov most suits what I am writing is what I would use. I will say I have had a great deal of fun writing from the first person than I would have expected.

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