Monday Motivation: Creative points of view

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

The decision about which point of view to adopt is a critical one. Some writers opine that point of view is story. So listen up:

The standard choices are, of course, first person, third person, omniscient and the much rarer second person.

Each of these has an effect on the way in which the reader relates to your characters in general, and the protagonist in particular. If you’re writing in the first person, you at once create a sense of intimacy between narrator and reader. If you write in the omniscient third, you introduce a certain distance between protagonist and reader.

But it gets more complicated than that. You could, for instance, decide to adopt first person plural, as Joshua Ferris does in Then We Came to the End. Or you could mix points of view, writing in the first person for one character, and in the third for others.

But I’d never thought seriously about a non-standard point of view in dialogue, which is, of course, always delivered in the first person. But actually, the use of the first person in dialogue is not universal.

We went to see Amadigi, performed by The English Touring Opera at Saffron Hall, an opera by Handel that I must confess I had not even heard of before. He composed it just a couple of years after he settled in England in 1712, to an Italian libretto. It is a “magic” opera, in which sorcery plays an important part. One of the central characters – there are only five in all – is a sorceress who uses all her craft to cause Amadigi to fall in love with her.

Alas (or thank goodness, depending on your point of view) she fails, and the opera ends with Amadigi safely in the arms of his inamorata, Oriana.

Now, I’m not going to dwell on the virtues of the opera – which are many – but on an unusual feature of the libretto. Of course, since we speak no Italian, we were reliant on the English surtitles – and a great translation of the text online.

Here’s the curious feature: for the most part the characters speak, as you’d expect, in the first person. Here’s Oriana half apologising to a suitor:


If I’ve offended, pardon me;

‘T was an involuntary Crime,

If Crime at all mine can be call’d.

But then, from time to time, they speak in the third person, reporting their own speech as if delivered by another:


She says, though Melissa afflicts and

torments her, yet all her Rigour is in

vain, and that her Dearest is so lovely,

that her Heart can never alter its


Now it’s true that some self-inflated individuals will occasionally speak of themselves in the third person. Here’s just one example of many drawn from a very rich repository of Donald Trumpisms: While speaking about Russia, he said: “Nobody’s been tougher on Russia then Donald Trump.”

It’s also true, as a little digging has revealed, that writers in the modern era have occasionally used this trick to dramatic, and sometimes comic, effect. In an episode of Seinfeld, one character only spoke in the third person.

I know this all sounds dreadfully technical. If you’ve got this far, you’ll probably be thinking something along the lines of (yawn): So what?

My point though is a very simple one: Don’t assume in the widest sense that what you’ve always done is your only option. More specifically, don’t assume that the point of view you’ve adopted is necessarily the most appropriate one. And never forget that there are many possible points of view, and variations upon them, that could achieve precisely the dramatic effect you are after.

Buona escrita,


Recommended Posts
  • Sonwabile Mfecane

    Hi Richard. Thanks for the “Point of View”discussion. I love to switching but I think it is tricky. I read R L Stevenson’s Treasure Island long time ago. I recall that somewhere it says “The story continued by Jim Hawkins” – I will try to get a copy of that book and see the switch that I think was from the first narrator’s first person, and then another character in the same story tells the story in his POV.
    Also, if you switch from third person to first/second do you think it is safe to use colons… like
    “Let me tell you what happened in Johannesburg when I worked there,” so I started telling John, “I met a girl who was secretary to my boss…..
    Then you close the colon 80 pages later…. (no way) my confuse the reader I think

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt