What’s your point (of view)?

Inspired by a twitter conversation yesterday with @sirra_girl and @LGwenn (which I will admit didn’t actually include me), I set myself the goal of writing two identical scenes, from two different points of view. In this case I am using First Person and Third Person Limited.

In doing this I learned two things. The first, is that I have a problem with comma usage (ok I didn’t just learn that but it came up in review), and the second is that there really isn’t that much difference between these two points of view.

Of course there is a difference regarding the use of I, or me, or my, as opposed to he/she, him/her, or his/hers. That is a given. But, in both, the information relayed to the reader comes only from the perspective of the POV character. The prose contains no knowledge or insights beyond what has been experienced by that one person.

It was quite a revelation to me. Not something that I’d consciously thought about before.

I know that this similarity is something that I read in articles describing different POVs, but it wasn’t until I actually went ahead and did it that it really became clear.

So here are the two scenes.

First Person

    I waited outside my parents’ house in the rain. I was dressed in a faded shirt and threadbare pants. My shoes were so worn they did little to keep the wet ground from chilling my feet to the bone.
    The thought of running away crossed my mind. But, truthfully, I had nowhere to go. Even if I did decide to take my chances, I wouldn’t get far before one of the village trackers found me, or I was killed by some wild animal in the forest.
    I’d never felt so helpless.
    The man inside wasn’t yet finished dealing with my parents. So, I just stood there. Cold, wet, and alone.
    I was being sold. I knew that much, I even knew why.
    My parents simply couldn’t afford to keep me anymore. The money my father earned from his meagre catch had never been much, but lately the lake had refused to give up its bounty, so my parents were forced to give me up.
    Their decision didn’t make me angry or upset. I knew they had no choice. But I was nervous about the future. It wasn’t something I really used to think about. Until today, my future involved becoming a fisherman like my father.
    Now, with my old life about to end, I realised that things would be different. Would it be better or worse? I couldn’t answer that question but I was absolutely certain that it would be different.
    The door opened, and the man stepped out. He didn’t say a word as he approached me. He stood there, and he looked at me for what felt like a long time.
    The man was tall like my father. But thick, and strong, where father was thin, and drawn. Obviously this man never had to worry over his next meal. I tried not to fidget while he stared at me. I didn’t know what he was hoping to see but his attention was making me uncomfortable. Finally he reached out with one arm and gruffly loaded me onto the wagon.
    “You belong to me now,” he said. His voice was completely devoid of emotion.
    The man climbed onto the driver’s seat next to me and took up the reigns. With a practiced hand he started the horses moving.
    As the wagon moved through the small fishing village that had been my home, I suddenly realised that I would probably never see my parents again. I thought about that for as long as it took for us to pass beyond the small collection of buildings.
    In the end, I realised that I didn’t care.

Third Person Limited

    The small boy waited outside his parents’ house in the rain. He was dressed in a faded shirt and threadbare pants. His shoes were so worn they did little to keep the wet ground from chilling his feet to the bone.
    The thought of running away crossed his mind. But truthfully, he had nowhere to go. Even if he did decide to take his chances, he wouldn’t get far before one of the village trackers found him, or he was killed by some wild animal in the forest.
    He’d never felt so helpless.
    The man inside wasn’t yet finished dealing with his parents. So, he just stood there. Cold, wet, and alone.
    The boy waited for the man to finish his business with his parents.
    He was being sold. He knew that much, he even knew why.
    His parents simply couldn’t afford to keep him anymore. The money his father earned from his meagre catch had never been much, but lately the lake had refused to give up its bounty, so his parents were forced to give him up.
    Their decision didn’t make him angry or upset. He knew they had no choice. But he was nervous about the future. It wasn’t something he really used to think about. Until today, his future involved becoming a fisherman like his father.
    Now, with his old life about to end, he realised that things would be different. Would it be better or worse? He couldn’t answer that question, but he was absolutely certain that it would be different.
    The door opened, and the man stepped out. He didn’t say a word as he approached the young boy. The man stood there, and he looked at him for what felt like a long time.
    The man was tall like the boy’s father. But, thick, and strong, where his father was thin, and drawn. Obviously this man never had to worry over his next meal. The boy tried not to fidget while the man stared. He didn’t know what the man was hoping to see but his attention was making the boy uncomfortable. Finally he reached out with one arm and gruffly loaded the child onto the wagon.
    “You belong to me now,” he said. The voice was completely devoid of emotion.
    The man climbed onto the driver’s seat and took up the reigns. With a practiced hand, he started the horses moving.
    As the wagon moved through the small fishing village that had been the only home the boy’s had known, He suddenly realised that he would probably never see his parents again. He thought about that for as long as it took for them to pass beyond the small collection of buildings.
    In the end, he realised that he didn’t care.

As you can see they are very similar.

In this case I found it much less problematic writing the first person scene first and then changing it to third person. By writing them in this order I was absolutely clear on what the POV character would be experiencing. For me, doing it the other way round, ran the risk of slipping into (bad) third person omniscient, The move from first to third thus avoided that risk and made the process a lot clearer.

I would love to try and write this scene in the other POVs but I think I wouldn’t do them justice. If anyone out there wants to take a crack at doing just that please do so. If you include your version in the comments I’ll compile them and create a page for people to refer to.

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2 thoughts on “What’s your point (of view)?”

  1. An interesting challenge, Goran. I’ve come across this challenge before but haven’t attempted it myself so this will be my first go at it.

    I had pleaded with my heartless husband for weeks over our son. I simply could not believe what I heard when he first suggested, so coldly, selling him so we could afford to survive while the fish were scarce. Yet he would not budge. He had hoped to put the boy work but after several failed attempts to teach him some skills he gave up. My husband never realised he stabbed me in the heart when he described our son as a useless no-hoper.
    Then this season, when the lake was low and the fish far from plentiful, debt rising and food hard to come by, he said we have to sell him to make ends meet. This, from my loving husband, father of my baby boy! Hunger and shame were nothing compared to this pain.
    I made the mistake of suggesting I sell myself instead. I couldn’t leave the house for a week for fear of people seeing the bruises. And having to explain… or lie…
    Yes, these things were painful in so many ways. But it was tonight when the buyer came to take my little boy I decided my fate. My husband would have two less burdens to worry about.
    The buyer and my husband began negotiating the terms of the sale including the possibility of buying him back. I had no say. My son knew what was happening. He decided to wait outside. He didn’t even say good-bye but the last expression I ever saw on his face pained me like nothing I’d ever experienced. Although I’d never recognise that look from experience, I knew precisely what it meant. He had no desire to come back.

    1. Hi Richard

      Thanks for adding your take on the above two scenes. What you have done here is written the scene from another perspective. What this shows is that there are many ways that the same information can be interpreted.

      For example I didn’t imagine that the boy’s mother might be willing to take such drastic steps on the back of this decision. In many ways I thought that mum and dad arrived at their decision together – after all they can always have more children later if their situation improves.

      Of course from the boy’s perspective that wouldn’t change what is happening to him. All the emotion and angst behind the decision could be internal to the parents and he could seeone thing when in reality it was something completely different.

      Thanks again for taking the time to show your perspective.

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