So you’ve got an idea for your novel and you’re writing your book. But then suddenly, the person writing the book has a stroke. An out of body experience. My mind begins to wander through the infinite aether and mingles with the stars. Then you realise that I’m not sure which perspective the writer is supposed to be using.

Perspective is a surprisingly useful tool in creating a narrative. Really there are three main types of perspective. First Person, which has the story written as the characters perceiving it, Second Person where the story is being relayed to another, and finally Third Person, which has the story as if it were viewed by some omniscient figure. Legends tell of a mysterious Fourth Person narrative, but evidence is yet to be found of such a thing existing. It’s like some kind of literary Bigfoot.

Each type of perspective has its advantages. Third Person allows you to easily show anything you want, as the perspective of the reader is not limited by the characters relaying events or their own senses and perceptions. In this way you can reveal things to the reader without letting your characters know, potentially increasing the tension if done right. Second Person narratives are more of a relay of events as if the reader or the character standing in for the reader was there in the moment as events played out or as they listened to the information relayed to them. This method can created a more personal kind of story, however it is easy to see how this can be done poorly. If done wrong it can come off as gossipy or just be structured like a bad run-on sentence. Nobody likes listening to someone who refuses to breathe. First Person allows the story to become more personal as the readers get to better know the character they follow. Their thoughts, motives and actions all become a bit clearer. However this method also has its restrictions. For one, you’re only able to follow the actions and perceptions of that single character. They are the anchor of consciousness, the camera in the movie. They’re not going to be able to notice that person creeping up behind and still get surprised by them. This raises another point.

Consistency is a key element in any book, and the perspective that it is written in can really take someone out of the experience if it is inconsistent. Very few writers are able to get away with switching the perspectives of the narrative as it takes a considerable amount of skill to not lose the reader and make a convoluted mess of switching viewpoints that collapses under itself.

So now you know, or at least have a refresher for, the importance of perspective in writing. Now go forth and write!

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