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July 25, 2012

            A couple of writer’s group meetings ago, a discussion came up about author intrusion. Our own Gregory Kompes came up with an article that he posted on the Henderson Writer’s Group Facebook page that explains it very well. I don’t want to go over that again. However, it inspired me to beat this dead horse a bit more since I’m thinking of developing a presentation on POV. I was trying to think of a way to visualize POV for the audience rather than just give the explanations I’ve already gone over in several past articles.

            How to do that?

            Since we recently talked about the fantasy genre, it reminded me of a brainstorm I had during the last Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. The gist of it was that a good way to visualize POV would be with computer gaming. I know some of you out there have never seen a computer game. I won’t mention any names here, but even you might have grandchildren and have glanced over their shoulders. If not, ask them after reading this and you’ll figure it out.

            The vast majority of computer games come in two styles. They are first person and third person. Sound familiar? Can you apply that to POV?

            In a first person computer game, the camera shows everything through the eyes of the character you’re playing in the game. It’s as if you’re standing there. If a monster is behind a rock, you can’t see it. If there’s a room behind a door, or a cave or a deep chasm, you won’t know until you open that door.

            You’re seeing everything through the eyes of the character. There’s a big difference though. In a computer game, there’s no feeling. All of that feeling is still within you, the player. Therefore, even though the perspective of what’s seen is first person, the thoughts can still be either first person (i.e. I see, I saw, etc.) or third person (i.e. he saw, he looked, etc.).

            Now how about third person games? For some reason, which I don’t understand, they’re far more popular than first person games. In a third person game, the camera view is omniscient. The camera is above and behind the character, looking down over the character’s shoulder. Often, the player (you) can see ahead well before the character can actually see the dangers or treasures. The player can see that monster hiding behind a rock long before the character, they can often see what’s behind that door, or guess long before the character (depending on the style of game). The player can anticipate things that a first person player cannot.

            Does this compare to a third person narrative in writing? It turns out, not at all. A third person game compares to a limited omniscient POV at best (since the player can only know so much since they didn’t design the game), or at worst, massive author intrusion! Yeah, that’s right, the author, or God, knows all ahead of time and can spoil things for the reader by dropping clues and spoiling the fun. Like a first person game, it’s third person perspective only and not thought, which is what’s needed for first or third person narrative in a story. Big difference.

            When people hear me ranting about how much I hate first person fiction yet I love first person computer games, they wonder why. Now you have the explanation. As you can see, there is no comparison. There’s a big difference between these apples and oranges!

            After thinking about this more carefully, I realized the visualization for my POV presentation was flawed and wouldn’t work. However, I can still use it to demonstrate what’s missing.

            Good thing I thought it through! What are your thoughts? What am I missing here? I welcome your feedback.

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