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December 21, 2016

NOTE: I originally posted this article back in 2012. I’ll be presenting this at the Clark County library on Wednesday, 21 December 2016, so I thought it would be good to repost and revamp it for the event.

At a writer’s group meeting, 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 explained it very well. It inspired me to beat this dead horse a bit more since I developed a presentation on POV and presented it to the group (in 2012). 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’d talked about the fantasy genre, it reminded me of a brainstorm I had during that year’s 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’re 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 hall, 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 in the game itself. All of that feeling is still within you, the player. Therefore, the perspective of what’s seen is first-person as well as the thoughts (you the player).

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, kind of. 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 at first I thought it wouldn’t work. After I thought about it, I realized I still could visualize it using cameras. When I created my presentation, I was able to use cameras to visualize first and third and even second-person. However, the thought processes had to be explained.

In first-person, the viewfinder of the camera is through the eyes of the character. The character controls where the camera points. All the thoughts and feelings are conveyed through that camera viewfinder and the character aims the camera and controls all the thoughts and feelings. This is characterized by “I” and “me” and “my” words.

In third-person, the camera sits above the scene at an isometric/panoptic view. It’s controlled by the POV character. However, he or she isn’t looking through the viewfinder. They’re merely the focus of the camera. It can be aiming anywhere within the area as long as it’s somewhere the POV character can physically be part of. The scene is controlled by the thoughts and feelings of the POV character as well with words such as “he” and “she” and character names.

I also go into head-hopping, omniscient, author intrusion and tenses.

Whether I explained it well or not, my slide presentation is more explicit. When I presented it to the group a few years ago, I got plenty of positive feedback for the visualization.

We’ll see how well it goes tomorrow night.

Happy writing!

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