It’s My Story and I’ll Sigh If I Want To: The Basics Part IV

Keeping things in perspective is as important in stories as it is in life. Perspective rarely makes much of an apperance in movies or tv–there are some exceptions, like A Cinderella Story and A Christmas Story, where a narrator jumps in–but it’s impossible to ignore in books.

There are four different types of perspective.

1. First Person
I’m the one telling the story. The audience knows what I’m thinking because they’re in my head.

2. Second Person
You are the subject of the story. You jump off the train. You find yourself face to face with a rattle snake. You jump back before its teeth sink into your hand. Stories are rarely told from this perspective, but they are out there.

3. Third Person Limited
In the prior two perspectives, the narrator (person telling the story) was a character in the story. Not in this case. A third person narrator is a bit like God. He stands outside of the story and tells it. Limited means that the narrator only knows what particular characters are thinking. A fairly good example is The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

4. Third Person Omniscient
Again, the narrator is outside of the story. Only this one knows everything about everyone and knows things that even the characters don’t know. There are a zillion examples, but one off the top of my head is The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

Perspective can help with predicting stories, so it’s important to keep in mind in that regard. Who is telling the story and how it’s being told can reveal quite a bit about who the characters are and where the story might lead.

Changing perspectives on old stories is an amusing writing exercise too.

Take Cinderella for example. From her perspective, her stepmother and stepsisters mistreat her, she gets bogged down in chores but ends up secretly going to the ball anyways, meets the prince, marries him, and lives happily ever after.

From the stepmother’s perspective, though, it’s a very different story. She’s a window who marries a windower before being separated by death again. Now she has three daughters, no sons, and no one to help her support the family. Her stepdaughter is the eldest and doesn’t take on the older sister role. One night, Cinderella doesn’t finish her chores and is grounded, but sneaks out of the house anyways and ends up eloping with a prince. The stepmother is left with more heartache.

Perspective changes everything.

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