Writers Write is a writing resource. In this post, we discuss four types of viewpoint you could experiment with in your short stories.
For our previous prompt, a few writers added ‘second person’ as an extra challenge. It was amazing to see how much my choice of viewpoint had become entrenched. I used to experiment with viewpoint often, but lately I have been defaulting to the same viewpoint over and over. Because short stories are great for experimentation, this may be a fun opportunity to try a new viewpoint.
We tend to write what we read. I have been reading a lot of first person so I use that often, but I loved trying to write in second person again. Look at what you have read lately. Does it influence your writing?
It is also fashionable to use more than one viewpoint in your stories, but I would caution against it in a short story. (As always, the rules are made to be broken.) Viewpoint can become very complicated, but keep it simple and you’ll be fine. Always remember, viewpoint is about distance. The closer you can get to your reader, the better.
4 Types Of Viewpoint To Consider In Short Stories
- Narrators. Using a narrator or an omniscient viewpoint puts your reader far away. The story is told from a distance. The narrator tells the story, but is not involved. He or she becomes an observer. In the case of an omniscient narrator, the teller will know all and see all. The thoughts, feelings, plans and schemes of the characters are known to the reader. The narrator can be known or unknown.
- Third Person. Third person attached moves closer. You move into the head of one or more of your characters. You can tell your story using only one character or you can use several. Multiple viewpoints are used to great effect, but remember to stick to one viewpoint per scene. I’d be careful of using more than three or four. Too many viewpoints annoy readers. You also have to create distinct voices for each character. In a short story you would, most likely, use one character.
- Second Person. Second person creates an intrusive intimacy. You experience the story almost as if you are there. It is close, and it can become overwhelming.
- First Person. First person gets you close. You see the story through your protagonist’s eyes. Everything is skewed and dependent on their perspective. You can use multiple first person viewpoints, but once again, make sure the voices are distinct.
Genre dependent: Crime and Romance are traditionally written in third person, most YA tends to be in first person. Second person is used in more experimental writing.
She opens her eyes, but she can’t see. She tries to calm down, but the panic overwhelms her. She runs her hands over the smooth surface above her face. It’s wood. She can feel the end above her head and the sides and she can just reach the bottom. It’s a small space, a very small space. She has found the edges with her finger and tries to pry the pieces apart. She bangs against it, again and again. She blinks as dust falls in to her eyes. She tries to yell for help, but her voice cracks. So dry. How did she end up here? She wills herself to think. Where was she? The supermarket. She was at the supermarket. Groceries. She was buying groceries. There was a guy. Think.
You open your eyes, but you can’t see. You try to calm down, but the panic overwhelms you. You run your hands over the smooth surface above your face. It’s wood. You feel the end above your head and the sides and you can just reach the bottom. It’s a small space, a very small space. You find the edges with your finger and try to pry the pieces apart. You bang against it, again and again. You blink as dust falls in your eyes. You try to yell for help, but your voice cracks. So dry. How did you end up here? You will yourself to think. Where were you? The supermarket. You were at the supermarket. Groceries. You were buying groceries. There was a guy. Think.
I open my eyes, but I can’t see. I try to calm down, but the panic overwhelms me. I run my hands over the smooth surface above my face. It’s wood. I feel the end above my head and the sides and I can just reach the bottom. It’s a small space, a very small space. I find the edges with my finger and try to pry the pieces apart. I bang against it, again and again. I blink as dust falls in my eyes. I try to yell for help, but my voice cracks. So dry. How did I end up here? I will myself to think. Where was I? The supermarket. I was at the supermarket. Groceries. I was buying groceries. There was a guy. Think.
I hope this will encourage you to experiment with viewpoint.
by Mia Botha
Buy Mia’s book on how to write short stories: Write the crap out of it and other short story writing advice