Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some thoughts on point of view

I recently came across an interesting way of thinking about first person point of view by the Australian writer and academic, Dr Anthony Macris.

In his chapter in The Writer's Reader: A Guide to Writing Fiction and Poetry (ed) Brenda Walker, Halstead Press, 2007, pp 67-79, he talks about there being two modes for first person point of view, that of the hero and the witness.

According to Dr Macris, the hero narrator is both 'the perceiving agent and the object of these perceptions' whereas the witness narrator is 'present at all events but doesn't dwell on his/her own actions, focusing on external characters and events.'

He goes on to say:
'The skillful alternation between witness and hero modes is extremely important in first person narration... too much focus on the hero narrator [and] the reader can soon tire of their dominance... If the witness narrator function is... too fragmented and inconsistent, the story can lose dramatic intensity and thematic cohesion. Successful alternation between the two modes... allows the reader to identify strongly with the protagaonist... while also making it possible to present a clearly-drawn set of characters, settings and situations.' (p 69)

This quote made me realise why I've always found some first person narrators really difficult. I often feel as if  they are bashing me over the head with their constant dominance. Mostly I just want them to shut up, e.g. Holden Caulfield, the 16 year old narrator of J D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Here is a link to another  interesting article by Dr Macris in the Griffith Review called Creative Writing Strikes Back, in which he mentions some of the problems that can happen for writers if they don't have a good understanding of Point of View.


  1. Excellent quotes. We were talking about this last week in class. Nick Carraway from F. Scott Fitgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' is a good example of the witness narrator.

  2. Thanks, Trisha. First person point of view is really tough for I realise that I need to practice getting into hero narrator as well as the witness. More practice ahead!