I'm broke and couldn't be happier about it.

When my lovely wife and I have money, most of it gets pumped into the renovation and upkeep of our demolished domicile...which is nice because we have to live with fewer boxes and we actually get to have those little luxuries in life like floors and doors (I wish I were joking). But when the money runs out every-so-often, I get to do things like write and blog. And take a shower. And eat.

So, I am happy I'm broke for the next couple of months. I can finally return to The Land of the Internets (TM) and grace you all with my wisdom and intellect. All three of you, anyway...hi, dear!

Today I'd thought we'd touch on the concept of perspective a bit. It's a very basic and fundamental concept in writing, especially fiction, but it seems to trouble a great many writers none-the-less. Consider this a primer on perspective.

1. POV (Point-of-View)

Basically, there are three different points-of-view (POVs) you can use to write a story: First Person, Second Person and Third Person.

First Person (FP) is pretty common and employs the pronoun 'I', as in 'myself'. In some ways this is the easiest POV to use. Simply imagine yourself in whatever situation and describe it and whatever you are doing to the reader as if they were a tape recorder. This is why First-Person-Shooter video games are called that. You play the entire game (other than cutscenes, perhaps) embodied within the protagonist. The world and everything in it is seen through your eyes. Consequently, the only interaction is that which is made directly by you.

New writers often use FP because they are usually in their late teens or haven't matured out of their own narcissism yet. FP is a great way to tell a story. Just be certain you aren't using it to push endless waves of angsty crap over your victims...I mean readers. FP isn't inherently more believable or gripping. Read the FP transcript of a hypnosis session of a proclaimed UFO abductee and then tell me how believable it is (and yes, I've done that. And no, it wasn't). FP can also limit you in ways you may not realize right away (which I'll get to in a moment).

Second Person (SP) is quite rare in fiction, though it is more common in the modern era, where experimentalism (often misguided, I might add) is de rigueur (as is using the term 'de rigueur'). Trendiness aside, SP centers around the pronoun 'you', where things can get...strange. You can use 'you' in a couple of ways (I told you this would get strange), 'You' can be a general acknowledgment of the audience, much like I'm doing in this blog. Now, this blog doesn't qualify as fiction (unless I'm discussing how great my work is), but the same idea of general acknowledgement can be employed by a character in an FP story. Think of the last time you told someone about something you did. You would use the word 'you' once in a while to draw a connection to the other party (i.e. 'You wouldn't believe who I saw last night naked!'). Now just imagine you're saying the same thing to some stranger in a letter you put in a time capsule to be opened 500 years in the future. You might still say 'you wouldn't believe who I saw last night naked', but you aren't addressing anyone in particular.

This use of SP isn't really SP in the broad sense. It's just FP with an SP affectation. It's not really any different that Travis Bickle saying 'you talkin' to me?' in the mirror. He may be saying 'you', but it's all still from his perspective.

The other way to use SP is as a set of instructions or commands: 'You drag the match across the sandpaper and it pops, roaring to life. You light the fire." To me, this is the literary equivalent to running on rails. There's little sense of getting inside someone's head and being intrigued or astonished by what they will do next. Strict SP is mechanistic and I can never get around the feeling of being led on a leash. This works well in a vintage choose-your-own-adventure book or the back half of a BDSM relationship, but I don't care for it in fiction. It's gimmickry and nothing more. Some authors have employed SP occasionally in a broader story, the best known probably being Absalom Absalom! by William Faulkner (a novel which also holds the world-record longest sentence at about 1,300 words), but when you get down to it, that's just something to add flavor to a more traditional perspective (third person, in Faulkner's case).

Third Person (ZQ...what? You were expecting TP?) is the most common and broadest brush in the writer's pallet. TP is basically 'he', 'she' and 'it'. The writer and the reader are in the same boat, both watching events unfold. This is my favorite perspective because it is so flexible. Deftly handled it can almost become FP and a reader can be drawn into a character's shoes just about as easily.

The main problem with TP is it easily can spiral into tedium. You start making lists of character actions which aren't really interesting and you start grinding out sentence after sentence like Mr. Paperclip from MS Word is holding your dog hostage. Consequently, I think TP requires the most editing. You have to learn to be clear because you're not just dealing with one person's internal viewpoint as in FP, but with everyone's actions and interactions (and even internal viewpoints in certain cases).

And TP dialogue can be a mess. Imagine Bob, Joe and Kathy are in a conversation. In TP, it could look something like this:

"So, are you going to the game?" Bob asked.
"Yes," Joe said, turning to Kate. "Are you?"
"Nope," she said. "I have to wash my hair. Which one of you wants my ticket?"
"Me," he said.

Whoops! Who's that last 'he'? Is it Bob or Joe? But now I have to change it to 'Bob said' to avoid confusion. But now I have two close instances of 'Bob said' (or 'Bob asked'). This starts to get repetitious and irritating. In a conversation with two parties of opposite sex, this isn't a problem. But chances are you going to want to have a larger group confab at some point and like the socks-in-the-drawer-in-the-dark-room puzzle (TM), your choices get pretty limited pretty fast. In FP, the pronoun 'I' is neuter and aids in keeping things straight during dialogue. You've still got to make clear choices in phraseology, but it helps a bit:

"So, are you going to the game?"
"Yes," Joe said, turning to Kate. "Are you?"
"Nope," she said. "I have to wash my hair. Which one of you wants my ticket?"
"Me," I said.

2. SENTIENCE (no, not 'sentence'...read it again)

Oftentimes when reading or listening to someone drone on about POV in storytelling, you'll hear the term 'omniscient' or 'limited'. Sentience is the secondary part of literary perspective. It's like being classified as Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil (a reference for all my AD&D fans out there...all three of you. Hi, dear! The first word describes the overall outlook and perspective of a story and the second word classifies that outlook. And thus, we have First Person Omniscient, First Person Limited, Third Person Omniscient and Third Person Limited, etc.

First Person Omniscient means you write the story from the viewpoint of each character whenever you want to get in their head and whenever you do, you know all their thoughts and personal motivations. FP-O is quite confusing, as you can imagine, and not done often. First Person Limited is basically just as you are now. You know your own thoughts but no one else's. You can't take a jaunt out of yourself to see something you don't have direct knowledge about...unless you're Shirley Maclaine. There is not 'meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice' in FP-L, so you have to construct your story accordingly. Your character's got to be in every important scene because those are the only scenes allowed.

Third Person Omniscient is not often done, but is easier to wrap your head around than FP-O. This is tantamount to total omniscience, like something God would have. It works well for broad character development and massively entangled dramatic narratives. If you like soap operas, you might want to try TP-O. Third Person Limited just gets into the head of one or two characters, but you have a little more leeway with digressions into indirect events. Lex Luthor can be your TP-L protagonist and we can still flitter over the the Hall of Justice to see Green Lantern trying to get a peek at Wonder Woman's wonders, if you get my drift.

But what about that little et cetera above? Are there any other types of sentience? You can in fact have a detached perspective where you get into exactly no one's head, which is only practical in a Third Person venue. I don't recommend mixing POVs, but you can mix sentience types to occasional good effect. Do anything you want as long as it's clear to the reader what you're doing. And don't be a show off. Do something wacky because it's necessary to tell your story, don't do it because you want to show everyone how clever you are.

Although if you just want to practice, I encourage you to try something from every POV and sentience you can think of, even Second Person Omniscient, which would be a feat (one I haven't done because I am not crazy).

I hope you all have a wonderful week.