Point of View

Aug 9, 17:52 by IROSF
A thread to discuss tricks and techniques of point of view, or Juliette Wade's discussion of same.

The article can be found here.
Aug 11, 08:52 by Pat Lundrigan
Great article!
POV sometimes drives me crazy trying to figure it out, but now I think I understand it better.
Aug 11, 14:09 by Juliette Wade
Glad I could be of help. In my own experience, I felt like I was muddling through on instinct before my teachers started directing my attention to "little words". Thanks a lot for your comment.
Aug 12, 09:17 by Michael Andre-Driussi
Interesting article!

I have one nitpick, though: the use of the phrase "thank you very much" from Harry Potter as a example of second person-ism.

It doesn't feel right, but maybe I'm missing the larger point.

To my mind, "thank you very much" used in that way is a set phrase that does not conjugate (there is no "thank I very much," "thank him very much," etc.), so the whole thing is a single unit. While I can see that the phrase implies a colloquial tone of conversation between two gossiping intimates (where such a tag phrase would naturally be spoken as a unit to provide amplification to what has immediately come before, here to comedic effect), and that a certain amount of this is carried by the pronoun, still, the isolation of "you" seems almost like highlighting the "you" of "university."

But it's probably just I.
Aug 12, 10:22 by Juliette Wade
Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

This is the first time I've heard the use of 'you' called 'second personism'. In fact, I believe my comment on the use of second person narrators was intended as a postscript to the discussion of the quote, which is to say that I never thought of that Harry Potter quote as an example of a second person narrator.

As for your comment on the non-conjugation of "thank you very much," I would certainly agree that it is treated as a phrasal unit. It does provide a great deal of conversational tone to that portion of the narrative. But I think one could argue that even if the phrase is not broken up, it remains directional by its very nature. After all, the reason we don't see "thank myself very much" or "thank him very much" is because of the nature of the act of thanking, which is delivered by the speaker directly to another person. We can say "I thanked him very much for his trouble," which would be the natural context for a pointer 'him' directed to another person, but because that is a report of a thanking event, rather than the actual thanking event itself, it has not become a unified phrase as a result.

So it's not just you at all. It's a very good observation, in fact; but I still think that there's an arrow hiding in there pointing toward whoever the Dursleys happen to be speaking with at the moment they say the phrase, and since those people are not identified, it ends up feeling like it points outward toward the reader.

Thanks again!
Aug 12, 12:00 by Lois Tilton
These are all interesting points. Thanks for the article.
Aug 13, 10:33 by Bill Preston
Thanks for an interesting article. I especially appreciated the meticulous breakdown of small passages to demonstrate how even the most innocuous words carry weight. I struggled with POV for years before truly finding a wall to satisfactorily use it in my writing--largely as a consequence of teaching about it in my classroom. While I hadn't thought about it in precisely your terms--and a lot of my thinking is now internalized--I tend to approach narration in terms of narrative stance and narrative distance. Distance can tell me what POV will work; stance tells me the attitude of the narrator at that distance.

Also, I find "internal" not entirely the best distinction. The terminology I learned, and that I teach, is third-person omniscient vs. thirp-person limited, and a variety of possibilities exist within the limited approach. John Gardner broke down "limited" into subjective and objective, the one more closely resembling your internal approach, the other the kind of approach you find in, say, Lord of the Flies, in which the narrator gives us nothing but cold observation much of the time.

My old copy of the short story collection Point of View (there's now a revised edition) uses the terminology "anonymous narration" to cover "third-person." I like that, because it shifts from the odd focus on pronouns to a focus on "Who the heck is narrating this, anyway?" I like to think of my narrator as a person with a particular attitude, even in third person.

Lastly, I want to note those lines you pulled from the first Harry Potter book. That's the only Potter book I've read, and I was disappointed, partly because I was unimpressed overall, but also early on because I felt the narration of the first chapter was so unfocused. I suppose it's because Harry hasn't come along yet to give her the "internal" focus, but it's a jarring shift between the chapters to move from that uncertain start to something more grounded.

Again, a terrific, useful piece. Thanks.

Bill Preston
Aug 13, 18:57 by Juliette Wade
Thanks so much for weighing in. My use of "internal" was motivated simply by the fact that I've heard the expression so much - also probably because I like to cultivate an "internal" feeling in the limited points of view I use in my own writing. "Limited" definitely covers a larger number of possibilities, but at the same time covers so many of the options that it becomes less informative. Regardless, I'm sure you can tell that I'm not advocating the use of particular terms to describe these points of view and their characteristics - only taking a look at several specific types of effects. The accumulation of POV effect over all instances of pointing in a particular work can have all kinds of different manifestations, and consequently different moods and limitations associated with it. I, too, like the idea of thinking about narrators and narration rather than pronouns (as you can probably tell) because that frees me up to think about how to infuse a story with the particular narrator's attitude (I've called it judgment in the article).

Thanks again.

Juliette Wade
Aug 25, 18:13 by Michael Andre-Driussi
Ah, I see--or I think I see!

This is the first time I've heard the use of 'you' called 'second personism'. In fact, I believe my comment on the use of second person narrators was intended as a postscript to the discussion of the quote, which is to say that I never thought of that Harry Potter quote as an example of a second person narrator.


Sorry for the coinage that only caused confusion. I didn't intend it as a substitute for "second person narrator," but I can easily see how it could be taken as such. I meant it for the case of "the narrator directly addresses the reader as 'you,'" which seems like what you were saying in the piece. And I still can't think of a shorter way to say that, but often the shortcut leads to nowhere, as here.

but I still think that there's an arrow hiding in there pointing toward whoever the Dursleys happen to be speaking with at the moment they say the phrase, and since those people are not identified, it ends up feeling like it points outward toward the reader.


Here we come to the (or perhaps only "a") nugget of my confusion. If I read it correctly, in the piece you give two different cases from Harry Potter: the first, you say, has the Dursleys talking to the reader as "you" (by circuitous default); the second has the narrator talking directly to the reader as "you."

Now, for some reason, I was not prepared for the first case as being "different" from the second case: even after two readings, I still thought that the first case could =only= be the narrator talking directly to the reader as "you," perhaps using "the Dursleys" as a sock puppet, as it were. (That is, I do not see the Dursleys saying anything to anybody in the text.) To this reading, both cases are contained within the cozy context of two gossips, author and reader, talking about people down the street. (There is no "arrow" pointing to anyone, really--it is a hypothetical speech act as a send up of people who are not present. A joke of the "stereotypical phrase" variety. Or, to repeat, it is from narrator to reader, not from the Dursleys to anyone real.)

Beyond this fundamental misapprehension on my part, I was distracted by the single word "you" being flagged for what I saw was a phrasal unit, as I trust I have already explained to death. Maybe I saw this cosmetic thing with its tangential baggage as the cause of my dissonence with the Potter bit.

But now I can see that you mean, and the author probably intended, that the first case is a "super sock puppet," or something nearly like the Dursleys actually talking to someone in the text. The equivalent of those TV commercials or movies where a character suddenly lip-synchs what the narrator says they are saying.

Maybe.
Aug 28, 11:30 by Juliette Wade
Thanks for writing back, and I'm sorry it's taken me this long to pick up your comment.

I think you're probably right on with your "super sock puppet" metaphor.

This is a tricky quote to have included because of the fluidity of the point of view in this section of Rowling's novel. I think one reason for confusion is that it doesn't involve any direct quotations or any animation of an actual scene between the Dursleys and anyone else. Thus, as you say, "I do not see the Dursleys saying anything to anybody in the text." Indeed.

In putting the Dursleys in as sock puppet to animate the phrase "thank you very much," Rowling gives them more voice in the text and brings them closer to readers. Certainly I'd have to say that my own mind hears the essence of the Dursleys coming through with the addition of "thank you very much"; I can't think why that phrase would have been included as a comment from narrator to reader, as it doesn't seem to me to fit in the established narrator voice.

Maybe this is all so hard because everything about a written text dissociates us from the context of real speakers and real listeners, and so, with no one actually present, every voice involved is necessarily hypothetical. It's just a question of hypothetical to what degree.

No wonder I keep wrestling with it in my own writing. :-)
   

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