Part 3: Perspective and Setting

Dear Reader,

In this chapter, I’m going to be sharing what I know on perspective and setting. There isn’t enough to say about both of these to put them in separate chapters, but luckily they go hand in hand sometimes, so this should work out pretty good.

I guess I should start with perspective. Basically, there are three types of perspective: first person, second person and third person.

First person perspective is used in the Hunger Games, where Katniss tells the story using words like I and me. This lets the reader know what Katniss is thinking, and what is happening to her throughout the story. When using this perspective, we can only see what other characters are doing, but not what they are thinking, which is a disadvantage, unless this is something that can help your story. The reader can connect to the story and put themselves in Katniss’ shoes easier when it is in first person perspective, which is a great tool for the writer to use to help the reader engage in the story.

Example: The glass shattered as I smashed the window.

Second person perspective is a very uncommon perspective that is used in writing. I’ve actually only read one story from this perspective – that’s how uncommon it really is. Second person uses words like you and your in your writing, which does pull you in, but puts thoughts in your head, which is one thing that I, personally, don’t like. In other points of view, I can compare my thoughts to the characters, but with second person you are the character. This is an extremely hard perspective to write in, and I don’t recommend it for a new writer.

Example: The glass shatters as you smash the window.

Third person perspective uses words like he, she, they and them. If you’ve ever read City of Bones, then you have read this before. Basically, it is just observing the scene, but in City of Bones, it is in Clary’s perspective. There are a few ways to go about using third person, and several advantages and disadvantages.

Example: The glass shatters as he smashes the window.

One way is represented in City of Bones, where we see everything through Clary’s eyes, but refer to her by name instead of I or me. We don’t hear the thoughts of everyone else, but only what Clary can guess from what she thinks.

Another way to use third person perspective is to make your reader omniscient. Basically, you hear and see everything that the characters do and think, so you can see how everything is playing out for everyone present in the scene. An example of this is like in Our Town, a play in three acts. You can see everything that happens and what everyone is thinking. It is also like watching a tv show where you know where the villain is when the main characters are still trying to find them.

My favorite way to use third person perspective is used in Tunnels, by Brian Williams and Roderick Gordon. Since that isn’t a very popular book — and I’m sorry it has come to this — I have another example. The Disney movie Lemonade Mouth is a great way to explain this. The movie switches between the character’s lives and what they are doing, going back and forth between who you hear thinking and what they are doing. Of course, in a movie you don’t hear someone thinking, but you know what I mean. I used this in my novel, where the first chapter is beginning with my  main character, but later chapters show other characters perspectives, still using names instead of I and me. Of course, these have to be clearly separated so the reader doesn’t get confused, and this is also used in Every Soul A Star, and Looking for Lily. It’s like following several different stories until they all meet, merging into one story. In Lemonade Mouth, you follow five stories until they all meet in detention.

Another thing to take into account when choosing a perspective to use is whether someone in the story is hiding something. Do you want to hear their thoughts and carefully avoid the secret, or do you want to observe their actions to see that they’re trying to hide something?

Something else I should add is that there are some things that go along with choosing a perspective. For example, do you want your story to be in past, present, or future tense?

Past: where you write as if something has already happened.

  • The light illuminated the room.

Present: where you are writing something that is happening right now.

  • The light illuminates the room.

Future: where you are writing something that will happen

  • The light will illuminate the room.

Past and present tense are like first and third perspective: very common and easy to read and understand. However, future tense and second perspective are harder to understand and less commonly used in writing.

Okay, that was a lot of information and was kind of confusing, so I’ll move on and answer any questions you have in the comments.

Setting. By now, you probably have a good idea about your setting, or the time and place of your story. Is it taking place now, or a hundred years ago, or in the future? Is it where you live, or in another country, or somewhere else entirely?

Sometimes the setting is the most interesting part of your book and sometimes it is not. In Twilight, for example, the setting is present day in Forks, Washington. It is always in overcast there and was important because the sun can expose vampires. In this case, the setting is specific because if the story took place somewhere else, then the story would have gone much different. See how it works?

No matter where your story takes place, the story should fit it well enough that the story can adapt to the background of the place. For example, if your story takes place in a dystopian world, then the way that place was created should be explained if it is important to the story. Or if the backstory to the town your characters are living in is relevant to the story, then maybe you should add memory moments to explain how it is going to change things.

I think that perspective can sometimes be hand in hand with setting because everything in a story contributes to which perspective to chose, including setting.

The setting could also be the main interest in the beginning of your story, and could stay that way throughout the story. In my novel, the setting is the most interesting thing to begin with, but then the main interest changes to the past and the backstory of the setting and characters. Or your setting could be seemingly unimportant, but you still need one.

I hoped this helped, and give it some thought, because it’s hard to change your mind once you get into the story.

-Kelli.

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