Sep 23 2017

Self-narration and the self-aware narrator: Part 2 of 2

I make a distinction between the self-aware narrator and self-narration. The two go hand-in-hand, but aren’t exactly the same thing. The self-aware narrator is the character who steps out of her role to tell the readers a story. Self-narration is the writer’s choice of prose that creates the self-aware narrator.

A shorter version: the self-aware narrator is your character; self-narration is the words you choose that make her self-aware.

Here’s a made-up example of self-narration:

I walked in the front door, removed my hat and gloves, kicked my high heels off and put on my slippers, then I walked into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I pulled the coffee beans out of the cabinet, put them in the grinder and grabbed a filter. I poured the water in the pot and hit the start button, then sat down to rub my sore feet and waited for the pot to brew. My feet had been trapped in those high heels all day at the office. I sighed as I remembered the foot massages David used to give me, and I missed them. I always enjoy it so much more when someone else rubs my feet.

There are several signs of self-narration in this bit.

First, there is step-by-step narration. We know how coffee is made; the writer doesn’t need to explain it. In first-person voice, it sounds like the character has stepped out of the story to detail a process she probably isn’t even thinking about. In real life, we don’t self-narrate our lives like this to ourselves, so it doesn’t feel natural to read a first-person character doing it.

By the time we get to the second half of the paragraph, the voice is clearly established: the character is telling us about her sore feet and that she remembers David’s foot massages. We aren’t inside her head – she is telling us what she is thinking.

Here’s one possible revision of that paragraph:

The warmth of my apartment embraced me. With the coffee brewing, I sat down to rub my feet, imprisoned in high heels all day. If only David were here with one of his foot massages.

A whole lot fewer words (35 instead of 122), and we get that she kicked off her heels (and we assume her hat and gloves) and made a pot of coffee. Then we get something from inside her perspective – her feet ache. Then we get something even more internal – she misses David’s foot rubs (and probably misses David, or at least companionship). This came through an internal thought rather than narration.

Put us in her head and let us feel the mood and hear her thoughts in real time.

All the unimportant actions slow the pace to a crawl. Despite all those words, nothing happens. In the revised version, something happens: we connect just a tiny bit more to her missing David.

This is only one paragraph, but if you can connect to a reader a tiny bit more in every paragraph throughout a novel, those tiny bits will add up to something magnificent.

Another problem with the first version of this paragraph, another telltale sign of self-narration: the I-bomb.

The word “I” appears eight times in the first paragraph. I did this, I did that, I went over here, I thought about something. The revised paragraph contains only one “I.”

I-bombs create self-narration. Or they’re a symptom of self-narration. Hard to say which came first, the Self or the I. We don’t think in “I” sentences about ourselves. We only say “I” when talking to someone. If the narrative is filled with I sentences, the narrator must be talking to someone – to me, the reader.

A third telltale sign is the self-narration of emotion, often through external or physical signs. “I sighed, I frowned, I furrowed my brow and pursed my lips…” These are useless signals of emotion, and it’s not likely your character even notices when she sighs or frowns. She can’t see herself to describe her facial expressions unless she steps out of character and self-narrates from a camera-eye view.

Instead, show the emotion through dialogue, actions, and real-time internal thoughts. When your character cries, you want your readers to cry.

The key to overcoming a self-aware narrator and self-narration is two-fold:

  1. The ‘art’ side: Instead of having your character tell her story to readers, get inside your character’s skin and write from her internal perspective so readers experience it through her eyes and mind as it happens.
  2. The ‘craft’ side: create sentences that greatly reduce the reliance on “I” statements, eliminate step-by-step narration of unimportant details, and replace external narration of emotion with internal emotion.

For more on making readers feel the emotion, see:

Internal vs External Emotion

Writing in 3-D, Part III: Despair

For Part 1 of this article, click here.

Jul 17 2011

Do you filter your fiction?

I was recently told by an editor that I use too many ‘filters’ in my novel manuscript and I should remove them. What is a filter, and why are they bad? – A question asked by several writers and editing clients of mine.

First, I’ll point out (as I frequently do) that I don’t believe in hard and fast rules that say ‘never do this’ or ‘always do that.’ But there are writing techniques that can help your writing become more engaging to readers.

One of those writing techniques is to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the number of filters.

So what is a filter?

The most basic form of a filter is when the writer tells the reader that a characters sees, hears, smells, feels (as in the sense of touch), or tastes something. A related, and slightly more nuanced filter, is when the writer tells the reader that a character notices, realizes, recognizes, or feels (as in an emotion) something.

So what’s wrong with telling readers that a character experiences something through her senses? Isn’t that what good writing is supposed to do? It lets readers know what the character is sensing. It shows the reader the event rather than telling it. It engages the five senses (and emotions) of the reader. It’s one way to use more show than tell, isn’t it?

Yes and no. (How’s that for ambiguous?) Yes, you want the readers to experience the story through the senses of the character. Engaging the five senses plus emotional reactions of the readers helps them engage more closely with the character.

But a filter – or at least an abundance of filters – can have the opposite effect. Filters come between the character and the reader, and instead of showing the experience, the writer tells the reader what the character experiences. The writer tells the reader what the character is sensing rather than letting the reader sense it directly.

If the scene is clearly in the point-of-view of a character, readers don’t need to be told the character sees, hears, or smells something. Show the ‘something,’ and readers will intuitively assume the POV character sees/hears/smells it.

Filters remove the reader from the character’s experience by one step. The important part of the sentence becomes the action of sensing something rather than the thing sensed.

Okay, this will make more sense with some examples.

ORIGINAL: When Joe heard the rattling, shaking sound, he looked down and saw the snake coiled on the path in front of him. He knew it was ready to strike. Joe felt the panic rise in his throat.

This sentence has a several filters in it, some direct, some indirect. ‘Joe heard’ and ‘saw’ are direct filters. ‘Sound,’ ‘he looked,’ and ‘he knew’ are a bit more indirect. ‘Joe felt’ is filtering an emotion rather than one of the physical senses.

In what should be an active and tense scene, the writer steps onto the page to tell the reader that Joe heard something, and describes the sound Joe heard. Then the writer tells readers that Joe looked down and saw something. Next, the writer tells the reader what Joe saw, and continues on to tell the reader what Joe knew. Finally, the writer tells the reader how Joe felt.

Each of these filters, individually, removes the reader from the direct experience by a fraction. Taken together, this live scene has become a narrated scene in which readers are told about the event rather than experience it directly through the POV character.

REVISION: The rattle and shake stopped Joe in his tracks. Coiled in front of him, the snake blocked his path, ready to strike. He stifled the little-girl scream that tried to escape.

Same scene, same sentences, zero filters. It’s more direct. It shows readers the moment at the same time and in the same way that Joe experiences it. Readers hear the rattle, see the snake, sense the danger, and feel the panic as if they are Joe. If the scene is firmly established in Joe’s POV, readers will intuitively know that Joe hears the rattle, sees the snake, and feels a bit panicked.

So, do I need to remove every filter word in my manuscript?

As with most writing techniques, it’s the heavy reliance on a particular usage that creates a noticeable problem. If, in your 100,000-word, 400-page manuscript, you’ve used a dozen filters, or even two dozen, or however many (there’s no formula), and most of your scenes are written without filters, then a few scattered about here and there probably aren’t doing any harm. But are they doing any good? One secret to great writing is that no word is wasted.

As with any writing tip, there are exceptions.

There are times when, due to the nature of the scene, multiple characters interacting, or various other situations, you may need to specify that a character sees or hears something in order for the scene to be clear.

EXAMPLE: Keeping the snake in his peripheral vision, Joe looked at the large boulder beside him, and wondered if he could jump on top of it before the snake lashed out.

In this case, it’s important to make sure readers know that Joe sees the boulder while keeping his eye on the snake. The filters in this example don’t bother me, and more importantly, probably wouldn’t bother a reader.

EXAMPLE: Joe held onto the rough surface of the boulder and peeked around, watching, waiting. He knew the snake was there somewhere. He could feel it.

In this example, I don’t view these as filters. In this case, the ‘senses’ are the important actions. Peeked, watching, knew, feel – all of these words add to the scene, show us what Joe is doing physically and his internal emotions. Note the filter that isn’t there: ‘Joe felt the rough surface of the boulder as he held on.’

Likewise, you may need to state the negative filter when a character does not see or hear something.

EXAMPLE: Joe calmed his breathing, but he couldn’t hear anything over the thumping of his heart.

But I’m writing in first person. Wouldn’t a first-person character say what she sees or hears or feels?

It may be even more important to avoid filters in a first-person story. One of the primary benefits of writing in first person is that it presents the story in a closer perspective and lets readers experience the story from inside the character’s skin and head. Adding filters creates a distance between that first-person character and the reader, and it makes the story more narrated – it’s more ‘told’ to the reader by the narrator rather than experienced by the reader.

Let’s take Joe and the snake and make him a first-person character.

ORIGINAL: When I heard the rattling, shaking sound, I looked down and saw the snake coiled on the path in front of me. I knew it was ready to strike. I felt the panic rise in my throat.

REVISE: The rattle and shake stopped me in my tracks. Coiled in front of me, the snake blocked my path, ready to strike. I stifled the little-girl scream that tried to escape.

If the POV character is clear, if readers are in the POV character’s head, whether first or third person doesn’t matter – filtering the scene creates added distance between the character and the reader.

As always, there’s a wide degree of latitude for personal, subjective taste and writing style. But if you want your readers to experience the scene much more directly, reduce or avoid filters.

Apr 16 2011

Point-of-view (POV), Part 3 of 3

In Part I and II, we looked at the persons involved in a novel and the voice used in the writing. For a quick recap: 

– Persons

  • Author
  • Narrator
  • Character (or characters)

 – Voices

  • First person
  • Third person limited
  • Third person omniscient

Now we can finally get back to the original questions on POV.

As noted at the very beginning of this series, POV is defined as “through whose eyes and ears the reader witnesses the scene.” The author writes the story, the narrator tells the story, and the character experiences the story. Through which character does the reader experience any given scene? That’s the POV character. Might be in first- or third-person voice, and might be filtered through a separate narrator or witnessed directly through a first-person narrator-character. Might have one single POV for the entire book, or there might be 42 POVs.

In first-person voice, the character and the narrator are the same person (most of the time – more on this in a minute). Usually this is the main character, but not always. Some obvious examples of when a secondary character is the first-person narrator include the Sherlock Holmes stories in which Holmes is the main character but Watson is the narrator, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which is narrated in first person by the secondary character, Nick Carraway. This creates a first-person voice but with a bit of the third-person distance. The narrator can provide a wider perspective that the main character could not.

In third-person voice, the character and the narrator are two separate persons, and the narrator isn’t a character in the story but a disembodied voice or eye – like a movie camera – showing the actions and events.

So when can a first-person story be told by a narrator who is not a character?

Bit of a trick question, but it’s quite common. When a story starts with something like ‘Back when I was a young boy growing up on the Mississippi River,’ the author has established a split narrator/character in first person. The main character is the young boy in the story; the narrator is the grown man looking back on his childhood.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a great example. In the second paragraph:

When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident.

This immediately establishes the character and the narrator as the same person at two different ages. The narrator is Scout, the grown woman, looking back on her childhood and the events that occurred to Scout, the young girl.

A more recent example is Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, with the opening lines:

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

There are two versions of the same girl – the living and eventually murdered child who is the main character, and her ghost who narrates the story.

This technique provides a nice advantage to writers (and readers). It maintains the close, intimate perspective of first-person narrative, while the narrator can also provide a wider perspective that usually requires third person. The difficulties in this technique are to create a character-narrator with a similar enough yet distinct voice to be the same person at different ages, and to always clue the reader in as to whose POV the story is in at any given point, the narrator or the character. This requires some subtlety in the writing.

Standard techniques in POV

The persons, the voices, and the POVs provide almost limitless options for how to tell a story. But for those writers who like rules to provide some guidelines for their writing, as well as for writers who like to know what the rules are in order to break them intelligently, there are some standard techniques which have proved over time to be the best ways to tell most stories. There are so many exceptions that this topic always creates discussion and debate, and has been known to spark heated arguments among writers. Seems all writers and editors have deeply held beliefs on this topic, each will tell you exactly how it should be done, and they will all contradict each other. Most readers, on the other hand, will only be able to tell you that they liked a book or that it bored or confused them.

I don’t believe in hard, fast rules when it comes to something as creative as writing fiction, but here’s my list of the most common, standard POV techniques generally accepted in mainstream, genre and commercial fiction today:

In third person:

– Keep the total number of POV characters in a book to no more than two or three.

– Maintain a focus on a single main character.

– Keep each scene to a single POV.

– If you can keep each chapter to a single POV, great. If you need to switch to a new scene in a new POV but within the same chapter, use a clear scene break by centering on the page three asterisks or cross-hatches (* * * or # # #) to signal readers that the scene has ended and a completely new scene is beginning.

– Don’t “head-hop,” where a scene bounces back and forth between characters’ POVs every few paragraphs, or even within a single paragraph or sentence.

– When you switch POV to a different character, ensure readers are instantly clued in as to whose POV they are in. No one wants to read three or four paragraphs, or a page or two, before realizing it’s in the POV of a different character than initially assumed.

– If you’re going to use more than one character’s POV, make sure you establish this early in the book by bringing in the different POVs within the first few scenes. You don’t want to read five or ten or twenty chapters all in one POV, then suddenly have it switch to a different POV character.

In first person:

– Stick with the first person and the single character for the entire novel.

– If you’re going to ignore that technique and use multiple first-person narrators, make sure readers instantly know who is narrating the scene, and give each first-person narrator a unique and distinctive voice. If you’re using more than one first-person narrator, then two is a good maximum. Or 42 if your last name is Palahniuk.

– If you’re using the split narrator/character – the older narrator looking back on his life – be sure readers know which POV they are in at any given moment: the character or the narrator. The narrator will have advantage of hindsight and knows the full story, while the character has a perspective limited by where he is in the story.

If mixing first and third:

– Have a plan and know what you’re doing.

– Think about it again.

– Have trusted beta readers who will tell you if it’s working or not.

For every standard technique, there will be some bestseller or classic piece of literature that ignores that technique. That’s fine, of course, but for new or debut writers it’s very difficult to break out of those general standards and do it well. That sometimes takes a level of artistic genius that very few writers can pull off, or at least a level of experience in writing to learn how to do it deftly.

But if you understand the persons, the voices, and the points-of-view available to you, how they interact with each other, and the pros and cons of each, you can confidently find the best way to write your story. 

If you’re still not sure, try writing some of the scenes in both first and third person, and see if one strikes you as the better choice for your story.

Apr 9 2011

Point-of-view (POV), Part 2 of 3

As discussed in Part I, your primary choices for voice are first person, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient. Voice affects your POV choices, but the two are not interchangeable terms.

The different voices impact readers in different ways, especially regarding how closely they are drawn into the character. Generally speaking (with lots of exceptions), it goes like this:

– First person: Closest perspective

– Third person limited: Next closest perspective with a wide range from close to distant

– Third person omniscient: Most distant perspective

The second primary effect your choice will have on the story is how wide or narrow of a perspective is provided. Think of it as a camera lens. A close-up shot is more intimate with the subject, but shows less of the surroundings. A wide angle shot is further from the subject, but shows more of the surroundings. The closer in the reader is to a character, the more limited the perspective.

– First person: Most limited perspective

– Third person limited: Somewhat limited perspective, but wider than first person

– Third person omniscient: Unlimited perspective

This is where the writer has to make some choices in how to tell the story in order to achieve the desired effect. What’s most important? A close but limited perspective, or a more distant but wider perspective?

Advantages and disadvantages

To choose which voice to tell the story from, it’s good to know some of the advantages and disadvantages of being in close versus distant, and limited versus unlimited.

– First person: Very intimate, draws the reader in as close as possible to the character. The reader gets to know the character, hears the inner thoughts and feels what the character feels. The reader also sees and hears and smells the story through the character’s senses. Requires a strong, sympathetic lead character to whom readers can relate, and a character with a strong, unique and engaging voice. Because the scene is viewed strictly through the narrator-character’s eyes and ears, another difficulty is how to present information and events that are outside the character’s point-of-view.

– Third person limited: While somewhat less intimate than first person, it can still be very close to the main character. The narrator can drop in and report on the character’s inner thoughts and emotions, and the reader can witness the story through the character’s eyes and ears. But the writer can also switch to different POV characters to present scenes or narrative information the main character doesn’t see or know, and can also drop in on the thoughts and feelings of additional characters in different scenes. One of the difficulties is to maintain a tight focus on the main character so readers can relate rather than bouncing around too frequently to too many different characters. It can also be difficult to maintain continuity, ensuring information presented outside the main character’s POV doesn’t accidentally slip into the character’s knowledge. For most writers, and readers, this is the most natural style, and it’s the most common in modern novels.

– Third person omniscient: This usually creates more distance between the reader and the main character, but can provide an unlimited amount of information. Third person omniscient was in much wider use in 19th century literature than today. In third person omniscient, the writer can present a scene from multiple POVs and report information or events happening outside the POV characters. The difficulties here, besides creating more distance between reader and the main character, is the potential for the constant barrage of changing and overlapping POVs to become irritating or confusing to the reader. Often called ‘head-hopping,’ if a reader becomes confused as to whose POV she is in, it’s easy to become frustrated with the novel and put it aside, never to pick it up again.

Your choice of which voice to tell the story will depend on what you want to accomplish, the perspectives you want to include in your story, your writing style, and the standards of the genre in which you write.

But can you mix some of these voices? For example, can a novel be narrated in first person by the main character, with additional scenes written in third person in order to present events or information to the reader where the MC isn’t present? Or, can a novel be told by two or more characters, each narrating in first person?

The short answer is always ‘yes.’ A story can be told anyway you want to tell it. The follow-up question is ‘does it work?’ The short answer to that is ‘sometimes.’

Switching voices within a novel can be, and has been, done. It’s been done well and, more often, it’s been done horribly. Most of the horrible ones you’ve never read because they’ve never been published. Unless you’re writing literary or experimental, I recommend against mixing voices. If you do want to mix voices, plan for it in advance. Know when to use each voice and why you’re using it at that particular moment, and make sure the story and the writing overall maintain a cohesive quality. Mixing voices can read like pieces of separate novels that have become accidentally stuck together. Or like a novel in which the author couldn’t make up his mind how to write it.

One exception is a story with two main characters – often a romance or erotica piece. You may want to present your love story from the perspective of both characters, but want to maintain the close perspective of first person. In this case, writing in alternating first person voices can work. The key is to ensure you have two intriguing, interesting, and compelling characters, each with a unique, distinctive, and engaging voice. That’s hard enough to pull off with a single main character. If a reader gets lost or is easily confused as to which character is narrating a scene because the voices aren’t distinctive enough from each other, you’ll create an irritated reader who may put the book down and not recommend it to friends. If one character is compelling and the other irritating or boring, then you’ve only got half a book that’s worth reading. Introduce both voices early in the book – don’t write ten chapters in one character’s voice then suddenly switch to a new first person narrator. Alternate them on a regular basis. This doesn’t have to be every other chapter back and forth, but frequently enough so readers get both characters and both perspectives.

One of my favorite and rather extreme examples of a novel with multiple first person voices is Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant, with 42 (yes, 42) first-person voices. It’s as if the book was written by a journalist who interviewed and collected information from everyone who knew the main character, Rant Casey. Each scene is told from the first person voice of a different character. Gradually the character and the story unfold. This is the exception that proves the ‘rule’ (no, I don’t believe in rules), so if you’re as gifted a writer as Chuck, feel free to give multiple first person voices a try. It’s experimental, so when it works, it’s genius. Ninety-nine per cent of the time, however, it’s just going to sound, well, experimental, self-indulgent, or just plain old amateurish.

Now we’ve touched on how different voices can impact a story, and a few of the pros and cons of each voice.

Next up: How does voice affect POV?

Apr 2 2011

Point-of-view (POV), Part 1 of 3

I’ve received a variety of questions related to point-of-view (POV), so rather than answer each one individually, I’ve decided to compile a basic overview of the topic in three parts. A few of the questions include:

– Should I select a POV and stick with it throughout an entire novel? Or can POV change from one chapter to the next?

– I constantly see examples of successful authors changing POV, sometimes frequently and within chapters. Is there a definitive rule or a set of general guidelines on changing POV? 

– How does one handle a situation where information needs to be conveyed that the first-person narrator can’t possibly know?

– Which POV is best?

– What is head-hopping and why is it a bad thing?

Ah, the oh-so-complex and ever-controversial point-of-view (POV) discussion. Books have been written on this subject, so there’s no way I can fully cover the topic in a blog, not that I know everything there is to know about POV anyway. I’ll break this up into smaller chunks, but I’ll still barely scratch the surface.

POV is one of the critical decisions a writer makes with a story, usually before writing a single word.

I have to state for the record that, as a rule, I don’t like ‘rules.’ I believe there are general guidelines, accepted standards and writing techniques that are common in writing. They are common because they’ve proved over time to make for better, clearer writing, keep readers interested and entertained, and readers are familiar and comfortable with these techniques.

But writing is part craft, part art. Art is often about stretching boundaries, redefining standards, breaking ‘rules’ or writing new ones. The answer to your POV question is “it depends.” It depends on the story, the genre, the writer’s style, and how deftly a talented writer can pull it off.

Let’s start with a definition and the basic building blocks that work up to POV: Persons, voices, and perspective.

POV is, in the simplest form, whose eyes we are seeing the story through at any given point.

Before we even get into the POV options, let’s look at the ‘persons’ involved in a story.

– The author

– The narrator

– The main character (or other characters)

These are obviously not the same. They can and do overlap at times, but they are not interchangeable. Understanding how these persons relate and interact is key to POV.

The author vs. the narrator

The author is you, the writer. The person at the keyboard or with paper and pen. When a reader sits down with a book, she knows someone wrote it. There’s a name on the cover. The reader opens up a novel and it starts out:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. – Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

The reader knows this isn’t J.D. Salinger, the author, speaking. It’s the narrator of the story. Yes, Salinger wrote those words, but the reader immediately separates the author from the narrator. In this case, the narrator is also the main character.

The narrator vs. the character

For a completely different example:

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. – The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

Here again, we have a narrator speaking, separate and apart from the author, but the narrator is speaking about the main character (the old man) rather than the main character speaking for himself. So there are immediately three ‘persons’ involved in this story: the author who wrote the words, the narrator who is speaking, and the old man.

Any story can be told from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. Salinger could have chosen one (or several) of Holden Caulfield’s schoolmates or teachers or parents to tell the story. Hemingway could have had the old man tell the story himself. I doubt either story would be as good that way. These writers chose the right voices to tell their stories, and they made those choices for a specific reason.


In addition to the three ‘persons’ involved in a story (author, narrator, character), the writer also has to choose the voice to tell the story. This is not to be confused with the writer’s voice, which is more related to writing style, or a character’s voice, which is how a character sounds through dialog, dialect, and inner thoughts.

There are four basic voices to tell the story:

– First person

– Second person

– Third person limited

– Third person omniscient

Often you’ll hear these voices referred to as POV, but I like to differentiate the terms. They are related and overlap, but voice and POV aren’t always interchangeable.

A quick overview of each voice:

First person means the character is telling the story.

I walked down the dark street, frightened as the sound of ominous footsteps behind me picked up the pace.

Second person (rarely used, and I don’t recommend it, but I’ll include it here anyway) is when the writer tries to make the reader become the character.

You walked down the dark street, frightened as the sound of ominous footsteps behind you picked up the pace.

In third person limited, the narrator is outside the character, watching the action, but can also report on what the character sees, hears, feels, and thinks, and can maintain a fairly tight focus on the POV character.

She walked down the dark street, frightened as the sound of ominous footsteps behind her picked up the pace.

In third person omniscient, the narrator is outside the story, watching all the action, all the characters, and can drop in and out of the viewpoint of any character.

She walked down the dark street, frightened as the sound of ominous footsteps behind her picked up the pace. The man desperately wanted to catch up to her only to return the purse she’d left at the restaurant, but he didn’t want to scare her. The policeman across the street watched them both, waiting for the right moment to intervene.

A final note on second person (You walked down the street). It is rare, more frequent in short stories than in novels. Readers tend to find it irritating and unrealistic, harder to suspend their disbelief. This is especially true if the character of the story is the opposite gender from the reader, or a very different person in terms of age, ethnicity, background, etc. You read: You are a woman, thirty years old, recently divorced from a much older man, and think to yourself, “No, I’m a middle-aged happily married male.” It’s hard for readers to relate to a character in this fashion. In a short story, it can work. To get through an entire novel in this voice is difficult, and it’s seldom used so readers aren’t accustomed to it (and probably don’t want to be). Second person is often perceived as a bit of a gimmick, and readers tend to resent gimmickry in writing.

So that’s a quick overview of the persons and voices available to the writer.

Next up, Part 2: How do each of these persons and voices affect the writer, the point-of-view, and the reader?