Friday, May 25, 2007

psychological aspects of POV

A fiction writer is faced at the outset with the decision of choosing a theme and the POV that will be used to tell the story. Various considerations enter into the choices, including whether a first-person or third-person narrative might achieve the desired closeness with the reader, and whether the POV can adequately dramatize the envisioned scope of story. Often the story theme may be based on a personal life experience. That experience may offer some sort of hidden meaning the writer wants to explore, and then it seems there should be some best POV for the cast of characters and the type of story being considered. However, it may be that the POV choice actually takes over and steers the story into directions and choices that are driven by it, and which more closely relate to the writer’s own psychological makeup than the fictional story he starts out to tell.

In a NY Times article, “This is Your Life, and How You Tell It: In Storytelling, Deep Clues to the Self” (by Benedict Carey, 22May07), some recent research looked at ways people narrated their life stories. Those with mood problems had many good memories, but the scenes were often tainted with some dark detail. By contrast, those individuals who scored more positive, “generative” personalities on psychological tests might recall the same sorts of life problems in a reverse way, as linked by themes of redemption. “They flunked sixth grade but met a wonderful counselor and made honor roll in the seventh.” In other words, their understanding of their life’s story drove their narrative themes. That might be a useful observation to keep in mind when choosing the experience and setting out to write.

The research then seemed to offer other useful insights to the fiction writing process, and the retelling and reinterpreting of experiences from our own life stories. How do we recall the most vivid scenes from our experiences? An important factor was the perspective people in the study were told to take when revisiting a life experience—whether in first-person, or third person. The investigators found that revisiting a bad experience—an argument, say, or a failed exam—was significantly less upsetting when viewed in the third person, as compared to first person; and, a shift in perspective to third-person allowed the storyteller to deepen and even reshape the event instead of being immersed in it.

Which POV is going to create the stronger fiction story? If the event is compelling enough, and focused, total immersion in a first-person narrator might work okay. If the event is still not clearly understood in the author’s own mind, using third-person narration to explore a deepening and reshaping of the personal event might lead to a better fictional story.

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