Narrative Point of View

Amy Tan

Lesson time 07:05 min

Learn Amy’s process for choosing a narrative point of view—and why it’s not set in stone.

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Topics include: Choosing Your Point of View • Exercise: Experiment With Point of View


[SOFT PIANO MUSIC] - It's always, I think, a very difficult choice to make at the beginning of the story, choosing that point of view. Are you going to use third-person omniscient? Omniscient is, you're the god of this universe. You know everything. You know what this person is thinking, that person. You know their motivations, their intentions. You know what secrets they did in their past. You see what's going on. You have judgment over all of that. That's omniscience, the omniscient narrator, third person. Then there's a third-person point of view. One of your characters, your main character. You occupy their mind. Sometimes, you know more about their mind than they do. You know about traumas in their past that are now being reflected in what they're doing right now, but they kind of forgot. So you have to keep all of that in your mind as the writer in being the third-person narrator. So there's a close-up third person, and there's the omniscient. On the other hand, you might decide to use a first-person voice, and that's a voice that I particularly like because if you're going to write a story, especially one that has a lot of emotion in it, a lot of self discovery in it, it allows you intimacy. It allows you to peer into something and express how you feel exactly in your body. You can compare that to how you have felt in the past. The thing you can't do with first-person narrative is know exactly what the other person is thinking, so you're a little limited there. You would choose, then, your point of view in part on the kind of story you want to tell. Now, I would not stress too much over choosing the right narrative point of view. If you don't know it in the beginning, just try one form. You may decide later that you want to use a third-person voice because you need that leeway of knowing what other characters are saying. So I've done both, actually. Sometimes, I have used a first-person voice, and then I have another section that is-- it concerns another character, and that's all in a third-person voice. So choose your point of view with two things in mind-- the story you want to tell, the type of story you want to tell, how emotional, how much of it depends on a lot of action with numerous characters, and also the particular character, not just the story, but the character and what they are going to reveal, the main character, what they are going to discover. [SOFT PIANO MUSIC] Here's an exercise you can do to play around with point of view, with the voice of the narrator, the voice of the characters. It comes from a sentence that was said to me by a friend who was going to go on a cruise. She said, "They said there were pirates, but we did not believe them." And I thought, so what happened? Now, let's say that you take that in the first person. They said there were pirates, but we or I did not believe them. Where do you go with that? Did you get on the boat? What came into play when you sa...

About the Instructor

Amy Tan was 33 before she first explored her voice as a fiction author. A few years later, her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, spent 40 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Now she’s showing you her approach to the challenges and joy of self-discovery through writing. Learn how to craft compelling beginnings and endings, find your voice, and embrace your emotional memory to bring powerful narratives to life.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Amy Tan

The celebrated author shares her approach to voice, story, and the craft of bringing narratives to life from beginning to end.

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