When writing a short story, I always consider point of view near the start of the process. I consider a few main questions:

  • How intimate do I want the reader to be with the protagonist?
  • Do I want to describe setting and other characters from the protagonist’s view, a neutral view, or simply some other view?
  • Do I want to restrict the reader to information only the main character knows?

In a fiction writing class a few years back, I learned a useful exercise to help answer these questions. The instructor asked us to take several paragraphs of a story we are working on and rewrite it in another POV. At the time, I was writing a story about a bank robber using the third-person limited point of view.

Third-person Version

“Hey, how’s it going?” Curt threw out as he brushed past the guard.

Curt wondered if that was a good job — security guard.  I’ll look into it, he thought.  His eyes moved around the bank floor.  In the old days, before prison, he would enter a bank or store and scan the area to absorb all the details: the route that customers take, the exits, the security cameras, and doors leading to separate areas. He would stare at all of the occupants of the room, to figure them out, even read their intentions.  It was his business to analyze.

As he walked towards the main counter, he noticed the two tellers waiting on customers.  Nameplates told their names: Loretta on the left, a short, squat middle-aged black woman with a constant grin, and Connie on the right, a serious white woman with heavy makeup and an odd curl to her lip.  Curt went towards Connie.  A thick red, braided rope partitioned off part of the bank floor to form lines up to the bank tellers.

First-person Version

 “Hey, how’s it going?” I said to the security guard.  I always said hello to the guards.  Makes them comfortable. Man, that looks like a sweet job, just sitting on your ass all day, getting paid to hang around.  Maybe I’ll check it out and see if they have any openings.

I looked around the bank. It was a compulsion to check out all the details, every single aspect of the place, from the big ticket items like security camera placement to the subtleties like the way the egg-shell colored window blinds slated from left to right. Of course, I picked up on the number of people inside, the number and layout of exits, the positioning of the staff, and scanned the faces of the personnel. It felt strange to be in a bank again, but I liked it.

I walked to the main teller counter. Two women waited on customers:  Loretta, a short black middle-aged woman, was on the left, eagerly grinning like the smile was stuck on her face, and Connie, an older white woman, who looked like a classic disgruntled employee that did the least amount of work possible to get by. She had heavy lipstick to cover a strange lip, or maybe to bring attention to the one interesting feature or her dull face.

The path to these two ladies was sectioned off by a thick, braided rope making artificial lanes for bank goers to walk through.  Reminded me of prison cafeteria lines.  You had to walk the line even if no one was ahead of you.

Not the best writing, but it was an exercise.

First person provided focus on the protagonist, added a strong voice to the character, and restricted descriptions to a single vision. Mainly, writing from both perspectives gave me a view (no pun intended) I needed to complete the story.