To avoid confusion, the events in a narrative should be observed from one point of view consistently. Sometimes the author will represent the narrator of the events as a participant in the action, observing firsthand what is going on. Such a story is said to be told from a personal point of view. At other times the writer as narrator stands outside the narrative, able to reveal the thoughts and actions of all the characters taking part in the events. Such a story is said to be written from an omniscient, or all-knowing point of view. The models in this lesson demonstrate both narrative methods.
1. A story told from an omniscient point of view gives considerable freedom to the writer, who stands outside the narrative, thus able to enter the minds of all the characters.
In the following selection the narrator takes no part in the action. The topic -- the beginning of a day in Charles Dickens' boyhood -- is told from an omniscient point of view.
Rupert Sargent Holland in Charles Dickens: The Boy of the London Streets
He was not yet due at the blacking factory, but he hurried away from his room and joined the crowd of early morning people already on their way to work. He went down the embankment along the Thames until he came to a place where a bench was set in a corner of a wall. This was his favorite lounging place. London Bridge was just beyond, the river lay in front of him, and he was far enough away from people to be secure from interruption. As he sat there watching the bridge and the Thames, a small girl came to join him. She was no larger than he, perhaps a year or two older, but her face was already shrewd enough for that of a grown-up woman. She was the maid of all work at a house in the neighborhood, and she had fallen into the habit of stopping to talk for a few moments with the boy on her way to work in the morning. She liked to listen to his stories. This was his hour for inventing them. He could spin wonderful tales about London Bridge, the Tower, and the wharves along the river. Sometimes he made up stories about the people who passed in front of them, and they were such astonishing stories that the girl remembered them all day as she worked in the house. He seemed to believe them himself; his eyes would grow far away and dreamy and his words would run on and on until a neighboring clock brought him suddenly back to his own position.
2. The following passage presents the first ten lines of Holland's narrative rewritten from a personal point of view, that of Dickens himself. Compare the effects of the two versions.
I was not yet due at the blacking factory but hurried away from my room and joined the crowd of early morning people already on their way to work. I went down the embankment along the Thames until I came to a place where a bench was set in a corner of a wall. This was my favorite lounging place; London Bridge was just beyond, the river lay in front of me, and I was far enough away from people to be secure from interruption. As I sat there watching the bridge and the Thames, a small girl came to join me.
Different points of view for writing:
1. The "omniscient" author
2. A first person narrator in the story
3. A first person observer outside the story
4. A third person reporter
5. Diary or letter framework
These pages are from various handouts and excersises that I've collected from school over the years - I did not write them myself. If anyone ever finds the original teachers who wrote these (probably at some point in the 70s or early 80s), please let me know so I can credit them! If you wish to copy, print, link to or use these pages in any way, you do not need to ask me for permission.