Narrative Tense and POV


Objective Viewpoint

Read the following explanation of the objective viewpoint. It comes from James Frey's book, How to Write a Damn Good Novel:

Viewpoint Defined

When the author is describing a character and writes, "Marvin hated three things: stale donuts, his wife's meatloaf, and Republicans," he is revealing the character's viewpoint. A character's viewpoint defines how the character interprets the world. The character's viewpoint grows out of his particular sociology, physiology, and psychology.

Viewpoint also refers to what might be called the locus of narrative. The locus of narrative refers to where the narrator stands in relation to the characters: as an unseen eyewitness acting as objective reporter; as a sort of divine know-it-all, able to read the thoughts and feelings of the characters; or an another character in the story.

Objective Viewpoint

When the narrator is outside the characters at all times, writing as if he were a reporter, he is writing in objective viewpoint. The narrator describes the actions of the characters as if he were, say, watching a play. Here is an example.

Joe awoke at three in the morning. He got up, went to the medicine chest, poured himself three fingers of something that fizzed, waited for it to stop bubbling, and drank it down holding his nose. Then he got dressed, loaded his shotgun, put it under his overcoat, jumped into his armored personnel carrier and drove to the bank.

This is called "objective" viewpoint because the narrator is outside the character, looking at the character "objectively," having no notion whatever about the "subjective" states of the characters. We are given nothing of what the character thinks and feels, what his attitudes are, what his plans are, and so on. It is written as if the narrator were a spectator simply copying down the dialogue and actions as he sees them happen.

Question: When do you use objective viewpoint? Answer: Very rarely.

Objective viewpoint is used when you want to create an air of mystery about a character. It's sometimes used in spy thrillers and detective novels when the villain is on stage. In a narrative written in objective viewpoint we see what the characters do without really knowing who they are. Readers will endure watching the skulking around of characters they don't really know in such cases because it is part of the fun.

Normally, readers are impatient with narratives in objective viewpoint because they want more intimacy with the characters and objective viewpoint offers the least intimacy. For this reason it is best to avoid it, and most writers do. There are, of course, notable exceptions. Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon is written in objective viewpoint, and is an acknowledged masterpiece. It is a difficult thing to pull off, however. Hamnett went to great lengths in that novel to give the reader more intimacy with the chanters through gestures, mannerism, and facial expressions.


Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.