Wednesday, 12 March 2014

POINT OF VIEW IN A NOVEL - To Kill a Mockingbird and Scout.

Hello everyone!

Before writing any story, whether flash fiction, a short story, a novella, a novel, the writer must decide on the point of view to adopt to tell the story. The choices are wide:

  • an 'all-seeing God', writing in the third person about something going on 'down there'. The advantage of this POV is the writer can talk about anything he/she wants to, but the disadvantage is that the story could be a tad impersonal.
  • 'second person'. Not many writers choose this POV, but it can be interesting to find the occasional 'you' or 'dear reader' interspersed amongst the 'first person' or 'third person' narration. But when an author chooses to address the reader directly, pay attention, it must be for a good reason.
  • 'first person', the favourite of YA and MG authors, where the writer 'becomes' an actual character in the story. This might liven up the story, make it more immediate, but again the writer has to stick to the rules and limit himself/herself in time and space as the character would be limited.
I do enjoy the old classic 'God-like' stories. Many remain favourites, but today the all-seeing narrator is not that common. Not everyone likes first person, so for them there are variations of the 'third person' style, a more limited viewpoint. I have no problem with first person, whether multiple viewpoints or a single viewpoint. One classic novelist made it her inspired choice, an unusual choice for her time - Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird. 

At first the reader struggles with the language - boy, is this little girl educated or what? How mature she sounds for such a young girl. The reader should keep in mind that there are two Scouts in TKAM: the little girl experiencing the story and the adult Jean Louise who tells the story. 

In TKAM, we are given the impression of incidents as they are experienced by six-to-nine year old Scout. Her name, too, is inspired - Scout is both a questioner and observer of people and events in Maycomb County in the American South. She asks tough questions because she is a child. She doesn't understand the full implications of the things happening around her, making her an objective observer and a reporter in the truest sense. 

This is a very nasty story, and Harper Lee could have treated it in a different way. It is a book about violence, hatred, bigotry and rape...just for starters. How do you think a Harold Robbins or a James Patterson would have told it? Lee's choice to tell the story through the eyes of a child was obviously deliberate; it softens the nastiness somewhat. Scout's innocence can be contrasted with the prejudice and hypocrisy, the dominant attitudes of the older townsfolk.

The first person POV gives the reader an insight into the story which Scout herself does not have. For example, Scout is not aware of the meaning of the objects in the knot hole, but the reader is; Scout is not fully aware of the danger outside the jail when Atticus is confronted by Mr Cunningham and his mob, but the reader is...etc... 

The POV presents moments of humour for the same reason. When Miss Maudie is talking about Stephanie Crawford's storytelling:
"Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and found Boo [Radley] looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up a while.
I was sure it did. Miss Maudie's voice was enough to shut anybody up." (p.51)

Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama. It is likely she based Maycomb on her hometown, and her own childhood experiences. The racial concerns she addresses began long before her story starts and continue long after her story finishes. Her story was informed not only by the laws and attitudes that were part of her youth and her culture, but also by the Civil Rights movement which continues to struggle today at various levels. This is what makes TKAM timeless. Harper Lee is Scout. And she told her story in the style of Scout's memoir. It begins lazily then grips the reader by the throat and never lets go. I'm proud to own one of the first copies ever published. Second-hand bookstores are full of treasures!


Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God's in his heaven
and all's well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can't be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognise,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

(It could be an Atticus Finch monologue.)

Some other of my very favourite novels told through the eyes of a child:
  1. The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank
  2. The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
  3. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  5. Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney (using themes from TKAM)
  6. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  7. The Night Rainbow, by Claire King - (5-year-old narrator)
  8. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
My brain is working overtime now and I can think of plenty more, but will restrain myself and let you follow this link if you want to know a few more. There are also many novels in the third person omniscient POV, telling stories of children, such as The Lord of the Flies etc. There are heaps of others - can you add to the list?

  • So...why am I on about POV and TKAM today? Well, I'm a guide by the side of my Year 10 students every year as they study it for its timeless themes. 
  • This month's WEP challenge is: Through the eyes of a child, where entries are to be just that - told from a child's POV, whether flash fiction, non-fiction or poetry. Photographs and Artworks can also be posted that represent a POV of a child.
  • Your'e invited to join us on March 26, with your interpretation of the prompt. You can sign up in my right hand sidebar, or visit Write...Edit...Publish.
  • How many books do you know that are told through the eyes of a child? 



  1. I like the omniscient viewpoint. It's a tricky one, but if it fits, I think it adds to the story. I've read some of the books you mentioned, but not all. I'm working on my entry and have added my name for the WEP.

  2. I only just read Catcher in the Rye - really enjoyed it a whole heap!

    I read TKAM umm, a few years ago now? But I was still late in getting to it. :)

  3. I used TKAM in school and haven't gone back to it since. It is indeed a timeless classic. As to POV, I like reading from the perspective of children. They don't whitewash the truth like adults do.

  4. Part of my third book was told through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy.
    And I still prefer the standard third person when writing. Keeps me from having to be in someone's head too much.

    1. I haven't got to that part yet then. Yes, maybe third's easier.

  5. 3rd person is easier, for it allows you to dart and dive the readers' attention where you would have it. I prefer the immediacy of 1st person. Why do you think Harper Lee never wrote another book?

  6. I do have a couple pieces told through the eyes of a child, and I would LOVE to participate, but my deadlines have got me gridlocked. Shame, right?

    Love the analysis here. Great thoughts on perspectives.

    1. A shame you won't have time to share Crystal, but I know we're all busy and have to prioritise.

  7. Interesting blog. I would take issue with you about the Diary of Anne Frank, it wasn't told through the eyes of a child, it was actually written by a child writing her experiences during WWII before she and her family were caught.

    1. I think when Otto Frank published it he would have seen Anne's diary as telling what happened through the eyes of a child.

  8. Perfect timing for me at the moment (both with the students and my own studies, which at the moment covers POV). I'm getting used to writing first person now, but it took some training for me; I was also raised on those omniscient stories. And as you know, I'm a big fan of child narrators.

  9. I haven't read TKAM, terrible aren't I? One of the classics! All the same, I like to play with POV myself, and have done first person present tense, first person past tense, third person all seeing god. I haven't tried the 'you' POV yet. Maybe something for the future!

    1. I can see how you could incorporate second person in your watery stories Val.

  10. I prefer writing close third person. And usually have at least two viewpoint characters per novel. I'll read anything :)

  11. I'd have to go back to books from my childhood to remember the last one from a child's POV. I can write in first person, but prefer third.

  12. I adore TKAM - it's such a powerfully written book. It's one of the books that hits you hard and stays with you forever.
    I find 1st person hard to write well but I wouldn't rule out doing it in the future :)

  13. Hi, Denise.

    Really interesting post and a very clever segue into the prompt for WEP this month. Well done!

    Thanks for dropping by and checking in on me. My eyes are getting better each day THANK GOD, but I am still limited myself on the computer. I have been INSANE. Only back a bit over a week and I FINISHED BG... My editor has it now, so hopefully there WON'T me any more tweaks.

    I also spent the whole week repainting my crown moldings, trim, and doors. The heat blasting all this winter did a number on my woodwork and since the realtor is coming tomorrow I HAD to get it done. I'm dead.You know how vintage buildings are? MILES of woodwork. Gorgeous, but a real pain to keep up with. My condo looks lovely though and the market has improved. I hope it sells for a good price. It should, according to my agent. Then I'll be free! To travel wherever I like.

    You MUST let me know when you're returning to Paris. I will SOOOOO meet you there. It will be a BLAST!

    1. I wish you all the best with the sale Michael. Another chapter begins. Congratulations on getting BG off! gets accepted and hopefully we get to meet...maybe NYC as that's the next trip I think.:)

  14. Hi Denise - funny and small world isn't it - Sharon Mayhew sent me TKAM recently .. so it's sitting here waiting for me to read. So thanks v much for this post and the info ...

    I'm not sure if Swallows and Amazons fits the bill - but that's what came up into my little brain ...

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Enjoy when you get to it Hilary. Swallows and Amazons is right on.

  15. Hi Denise
    My favorite POV is 3rd person but I'm not too bad at 1st. I don't think I would even attempt the God like POV. Sounds daunting.

    1. First person works a treat for fast moving YA.

  16. Hi Denise,

    Helpful pointers on the POV issue. Third person for prose, and first person for poetry is my usual practice, though I like to play around too, no hard and fast rules. Looking forward to joining you at WEP later on.

    Oh, and don't kill me, I don't like Catcher much...! :)

    Best wishes,

    1. I hard and fast rules. Whatever suits the story.

  17. Both are interesting to give a go indeed, third is easier but first can be done when needed

  18. I do prefer the close 3rd person narrator - has bits of the "god like" and 1st person. But as long as it is well written, and consistent, a 1st POV can really enhance the story. And is easier to allow the unreliable narrator, which Lee does with his Scout character. Sounds intriguing.

    I haven't been able to come up with anything for the child pov of WEP. Too much of my job and childhood issues flow into the writing. I'm still trying - occasionally - but not sure I'll make this one.

    I hope you had a good trip.


    1. Aww,,,hope you do. I got one rattling round my head.

  19. I like all points of view, but especially the stories through the eyes of children.

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of my favourites.

  20. can't wait to see THE FAULT IN OUR STARS movie this summer!

    1. Some of my friends have already seen it, but I don't know how.

  21. Great books list! I haven't read 5 or 7 but I love all the others.
    I'm kinda partial to omniscient pov myself :-)

    And I hadn't seen that Yevtushenko poem before!

    Great post, Denise :-)

    Hope you can find a solution to the fatigue!

    I love having music on while writing, but tv? Though I might have to rethink that - Kristine's right that seeing the written word translated visually is a good exercise.

    Nicole's #atozchallenge Mighty Minion

  22. I love reading 3rd person POV. Somehow the first person always throws me out of a story.

    Great post, Denise.

  23. Wonderful post. TKAM is one of my favorite books, so I'm happy how you dove into it here. Yes, using Scout to tell such a hard story was genius.

  24. Great post Denise! I've missed visiting you! I love TKAM and Fault in Our Stars too! I'm thinking about changing one of POVs to first person, still not sure yet.

  25. Very interest post! First person can be very refreshing but for myself, I find it rather limiting. There is so much a first person narrator misses. I feel most comfortable with multiple POVs in third person. It lets me play with the tension of seeing through one person's eyes, but it gives me the flexibility to move around and play with the "camera."

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