In general, narrative perspective is thought to be important for creative writers only. This general belief is not entirely true, though. A narrative perspective creates certain types of proximity in time and space that can have serious effect in and outside of the creative world of penmanship. This includes minutes taking, report writing, essay composition, resume building and biographical description. For this reason, it is crucial to understand the role narrative perspective plays in any writer and reader’s life.
To begin with a definition, a narrative perspective is simply the standpoint from which a story is told. Perspectives can be distinguished in terms of time and space. In terms of time, the focus is how long after the event the narration takes place. Usually, there is a time lapse. This time lapse can vary between very brief and very long passing of time. For example, in minutes-taking, the note-taker writes down events periodically throughout a meeting, each time a short discussion ends. This short time lapse allows for no reflection or organization since the person continuously listens and writes and, he or she is also ignorant of the future conclusion of the meeting for most of the time while writing. Thus, the story is choppy and never matures into an organized whole. In a slightly longer lapse, the narrative perspective is placed right after the event is over. For example, in report writing, the person creates an overall summary of events while the events are still fresh in the mind. This perspective allows for a coherent organization of a very detailed account that is still very vividly present. The drawback is that any immediate bias or false impression remains because the person has no time to reflect on the situation. In a very long time lapse, the narrative perspective may be placed even years after the actual event. For instance, a historical essay about a political incident may be described centuries after it happens. The advantage is that the reflection is well thought out and forms an organized whole. The disadvantage is that memories fade, documents may be impartial or unreliable and, attitudes and opinions may change about the matter. Thus, with the passing of time, the well-organized and fully mature story may have an ever decreasing accuracy of the original events that took place. Of course, on the fictional world this is done deliberately to create a specific artistic effect, while in the non-fictional world this is a natural progression due to the passing of time.
In terms of space, a narrative perspective can be placed within the story or outside the story. If the person is inside the story, he or she becomes a first-person narrator, identified as the person speaking as an “I”. First person narration is increasingly rare in a society that pressures people to be more and more scientific and objective. This attitude invades even people’s personal space. For example, it is uncommon to see a summary of a biography written in first person on any website, such as on Linked In or even Facebook. Just check out any random ten people’s profile! It is almost guaranteed that 9 out of 10 summary will be written in third person. People shy away from addressing anyone on a personal tone because it is thought to be less professional. Even in the world of creative writing, it is scares to see a book where a protagonist is speaking in first person. Go ahead, search through the book shelves in the book store! It will take some time to find even one that is addressing the audience in first person. Perhaps, I am the unusual exception because I write most of my fictional short stories and novels in first person. Even if the exception supposedly strengthens the rule, the fact is that a personable approach still continues to fade out on a world that values the appearance of professionalism. Hence, the most common approach is to adopt a third-person narration. In a third person narration, the person is followed around and spoken of in terms of “he,” “she,” or “they”. Several techniques can be used. A third person perspective can be omniscient. Basically, the narrator is all-knowing, freely entering any space or time to describe the person and the events around. A third person narration can also be limited omniscient where the narrator is usually limited to an intimate knowledge of one person only. In a dramatic method, the all-knowing attitude is completely dropped. The person is described from the point of view of an outside observer, without having any access to the person’s internal thoughts or feelings. On the professional world, the movement is toward the dramatic method. Résumé is a good example. The person looking for a job assembles a résumé that is written in third person and provides all information from a distant observational viewpoint, using the dramatic technique. This is the reason that a résumé look impersonal, cold and dispassionate. It makes the person appear as a user manual, describing his or her components and functional capacity. Simply put, the person never really enters the résumé; he or she never has the ability to comment on the more human aspect of his or her personality, passion or interest. The dramatic method snuffs out the person from the résumé.
It is important to understands the narrative perspective because it invades and has an effect on every reader and writer’s world. For example, I wrote this piece starting out with the impersonal dramatic method. The first two paragraphs were described from an observational, matter-of-fact viewpoint. It was informative and descriptive, but dispassionate. I changed this technique in the third paragraph where I addressed my audience by directly speaking to them from a first-person view, encouraging them (you) to check on the validity of what I am saying by going on websites or into a bookstore. I also entered the conversation by mentioning that I write in first person. The tone became much more personable and friendly by this inclusive attitude. I actually did that on purpose for the sake of this exercise. Normally, writers are encouraged to stick to one narrative perspective and not jump around in order to maintain clarity and consistency.
The point is that a narrative perspective does change both the relationship with the text and, the accuracy and organization, through the perspective’s space and time that it occupies. It is hugely important for any writer and/or reader to understand what the person can get out of the text. It defines a creative work, a business or any human relationship that a person enters into throughout his or her life.
M. J. Mandoki