Adding Texture Day 4 - Mixing First, Second, and Third Point of View Language

This is another exercise from Chuck Palahniuk’s book Consider This. First Person language tends to carry the most authority because the narrator is the character that is experiencing the action. But, that can limit the ability to expand to other places. Second Person language can make something more intimate and have almost a hypnotic effect. But, that can limit your ability to more deeply explore the scene and other characters. Third Person can control the pace and act as a god-like story teller to control pacing. But, it can sometimes seem removed.

When we speak, we tend to use all three POV language types. It is important to note that you don’t have to switch narrators to change the POV language, but you can. For instance, the example from the book is this (which is kind of written from a global first person POV, but uses language from all three):

“Yesterday I walked into a bar. You know how it goes. You walk into a bar, and you expect a bartender, maybe some video poker. A man needs his distractions. No guy wants to get off work and go into some bar and see a penguin mixing drinks…”

You can see the I’s, You’s, and the general third person POV clearly. This is the normal way we speak. We don’t change among them in a confusing manner, but as appropriate to “control authority, intimacy, and pace” (this is Chuck Palahniuk’s language).

It got me thinking about songs that do this.

The first song that came to mind was Harry Chapin’s Cats in the Cradle. It starts of with a lot of first and third person POV language, then ends with second person. Obviously, the overall perspective is first person, but the language is borrowed from other POVs. Here is the first verse:
"My child arrived just the other day <1st person>
He came to the world in the usual way <3rd person>
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, dad” <3rd person, but with direct quote 1st/2nd person>
“You know I’m gonna be like you” <1st/2nd person>

To me, this works wonderfully. It sounds natural. Introducing a fact from first person. Then using third person to establish a certain universality (He came to the world in the usual way). Then, ending with a direct quote in which the son is directly addressing (2nd person) the narrator, builds in intimacy.

Here are some other examples:
Andrew Bird - Imitosis : This one is fun. At first it looks like a third person narrative. Then he introduces plural first person (we are all basically alone) with a direct quote from the Professor of introduced in the first verse. But then, in the chorus, it seems like the whole thing is written in from a first person point of view, because he uses the phrase “Tell me, doctor, can you quantify”, which also brings a direct address!

Taking Back Sunday - Timberwolves at New Jersey : This one is primarily second person direct address. It starts with mandative/instructional language (Get up, come on, let’s go). Most of the verse is in second person, but introduces third person with “They’re all just laughing”. The chorus begins in third person describing what girls dream of. Then it ends in second person “You have it or you don’t”. In the second verse, you get this: “Was his demise so carefully constructed? Well, let’s just say I got what I wanted.”

Maroon 5 - She Will Be Loved : The song starts out describing the girl in third person. Then moves on to direct address. Then the chorus ends with third person again. This song got critiqued for doing this, but I think it adds an emotional element. Speaking of the person in third person somewhat makes her seem further away. Speaking in direct address makes her seem closer to the narrator. Like, when describing her at first, she seems unattainable. Then he’s addressing her. Then he is talking to himself in his head saying “She will be loved”, but not willing to tell her directly.

For a non song use, I thought of the novel Universal Harvester by John Darnielle, where it is third person, but occasionally, there is an “I” that shows up, like the narrator inserting himself into the story.

People have mixed opinions on this, but I think in many instances it does reflect the way we speak to each other and adds interest and the ability to broaden descriptions. How often, when you speak, have you referred to the universal “They”? How often have you interjected something like “You know what I mean” or had used mandative language to get attention “Listen up” or “Hey, come here”? How often have you used direct quotes where the I’s spoken refer to another person: "She said, “I can’t do this anymore. You are not worth the effort. Every one used to say it”.

For this exercise, write about something… anything… and try using some language from all three POVs. Then note why you consciously chose to the POV language when you did.

You have to take the full dose
The doctor’s head a swinging chandelier
It’s like amonia to my tongue
It’s the same with everyone here
I’ve got this cloud in my chest
That thicken and threatens to storm
You’ve got to take the full dose
Or we’ll provide it in IV form

No one needs all ten
When it’s lifted after three
I’m done with oxygen
You know, I never learned to breathe
Don’t tell me about the relapse
Don’t warn me of consequence
I’m just fine when I collapse
On to the pillows where she slept

NOTE: The idea came to me after hearing doctors say “I know you don’t like to take medicine, but you have to take the full dose. Even if you feel better, you need to complete ten days or else it could come back.” I started the mandative second person to engage the reader. Then, used the third person to provide more description of the doctor. With the first person I tried to show the experience of the medicine and the symptoms of the sickness. The second part starts with a universal third person to bring about a feeling of community. Then, the second person mandative directing the doctor to show the mindset of the narrator. Then, I thought it would be nice to end it with a third person reference to a heretofore unreferenced person. The narrator does not mind being sick because it gives him an excuse to lay where some girl laid. Maybe it smells like her or something. This was a fun and thoughtful exercise.

i was just about 3 or 4
its funny
you see kids that age and barely remember what it was like
the monkey bars warm from the sun that came out just after lunchtime
small hands that barely wrap around the blue painted metal
covering your ears from the shrieks of small children
i was once a part of that choir making noises
now i look through a chainlink fence and see a boy with dark brown hair
in the mirror i see it turn grey with the passing days
losing color
passing strangers in grey suits
the bright green grass is concrete and im only running to catch up with time itself
it escapes you
is that why i see more kids on leashes
a little girl tethered to her mothers wrist like a dog
she waves to my son and he waves back

I really enjoyed this one! The use of third person as an expressive in your second line is really great. The third and fourth lines create a wonderful image that plays on many senses, and the second person language really invites the reader/listener to become part of the scene. The shift back to first person in recollecting being part of the playground and contrasting that with the dullness of his current older life is really outstanding. The ending in third person recounting a specific event of children waving to other unknown children is amazing, especially because the you just finished showing us the loneliness the protagonist feels with his life. The third person language makes it feel like it is further from him, enhancing that lonesome feeling. I think you pretty well mastered this one.

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