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Changes in POV and dramatic irony | Reading

When we analyze the perspectives of storytellers—whether that’s a point of view character, an omniscient narrator, or a narrator that attaches closely to multiple perspectives—we can understand the way that an author is controlling the flow of information. Who knows what, when? And what does that tell us? Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Hello, readers. Today, I'd like to talk about differences in point of view in literature. When we analyze the perspectives of storytellers, whether that's a point of view character, an omniscient narrator, or a narrator that attaches closely to multiple perspectives, we can understand the way that an author is controlling the flow of information. Who knows what, when, and what does that tell us? A writer can control which characters have access to information, and they can control what access you, the reader, or the viewer, have to information to. The information you have and the information the characters have help develop our perspectives. Within a story, conflict between characters can come from a difference in perspective. In "Avatar: The Last Airbender," the character of Prince Zuko is consumed by his desire to capture the avatar, as he feels that this will end his exile and restore him to a place of prominence at his father's side. His uncle Iroh, however, understands based on many years of hard experience, that Zuko's father is a cruel man who never intended to take his son back. Iroh only wants to keep his nephew safe. This difference in perspective generates a lot of conflict between the two of them. The show slowly reveals Iroh's perspective over time. Whereas we, as viewers, know what Zuko wants and why almost immediately. In fiction, that kind of information asymmetry between the storyteller, the characters, and the audience, leads to something called dramatic irony. You're watching a play, or a TV show, or reading a book, and you, the audience, the reader, knows something that the characters don't. This is possible because especially in a visual medium, the audience has a different point of view than the characters do. We can see things they don't see. This difference in point of view is what allows tension, suspense, and jokes. Remember, irony is just the difference between expectation and result. It can be leveraged to achieve anything that uses the mechanism of surprise. I don't wanna belabor how jokes work. Literally nothing is more boring or unfunny than explaining jokes. So, let's use suspense as our example. Imagine a very low stakes villain, The Cheeseler, who goes around pranking people by balancing buckets of cottage cheese on doorframes. You go through the door, blam, you get cheesed. I want you to imagine a scene in which we see The Cheeseler booby trap the protagonist's door with a bucket of cottage cheese. Nobody else in the story is around to witness this. After all, The Cheeseler stands alone. And now, we see our hero in Tamika. She's walking down the hall with such confidence, blindly unaware of the cheesy threat that awaits her when she opens that door. We come back to the cheese. It's still there, oh no, oh no Tamika. Do you see what I'm doing here? Do you see how this generates suspense? You, the viewer, know something the character doesn't know. The difference between her point of view and your point of view generates tension. This is something that writers do on purpose. This tension, this dramatic irony, draws us in because it's very satisfying to see it resolved. We know that there's that possibility of Tamika getting splatted with cottage cheese, but what if Tamika, at the last moment, kicks open the door? The cheese bucket drops, and Tamika catches it neatly. Whoo, thank goodness. She saw that the door was slightly ajar and put it together. The tension is resolved as the gap closes between what Tamika knows and what we know. When characters resolve interpersonal differences, it's through an alignment of their points of view. That's what brings us to resolution. The difference between two points of view can be reconciled, and that too, is a way of relieving story tension. Now, I'd like to counsel you against making blanket statements about specific genres of work, like sure, a first person story could limit the flow of information because we're perceiving a story through the senses of the point of view character. But, in your analysis of that story, be sure to get specific. How does that specific character in that particular situation see events? Why does the author show us, the readers, information that character doesn't get to see? Asking yourself questions about those differences in perspective between the narration and characters, between two or more characters, between the text and the reader, will make it easy for you to analyze the impact of those decisions that the author made. And now, I'm going to go walk my dog. I will see you all next time. You can learn anything, David out. All right. (humming) (metal clanking) Oh, curse you Cheeseler!