What is Dramatic Point of View?

Have you ever heard the term “Dramatic Point-of-View” thrown around? Possibly you’ve heard it called Third Person Objective. Maybe you’ve never heard of it at all.

So what is it?

Dramatic Point-of-View is a specific style of writing in which the author chooses to only share the action of a scene and not the internal thoughts or emotions of a character. Some people refer to this as the “fly-on-the-wall” POV, where the narrator is a fly observing the events but not commenting upon them. I like to think about dramatic POV in terms of playwriting or screenwriting. In both of these styles of writing the author provides setting information, actions/stage directions, and dialog. This is all the information given to communicate the content of a scene. As a fiction writer, an author can also make a similar choice to show only the “dramatic” information in a scene.

John Gardner describes Third Person Objective as “identical to third person subjective except that the narrator not only never comments himself but also refrains from entering any character’s mind. The result is an ice-cold camera’s-eye recording. We see events, hear dialogue, observe the setting, and make guesses about what the characters are thinking.” (The Art of Fiction).

Why Would You Use This POV?

1) To Create Objectivity. Maybe an author doesn’t want to “muddy” a scene with specific emotions and the filter of a specific character’s point of view. Maybe the author wants the reader to make his/her own assumptions based on character action alone.

2) To Move the Action Forward. The choice to use the dramatic POV in action scenes can really move along the plot and content of a story without tripping it up with emotion and reflection.

3) To Create Contrast. Author and creative writing teacher, David Jauss, has some interesting opinions on POV. He thinks that Point of View is not about first, second, or third person but instead it is about distance from the reader. In his essay “From Long Shots to X-Rays: Distance and Point of View in Fiction” in Alone With All That Could Happen he discusses how the use of dramatic POV can be used to create focus and contrast. For example if a story is told mostly in the dramatic but occasionally jumps inside the mind of a character, then those specific moments of contrast (when we know a characters thoughts) become even more important to the story. Thus each shift in POV and distance becomes about emphasis and specific story information.

4) Power without Sentimentality. The ability to create an emotional reaction in a reader while using the dramatic POV says a lot about the power of the scene one is writing. Creating emotional reactions through action and dialog alone can really help cut through the sentimental jargon that may come from character thought and reflection. Study film scenes to see how power is created through action and dialog alone.

Have you ever used the dramatic point of view in your writing? Why did you choose it? What was the effect?

5 thoughts on “What is Dramatic Point of View?

  1. I usually write in 3rd omniscient, because I write it as I see it in my head, kind of like describing what you’re seeing when you watch a movie. I’m curious about Dramatic POV. Do you have any good examples you can suggest, to get a better feel for it?

  2. I haven’t used Third Person Objective in my writing yet, but find it an intriguing concept. Might serve as a good exercise to force the writer to convey the same emotion, power, drama, etc. only by showing and not telling.

    I echo Heidi’s request for a few titles we aspiring authors can read to see examples of Dramatic (TPO).


  3. I’m writing a novel in which a pivotal scene is where a girl decides to have an abortion in 1965. I don’t want to be on a soap box here, so I’m staying out of it, so to speak. The final scene involves the doctor, the friend who takes her there, the girl’s reactions — heck, EVERYONE’S reactions. And I want the reader to bring their own reactions, feelings, speculations, beliefs, and not choose for them. The dramatic POV seems to work best at this, and at keeping the author’s personal feelings out of it. Hope it works.

  4. Very interesting. After using the extreme version of dramatic point of view in my screenplays, when I get to prose, I can’t wait to get into my characters heads! It must be very challenging to refrain.

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