How Point of View Creates Suspense and Humor

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  • 0:01 Point of View Creates Suspense
  • 1:39 Point of View Creates Humor
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Point of view influences how readers understand literature. In this lesson you'll learn how writers use point of view to create feelings as different as suspense and humor, and you'll be able to test your understanding with a short quiz at the end.

Point of View Creates Suspense

Imagine you're watching a scary movie: Wisconsin Weed-Whacker Massacre. There's a deranged lunatic in the house, and he's carrying a turbo-charged weed-whacker! While the main character, a cute teenage girl, was pouring a glass of milk in the kitchen, the audience sees the madman tiptoe up the stairs and slip into the hall closet. Minutes later our sweet teen star bops up to the second floor with her ear buds in, singing to herself. She reaches toward the closet door, but at the last minute decides what she wants is down the hall. When she turns away, the door creaks open, the prowler steps into the hallway behind her and revs up his trimmer.

If you were watching this scene in the movie theater, you'd feel that anxiety in your stomach, caused by suspense, 'a feeling of uncertainty about what will happen next'. The movie director creates the suspense by carefully manipulating point of view. Point of view is just the angle from which things are seen. We all have a point of view because we all see the world from a slightly different angle. The suspense comes when the director contrasts the point of view of the star of the movie, our unsuspecting teen girl, with the point of view of the maniac and that of the audience. She is blissfully listening to music and walking around the house, but the audience knows that she's in mortal danger. As an audience member you know something is about to happen, and you wish that the main character knew it too! The result is suspense.

The exact same thing can happen in literature. Take Poe's classic, 'The Tell-Tale Heart.' The main character has hidden a body under the floorboards of the house. Police show up because the neighbors heard some suspicious noises. The killer starts acting strange, agitated. The reader knows why; he's nervous about the police finding the body! The police are clueless, but as the murderer gets more nervous, you, as the reader, feel suspense. You know something is about to happen, and the two different points of view create that tension.

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