It seems to me that how writers of fiction approach point-of-view, and what readers expect, has changed with the advent of the motion picture.

Many nineteenth century authors wrote scenes from an omniscient point-of-view; a bustling street or a battlefield would be described as if from nowhere, with the narration capable of portraying people in one spot, horses in another, tall buildings and narrow lanes, in language making no reference to from what angle we were viewing them. This form of storytelling was entirely verbal—the words describing the scene conveyed it to the mind of the reader, not as a picture, but as facts which the reader might picture.

But in contemporary fiction, there is an insistence on portraying such things through the eyes of a character. We must send a girl scurrying through the narrow streets, or have her gaze up at the tall building, dodge horses and slip past people—with, all the while, a "camera" looking over her shoulder.

This is no surprise, given that virtually all modern people spend the first six or seven years of their lives watching television before they begin to learn to read in earnest. Every movie or television scene contains an extra, unacknowledged character: the camera. It is a physical entity and must exist in some specific spot. Even a "wide" or "establishing" shot of a cityscape must be from some geographical point—the northwest, say. And if the camera is there, it cannot be anywhere else.

People raised on motion pictures, whose sense of how stories are told is thus constrained by the need to locate a camera in a given spot, naturally approach fiction in the same way. If a scene is described as if from nowhere in particular, such readers become uneasy: they cannot visualize where the camera is.

Since a nineteenth century reader would have had no trouble with the ways in which point-of-view is expressed nowadays, but a twenty-first century reader balks at camera-less narration, it feels to me that something has been lost.


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