Yesterday in my writers group we talked about point of view. Point of view does, of course, involve your choice of which pronouns and verbs you plan to use.
Will you tell your story in first person?
I let loose a boisterous war whoop. “I killed eight zombies today!”
Or will you use third person?
The werewolf’s tail grew stiff and still. Its upper lip lifted, slow as a theatre curtain, revealing a row of sharp yellow teeth. “Please don’t eat me,” the girl pleaded between panting breaths.
Or, heavens forfend, second person?
You advance on the vampire, brandishing the broken leg of the shattered dining room table. “That was my dinner!” you screech.
Yes, those choices are part of it, but there is more. The decisions you make about point of view require you to think about whose story you are telling. In my opinion, this is the most critical part of the planning of your story. It affects who your character identifies with and how much of the story you can relate at any given time. What reader would feel engaged by the following?:
The five heroes advanced on the demon. Each was worried about the coming fight.
“I have to remember to hold my sword in an overlapping grip for best effectiveness,” Frank thought.
“Finally I have a chance to show these boys that girls can kick butt, too. I’m going to try my new triple Lutz, back flip karate kick on the flaming thing,” Amy thought.
“I shouldn’t have eaten those burritos for breakfast,” James thought.
They were right to be worried because what they didn’t know was that this demon was fully capable of freezing their limbs so they would not be able to move, much less attack.
Aside from the atrocious writing. all the head hopping is disorienting And any writer who feels compelled to use the phrase “What the characters don’t know is…” just deserves to be laughed off of Amazon.
Sure there are some authors who can handle an omniscient narrator. (I’m speaking to you, Larry McMurtry.). But I know I’m not one. I can handle being in only one head at a time.
As I am working on my novel Rex Appeal, I am paying close attention to whose point view I’m using in each part of the story, and I am attempting to balance the weight of the narrative load carried by the two main characters. Because its about both of them.
I’m currently working on a novella, with the working title Offering, about a police chief who is able to learn secrets through his touch. This story is about how he learns something he wished he had not, and what he does about it. I want it to be a very personal story so it needs to be told intimately from his (third person) point of view. But in the story I want to have him react strongly to what he learns.
When a person is in the middle of a traumatic event, he or she is not always fit to tell their own story… even in third person. So I need to move to another person’s point of view. As a writer I have nearly unlimited power over my creation. It’s a kind of divinity, really, over the world I have created. But even the gods have rules. The author can’t just hop from one head to another willy-nilly. Its jarring. I would run the risk of confusing my reader.
So I am making a break in my story and completely shifting the point of view to another character briefly so I can show what happens from her perspective. What she sees. What she feels, what she believes. I do this because the story is more effective if I can show the effects upon the Chief. And he can’t tell me himself. He’s too close to it. It doesn’t work for me to say “I was in shock. My face was white and I was close to tears.” The reader would not feel anything about the character. And it is vital that they feel.
Another person in my group is writing a story that involves a young girl. She had originally used a third person point of view that was removed from the story. It looked down upon the events and commented on several characters, even within the same chapter.
As we talked, it became clear that she need to stand a lot closer to the girl. The story needed to happen from the child’s point of view. This is a challenge because that change requires her to focus her language and her attention within the story on what a child would know and think, what a child would see and feel. It’s a lot of work for her, but when she finishes, the story will be improved for it. It will have all the excitement and child-like wonder that we don’t enjoy as workaday adults. And it will be amazing. I can’t wait to see what she does with it.