No, put your potholder bands and knitting needles away—this is the writing craft we’re talking about, the best craft there is, because what you’re making is BOOKS.
Class, I’d like to talk to you about point of view.
No GROANING now. Point of view isn’t just about whether or not your story is told from the first person “I” or the third person “she.” Point of view is everything.
Why? Because point of view is how you control your story, and telling a story is all about control. Don’t believe me? Then explain why “author” and “authority” sound so cousinly. To gather in a reader and keep her turning the pages way past bedtime, you have to be the authority of your story.
And the sword you wield to do that is point of view.
Technically speaking, point of view (or PoV) is the vantage point of your story. Who speaks? Where is that person in relation to what will happen in the story?
Your options aren’t exactly limitless, but you have several, and each helps you tell a different story. There’s first person, of course, which is natural to most writers, but limiting in what a character can see and know. It’s also very easy for early writers to slip into too much summary and not enough scene/action using this tool, and if the character isn’t interesting, uh oh, you’re stuck inside his boring head. There’s second person, which is a high-wire act that, bonus, also annoys a lot of readers. You use it at your own risk. And then there’s third person, which is where you have some additional choices to make: how close is the “camera” of the story to the third person narrator?
The thing is, there’s no wrong answer. People have their favorites, even—ack—second person. The right answer is the PoV that works best for your story.
So, ask yourself a few questions:
-What pivotal moments might I have to show? Who needs to be there?
-Who is most central to the conflict of this story?
-Whose thoughts do readers need most?
-Whose voice is the most interesting?
When I was writing The Black Hour, the PoV started out simple. I imagined a first-person account of a professor who’d lived through an act of campus violence. Dr. Amelia Emmet started speaking, and boy was she peeved. Peeved was interesting.
Amelia suffers through an anxious meeting with a new graduate student she’s supposed to advise in the first chapter. About fifty pages into the book, that grad student had something to say.
I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this development. But after giving this new PoV character a chance, it turned out both of them had plenty to do and say. The bad news? Writing alternating first-person accounts is a bit of a high-wire act, too. Each character needed to have a distinct voice and his and her own ambitions. The good news? Switching back and forth between Amelia and Nathaniel kept things moving and gave the story its structure and pace. Even more enjoyably, the dual protagonists started to keep information from each other. In the end, having two protagonists changed the trajectory of the entire plot in a way I hadn’t planned
If it sounds like I lost control of my story, well—yes. In the way we all hope they do, these characters took over and ran away with the book. I wish it for all of you, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Has one of your PoV characters ever done something unexpected while you were writing?
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