Point of View
Oh, those three dreaded words. I have gotten to the point as a writer that I understand POV is an important storytelling tool. I have even been dragged kicking and screaming into a place where I agree that flowing back and forth between points of view without any kind of transition is a bad thing. Still, I cannot say that I had any real connection to point of view before today.
Ever since I first accepted that I really needed to stick with one point of view at a time, that’s basically what I’ve done. One point of view per story, period. I know that the trend is for readers to prefer alternating points of view, but I admit I’m not there yet. Writing a story with multiple, deliberately chosen points of view still feels rather like a cannonball off of the high dive to me. Or, after yesterday, maybe from the middle platform.
So, what happened yesterday, you ask?
I have a pair of characters that I love, but who are challenging for me to write. Up to this point the best I’ve been able to do with them is to write down whatever scraps of scenes they are inclined to give me, regardless of point of view. It’s not a great way to get a cohesive story onto the page, but it’s the only way I’ve been able to make any kind of progress with them up to this point. And, truth be told, the POV didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. By that I mean there didn’t seem to be anything so compelling about the way a scene played out that changing points of view down the road would be difficult.
And then I sat down at the keyboard last night to write a scene from one character’s perspective and found myself writing from the other character’s perspective instead. The contrast between the scene I’d planned and the scene that made its way onto paper is startling. By putting the new character in charge of the scene I almost completely undermined a conflict later in the story. A scene that should have been introspective and filled with knowing glances became charged with angst and sexual tension.
Everyone says this, but I swear it’s the truth here. A light came on in my mind. All of a sudden I had real, tangible evidence of how different a story can be depending on who’s telling it. I was finally able to compare scenes and really see how the tone changes based on which character’s POV is reflected there. For the first time I could actually understand how controlling the point of view would allow me to control the reader’s experience of the story.
I actually learned a
LOT about the characters, too. How they tell their stories has a lot to do with who they are; their personalities, backgrounds, etc. I hadn’t realized how different these characters are until I saw the scene coming out in two such different versions.
There is a big difference from understanding this intellectually and actually applying it to the story. In this moment, though, I feel powerful. I have transformed from a stubborn girl scuffing her toes in the gravel to an honest-to-goodness writer. I can do anything, including use point of view effectively.
Realistically we are not going to spend a lot of time developing scenes from multiple points of view. We’re too busy for that. But I would encourage everyone who struggles with point of view to take at least one scene and really try to imagine it from both sides.
Don’t just change the names and pronouns. This isn’t about technical definitions and memorizing the difference between third person omniscient and present perfect. This is about understanding how to make point of view a tool you can use. Sink yourself completely into the mindset of a different character and see what happens to your scene. It might surprise you.