It’s All in Where You’re Standing: Point of View by Samantha Bryant
Stories come from a lot of different places. Some writers begin with a character. Or a line. Or a plot point. A setting. Dialogue. A scene. Stories grow from many different kinds of seeds, which is part of why the garden of literature is such a diverse biome.
As a story grows, the writer makes decisions about what to prune and what to fertilize as well as what parts just turned out to be weeds and should be pulled and discarded. All the decisions you make for your story, whether they are conscious or unconscious, change the shape of the final tale, much like clipping topiary animals.
Selecting a point of view may not seem like one of those vital decisions a writer has to make, but who is telling the story can change it completely. Where you’re standing when you view the story decides what parts of it you can see, what biases are in play, and how the reader feels about the story. History may be written by the winners, but in fiction, anyone might tell their version of the tale.
Writing in first person gives a story immediacy, especially if the reader connects with that narrating character. But it’s also limiting: the writer can’t tell the reader anything the character doesn’t know or observe. There can’t be any scenes that the narrator isn’t there for. That can lead to some really difficult patches of exposition where there is information the reader will need that your narrator isn’t a natural conduit for.
When The Hunger Games series blazed through the middle school where I teach like some kind of literary comet, I read the books alongside my students. I went to the movies, too. The movies, while a much more faithful rendition than many movie adaptations I have seen, left me feeling unsatisfied. It took me a while to figure out why.
I had to pull out that first book and read it again to realize that it came down to point of view. The novel is through the eyes of Katniss. The movie isn’t. That was the disconnect for me. I didn’t engage with Katniss the same way because I wasn’t inside her head and heart like I had been. I understand why the movie makers changed the point of view—first person storytelling is difficult in film—but it really changed the emotional heart of the story, at least for me.
Some writers get around the limitations of first person by writing in third person omniscient. That lets the writer know and use what’s going on in anyone’s mind and thought processes. If it’s not handled gracefully and consistently, though, it can be disconcerting for the reader. That feeling of head-hopping (when you felt like you were with one character and then you’re given information that character can’t know) is really disconcerting.
While I’ve written short stories in first person or omniscient, I find either one hard to maintain in a longer-form piece. I’ve come to prefer the third person, close point of view, balancing a few different points of view across chapters. Because my ideas always seem to come wrapped up in characters, I’m most comfortable exploring them through one particular set of eyes. But I want to hedge my bets and be able to use story elements that one character doesn’t know, but another does. So, I try to get the best of both worlds by exploring the story through one set of eyes at a time.
In Going Through the Change, I balanced four point-of-view characters, letting each of four women take turns telling parts of the tale, one chapter at a time. The chapter titles named the point of view character, and I also tried to always use the character’s name early on in the scene to help the reader follow me as I changed points of view. It was complicated sometimes. I had to keep charts of time lines and locations to make sure I didn’t end up with logical inconsistencies. As I edited, I’d follow one character at a time through her entire thread and untangle it if it had become ensnared. But the payoff was worth the effort. This approach allowed me to exploit the who-knows-what-when complications in my plot and reveal the conflicting motivations of characters and play them off of each other.
Choosing the right point of view to tell your story from will make all the difference. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Finding the right one to serve the needs of your story might mean some experimenting. But when you’ve found the right one, it’s like fitting in the last piece of the puzzle. It just feels complete and right.
Going Through the Change is going through a change in price for a couple of days in early August. On August 5th and 6th you can get the Kindle edition for free on Amazon. Check it out at: http://bitly.com/face-the-change
Going Through The Change
Going through “the change” isn’t easy on any woman. Mood swings, hot flashes, hormonal imbalances, and itchy skin are par for the course. But for these four seemingly unrelated women, menopause brought changes none of them had ever anticipated—super-heroic changes.
Helen discovers a spark within that reignites her fire. Jessica finds that her mood is lighter, and so is her body. Patricia always had a tough hide, but now even bullets bounce off her. Linda doesn’t have trouble opening the pickle jar anymore…now that she’s a man.
When events throw the women together, they find out that they have more in common than they knew—one person has touched all their lives. The hunt for answers is on.
Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. You can find her online on her blog, Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.