A Lesson in Point of View


A Lesson in Point of View

If you're writing a story about an important or tragic event, how do you choose whose point of view you're going to write it from? If you're writing about a crime, do you write from the point of view of the cops or the criminal? If you're writing a family drama about an affair, do you stay with the cheater or the cheated-on? Today I want to talk about point of view and how to make your point of view compelling and unique.

Point of view can be a whole new story element that furthers your plot. For example, if there's a secret in your story that has to be revealed, a more limited point of view will keep the secret better than an omniscient point of view. In fiction, choosing your point of view is all about ACCESS and POWER. How are you going to choose whose head you have access to? And who has the power to explain his or her side of the story to the reader?

ACCESS

A great example of using point of view as a story element is Ron Carlson's excellent story "Bigfoot Stole My Wife." In this story, a man vehemently tries to argue that his wife hasn't left him - she's actually been kidnapped by bigfoot. As the story goes on, you become more sympathetic to the man, and see the desperate ways he has been denying the truth to himself. It's a story that uses point of view to make dramatic irony a significant aspect of the plot.

If Ron Carlson had given us access to the missing wife, much of the drama of the story would be stripped away. That's why limiting the point of view of a story can often be a more exciting choice for your story. To dip into everyone's head without discrimination can ultimately make your story less realistic, because after all, in real life we don't actually have access to anyone's minds but our own. Consider limiting your point of view to make your story more dramatic.

POWER

There are at least two sides to any argument. Whom will you allow to explain themselves? As the writer granting point of view to one or more characters, you're granting that character the power to tell the story, naturally making him or her more sympathetic than those who are cut off from us. Sometimes this power can backfire, as some characters will reveal their unpleasant sides. Either way, though, point of view is all about the power to tell the story. When you're writing about some conflict (and most stories should be about a conflict of some kind), think about whether you want to show both sides of the conflict, or whether you want to limit that power to just one side of things.

Limiting point of view is a great tool in the writer's toolbox. It also has the effect of creating narrative distance from other characters. It reminds us that other characters - just like the people in our own lives - are ultimately black boxes to us, mysteries whose inner lives we can only imagine.