by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Selecting the right Point of View (POV) for your book can be tricky. If you are anything like me, your stories are full of interesting characters who could all tell the tale of your narrative with interesting results. So, how do you select the right character? How do you choose who will be the narrator of your story, the reader’s guide through the world and action you’ll lay on the page?
What to consider when selecting your story’s POV
A recent post by Shawn Coyne, over on The Story Grid, gives some great examples of how a change in the POV changes the story. The thing that grabbed me from Shawn’s examples was the way THEME and TONE were the deciding factors for selecting the best POV.
How Theme and Tone create emotional differences in your story’s POV
Say, for example, you have a nascent story tumbling in your brain about a young boy who grows up, shaped by his father’s view on money, and a father who is driven to corruption and crime to give his only son the things he wished he had as child. You decide that the theme of this story is “money corrupts” –
Focusing on the son’s POV could provide a redemption twist on the theme – where the son has become shallow and superficial because of his father’s influence, but who finds redemption throughout the course of the book.
Focusing on the father’s POV can provide a classical take on the theme – where we see a Walter White/Breaking Bad transition from a sympathetic character with good intentions to a short-sighted, corrupted individual.
These POVs – whereby the Main Character of the story is also the Protagonist – are the most obvious choices. I make the delineation here to recognise that in some stories the THEME is articulated in the story of the Main Character, but effects change in the story of the Protagonist. Take the example of THE GREAT GATSBY – the story is obviously Gatsby’s, it is through his choices and his actions that we see the Theme (“money doesn’t buy happiness”) unfold, but Gatsby’s character is not transformed by this theme. The character whose arc travels along the intrigued-enamoured-disillusioned path, is Nick Carroway – our narrator and Protagonist.
Add further complexity to POV and build deep resonance
In our earlier example, having the son tell the story of his father through his own eyes creates two stories – the primary story of his father and the secondary story of the son. The focus is clearly and solely on the relationship between the two characters and the distinct ways in which the father’s story impacts on the son’s character development. With the son so very aware of his father’s actions, we are able to find complexity and depth to his own actions and thoughts.
Similarly, the father telling the son’s story through his own eyes pushes the son’s story forward, relegating his own story as the B-side. Again, the relationship is the critical part of the narrative. There are no excuses for the father in his actions, given his awareness of his son’s story, and the story immediately becomes more complex because of this awareness.
This option, of having the main character tell the story of the protagonist, pulls the relationship between the two characters into the spotlight – creating a deep resonance as the two characters and their intertwined paths create a feedback loop, feeding off each other and spiralling into deeper intricacies of human behaviour and emotional cause and effect.
Or simplify the POV to create a straight telling of Theme
The alternative, and final option for a POV, is having an independent, omniscient narrator tell the story of either character or of both of them. With this POV, the characters and their relationships are related from a distant and objective place left untainted by the characters’ direct interaction and engagement.
The thing that strikes me as I consider these different points of view are how they generate a different TONE for the story they tell. The story of the son will be emotional, sentimental and ultimately uplifting. The story of the father will be dark, gritty and confronting. The story of the son, told by the father, will be soul-wrenching and full of second-guesses and regret. The story of the the father, told by the son, will vacillate between admiration, emulation, disappointment and disgust. And the story of the father and/or son, told by an omniscient narrator, will be allegorical and thought-provoking.
So, forget about which character you think the reader will find most engaging or like the best. Figure out your theme and how you want to explore it. Figure out the tone you want to imbue your story with. And let your answers decide the best POV for your story.
Which character is telling your story? How does their POV explore the theme of your story and set its tone?
Leave your comments below!
I have read a book, I can’t remember which one, but it had all three POV. It started of flipping between the two characters, the stories timeline progressed and never hardly overlapped. It was only the final 2 chapters that were written in the third person (otherwise it could of become a shambles with the crescendo of activity)
So the bible, was it written purposley from observations to give more freedom of interpretation?
Very good peice Micky K
Hey, Christopher – yes, there are lots of books where the POV “mind hops” – travelling between different characters (Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” is a classic example of multiple POVs). Regardless of whether you have one character or many narrating your story, the question of POV will always consider the following three options: direct (the character telling their own story), indirect (the character telling another’s story (and their own by default)), and objective (a non-character (third party/omniscient narrator) telling a character’s story). Each option has its own impact on Theme and Tone – so, think carefully on how you want to explore your theme and what tone you want to imbue the story with – the answers to these questions will guide your POV selection.