Friday, September 4, 2009

Whose story is this anyway?

Someone asked me the other day why a story had to be told by different characters. I think what this young man meant to ask was why an author employed several different Points of View throughout the story. A point of view, of course, is who is telling the story in a particular scene.

There are several different ways to tell a story, and each one has its place. First person point of view is popular in police procedurals with wizened detectives and private eyes and also with chick lit, ie; Brigit Jones’ Diary. I have only written two novels in first person point of view, though I prefer that method more than any other.

First person narrative can be very limiting. The reader can only know what the main character knows. They can’t know of a storm brewing in another state if the hero isn’t watching the weather. They can’t know the killer is outside the window if the heroine doesn’t see a shadow of feel the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. If you choose to write your story in first person, you can’t switch halfway through and let the reader know something our hero doesn’t. But by using first person the reader gets very deep into the head of the character telling the story, and that’s always a good thing.

Third person narrative doesn’t necessarily mean the reader can’t get as close to the main character. Done well the reader can come to understand the hero just as well as first person, and this method might be the way to go for a beginning writer. The writer is free to pursue several different leads in the story. The reader can hear the story from the viewpoint of the heroine, her mother, her estranged daughter, and even the postman if he plays a key role in the book.

The writer can let you know why John loves Susan, but Susan can’t love him back, and why her best friend thinks she’s making the worst mistake of her life.
When first beginning your novel, play around with different points of view. You will learn soon enough how the story needs to be written. The characters will let you know who’s in charge and who’s voice must be heard the loudest.

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