My conversation with writers continues. Today, we look at point of view. Which is most effective? Of course that completely depends on the story you’re telling… Participating writers include: Luc Reid, Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Don Mead, Justin Howe, and Vylar Kaftan.
How do you decide whose story is being told? Do you have a favorite POV to work in?
LR: I usually seem to go for whatever character is in the biggest trouble: the kid who won’t leave the dangerous magical family alone, the girl who teaches herself about shipbuilding when she’s supposed to be cultivating charms to attract a husband, the old ladies who are interested in suicide protests, or young man who gets exiled from his village for stealing apples. For point of view, if the character seems like someone who wants to tell their own story in their own voice, I’ll go with first person, but otherwise I tend to use third.
KHL: I often let my characters make those decisions, which means that on occasion I finish a story and realize that the most compelling story is still off-stage, so to speak, as a loudmouth character insisted on telling me his or her story, when really the minor bit wallflower character is the one who has the murder and mayhem to share. But that’s okay, because then I simply cajole the wallflower into spilling the beans. POV changes. I used to work exclusively in what I think of as eyeball socket third person. But eyeball socket first person has been fruitful too, as of late.
DM: I write a lot of historical stories filled with interesting characters from real life. For example, the story I’m currently working on is about a group of African-American jazz musicians who decided to enlist in World War I to help overcome stereotypes. Do I write about the dynamic leader who’s murdered before he could forge a legendary musical career? Or the poor share-cropper who became a Harvard track star and law school graduate? Or perhaps the cultured, brilliant violinist who played for the crown heads of Europe but had to hide his music reading ability from white American patrons? I think the final question is: who’s got the most to gain (or loose)? Whose triumph or death will most impact the other characters and the readers?
JH: I’m at my best when I’m not making decisions but the story itself has decided how it must be told. I certainly have favorite POVs, just as I have favorite character types and capturing their voice is what’s going to make the story exciting. A lot of the drafting process is trying to discover that voice.
VK: The POV is usually* the character with the most at stake. Who will hurt the most? Who will suffer most if things go badly? My favorite POV to work in is the best one for that story.
*Like all writing guidelines, there are exceptions, and the corner cases can be truly amazing stories. However, unless you have a good reason to choose something different, try keeping POV with the character who has the most at stake, and you will see your stories grow stronger.
Next time: how to end it all…when it comes to stories!