Whose Story Is This, Anyway? : Selecting the right POV for your novel

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!

Whose Story Is This, Anyway? : Selecting the right POV for your novel

Form Follows Function – The Ongoing Process of Structuring Your Novel

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

It is a common misconception amongst writers that the structuring process is an activity undertaken only at the beginning of the writing process. Structuring is firmly located after generating your story idea and definitely before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). After your structure is developed, it’s just a matter of using the blueprint to herd the plethora of chaotic words, sentences and paragraphs into a coherent story. Right?

Hmmm, maybe not.

 

Every new beginning…

As you know, I recently hit the midpoint of Divided Elements, my first novel. In many ways it felt like I had finished a mini-novel – there was a full character arc, an ending with clear references to the beginning, major conflict and a very definite sense of beginning, middle and end. But as Dan Wilson sang, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” and Maria Von Trapp mused, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window”, the ending of this mini-novel is just the catalyst for the next mini-novel, the closed door to the first half of the story just the opened window of the second half.

Don’t get me wrong – I was prepared for this. I had diligently structured my novel from the first to last scene and had a very clear outline for how the second half of Act II and all of Act III would play out. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how the fleshing out of the first half outline – with new characters, interesting dialogue, hidden motivations and complex character reactions – would create an internal logic that was completely at odds with this outline.

Suddenly, I found that the earlier reactions of my protagonist were hinting at a vulnerability I hadn’t planned for, a vulnerability that would take her on a different journey of discovery from the midpoint towards her “all is lost” moment. I discovered secondary characters with motivations and secrets that would cause different opportunities and threats for the protagonist in reaching her end-goal. I found that the dialogue and interaction between characters were creating an unexpected dynamic between them that would, in turn, create new and unexpected tensions over the following scenes and chapters.

In summary, I learnt that the micro-level stuff – the stuff you can’t plan and outline – was having major consequences for the macro-level structure. 

My response? I rewrote the outline for the next half of my novel – a process I am still playing with. I am using my newly-developed knowledge of my characters, world and conflicts to reshape the rest of the story. And this knowledge can only come with a deep and intimate understanding of your story – something you can never have at the beginning of your writing process, when characters, events and tensions are just ideas floating in your head.

In trying to capture the importance of how the detail of the early scenes sets the logic for the following scenes, I was reminded of how, in 1896, proto-modern architect Louis Sullivan famously argued that form follows function.

In his classic (albeit prosaically-titled) essay on The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered, he wrote:

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

In other words, it is paramount that your writing follow a consistent, internal logic – that your creativity in the writing process (the form) follows a structural integrity that is both continuous and progressive across the full narrative (the function). 

In order to achieve this continuous and logical progression of the narrative, you may find yourself (like me) needing to review and restructure your novel outline. In this way, novel structuring is not a static process undertaken only at the beginning of a novel’s development, but a dynamic process that should be undertaken regularly and used a tool to strengthen the internal logic of your narrative.

Let me know what you think – do you find yourself changing your novel outline or structure because of micro-level details in earlier scenes or chapters?

Form Follows Function – The Ongoing Process of Structuring Your Novel