Weaving the Strands of Plot
I shouldn’t have relaxed so soon, thinking strands of plot were coming together, like barely visible wisps of moisture gathering into a cloud. I’m having a rethink about the point of view. I had thought my MC (main character) was the elderly physicist. He was the first to appear and to indicate he had a problem, but then I had to ask myself which character stood to lose the most: that’s the most effective viewpoint. It turns out that Saffron, his daughter, has greater problems than he has so she is probably a better candidate. This means (already!) that I have to rework the opening of the book, which I thought I had nailed, but never mind, I’m only a thousand words in, so no great damage done.
Whose Story is it, Anyhow?
The choice of point of view is so fundamental to the success of a story that it is important to give the issue the time and consideration it needs. There’s an important distinction to make at this point. The MC’s motivation (or want) and decisions drive the plot. That’s not necessarily the same person who tells the story. Think about memoirs, or framed stories which have a narrator. It’s important to work out these things early on, although you may have to write some short test drafts to see whose POV works best for the story you want to tell.
Point of View Near or Far
Once the writer has established who is telling the story, he has to decide how “close in” to go. Think of it as adjusting your telescope. The closest possible point of view is right inside the MC’s head, the internal thought process. The next one out is close personal, where the reader experiences the story alongside the MC. The furthest out is “universal” point of view, or third person “omniscient”, in which whoever is telling the story sees everything the characters are doing and feeling and narrates accordingly. A limited omniscient point of view tells the story from one character’s viewpoint and outside their head. Another one is from the second person (“you” pronoun). This used to be less common and requires skill to pull it off, because the narrator has to address the reader directly, but it is coming into fashion.
The Way We See It
As I hinted in the first paragraph, in the early stages of conceptualisation, shortly after you’ve established the, “It’s a story about…”, broad brushstroke, I find it helpful to ask these questions. Who has the biggest problems? Which character is playing for the biggest stakes? Who has the most to win or lose? This is usually the candidate for MC. As your writer’s skills grow, you can shift the point of view in and out (using your telescope) to meet certain requirements, or achieve certain dramatic effects, as long as you are conscious of doing it. It’s perfectly acceptable to change points of view within the narrative, provided you indicate the change by a separation, the minimum granularity being a paragraph. “Changing heads” within paragraphs can make you guilty of “head-hopping”, which risks confusing your reader, but don’t worry, your merciless editor will soon pull you up on it.
To guide me on the task, I am revisiting CHARACTERS, EMOTION & VIEWPOINT by the great, award-winning Nancy Kress. I like her tutorials very much. Incidentally, her dedication was to “Jamie, Pat and all other authors of the future”. That includes me. Chuffed.
First published October 2012, when I was sketching out Far Out.
Credit: Image by the author, photo taken on Windows Phone.