Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Right Point of View -
The Protagonist's POV isn't Always the Best

It just dawned on me yesterday, while I was writing the 47,324th word (or there abouts), that I may have chosen the wrong point of view.

Usually (but not always) I choose the protagonist's POV and write in a stream-of-consciousness, that is, from inside the protagonist's head (in third person). So far it worked well for me.

But yesterday something happened. Yesterday, my protagonist became incapacitated. If there are no thoughts, feelings and action coming from my protagonist/POV, what do I do next? The story has to jump to when the protagonist comes to and gets filled in the blanks of what happened when he was incapacitated.

Of course, this can work and has worked for me in the past, but in this instance I didn't feel it would be the best way to do this. Many things happen, important things, that continue the story, and telling them "later" is mitigating their importance.

Another option is to have multiple narrators and solve the problem this way. A second character's point of view can take over and tell what happened while the protagonist is incapacitated. But again, I felt that bringing a second POV this late in the novel wouldn't quite work.

Which led me back to the first thing I thought. Perhaps the novel would be better told from the protagonist's best friend's POV. Perhaps his view of things, of what happens to/with his friend (the protagonist), perhaps all these observations can give the story another dimension, one I didn't expect to have.

For now I'm going to put this aside for a couple of days and then re-evaluate. It would be quite a project to go back and change the POV, but if it would make the novel better, maybe I will.

Oh, lordy!

How much thought do you give to POV before starting a novel???


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redchurch said...


I've had trouble with this too. Something that helps me get over it is to think about your story more like a movie.

When a hero in a movie is injured or unconscious, does the movie stop?

Of course the answer is no. It either shows other characters going about their business or advancing the plot in some other way.

Even showing what the antagonist is doing during this time.

There's always somebody or something to show, even if it's not the hero.

I've found that visualizing how it would play out as a movie is a good solution to the writing problem. When I have the same problem, it's usually a sign I'm focused on telling too much and not on showing.

But if you feel the story would be enhanced by an entirely different point of view, that's something to consider.

I guess the core question to ask then is... "Would that solve all my problems?" The answer is probably no. It's a tradeoff, like everything else.

Consider whether that tradeoff is justified just to fix this one 'scene.'

redchurch said...

Another thing to remember--the beauty of 3rd person is that you can show anyone or anything.

You'd be *truly* stuck if you were in 1st person going only by the hero's own thoughts.

It illustrates our tendency to "get inside the head" of the hero a little too much.

We almost forget we're writing in 3rd person. We're not married to the hero's perspective for every second of the story!

If we were, it'd be impossible to show anything else.

Melly said...

Eric, thanks for this.

As I've mention in the post and you've mentioned in your comment (thank you for adding these great points), there are many different ways to go about an incapacitated protagonist. You're absolutely right.

What interested me, though, was the idea of a POV I don't usually write in. A POV that isn't the Protgonist's but someone who observes him. Like in The Great Gatsby (although not in first person). This idea just opened this whole new dimension to the story, one I haven't considered before and I was wondering how many authors use this POV. I've only read a handfull of books that I can say use this POV.

Melly said...

True, that's the beauty of external narrative. You don't have to change POV, but you can change the distance to your story.

Yzabel said...

The truth about POVs in my case is that, to be honest, I can never decide and be sure before starting writing the novel/story... 'Which POV is right' is something no plans or preparation ever tells me at 100%, so I guess I wouldn't be of good advice here...

Telling it from the friend's POV, though, sounds like a good idea, even without knowing the story. But then, indeed, rewriting everything would be a hassle.

Melly said...

Yzabel, you're probably (very) right.
For me it's become almost automatic that I start the story in the regular protagonist POV I usually take (don't fix what isn't broken, right?)
So while I think that occasionally a different POV can be more interesting, it'd probably be hard to see this before starting the novel. Unless I was a writer who plans everything (which I am not).

redchurch said...

Here's another thought; Just because the protagonist is 'out cold' doesn't mean you can't describe things happening to them. It is a wonderful opportunity for a dream sequence, or better yet-- a "Groggy Sequence"

The character comes to every now and then to see or hear strange things they think are happening, but aren't coherent enough to make sense of until they fully wake up.

These things could have really happened, or be exaggerated versions of events that really happened.

You don't have to completely mitigate those parts of the story for later, as you said. You can show them happening but have what follows cast those events in a new or different light as the character progresses through the action.

These are also good opportunities for symbolism or metaphor. Is this setback a low point for the protagonist? Perhaps they are both literally and figuratively "climbing out of the darkness."

Stories like The Wizard of Oz are told mostly while the protagonist is 'out cold.' You don't have to let down time for the protagonist be death to the story. It's an opportunity!

There are SO many angles to approach this! To me it seems the problem is not in finding a solution, but *picking* one!

Carter said...

In "Talyn", Holly Lisle uses two different POVs. One is the main character in 1st person, the other is another very major character in 3rd person. This is hard to do, but she pulled it off very well.

I often start in the protagonist's 1st person POV. As the story develops, I will adjust as needed to 3rd or even multiple POVs as the story demands. I always think about what best serves the needs of the particular story, then go with it. My current WIP uses multiple 3rd person limited POVs -- 4 so far, but one of them is now dead. It's a struggle, but it's also a great way to stretch and learn.

Melly said...

I hear you Eric and love all your suggestions. A few problems is that a) I don't "do" surreal :) which I'm often told is too bad, but it isn't in me. Logic and reality control my plots if not my characters. b) the other problem is the level of penetration I already have. It makes total sense what you're saying, but in my case it would equivalent to introducing a second POV half way through the novel.
You're da best - thanks Eric :)

Carter, a friend of mine wrote a novel (not published) similar in style to what you say Talyn is like.
I rarely write in first person although many have claimed that my third reads like a first (hence the problem with Eric's suggestions). But you're right, it would be a great learning experience and maybe that's the way I should look at it.

Benjamin Solah said...

Maybe you could write some, but not all, of the chapters from the best friend's POV, so this next chapter won't look like the second POV was brough in late.

Melly said...

That's a fine idea Benjamin. A mighty fine idea.
Might actually work.

Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Coming back to it in a few days will surely help you. When I started my novel, the opening scene didn't work and there was something not clicking for me with the main character. I took a break and then one day it hit. I changed the main character from a man to a woman, scraped the first scene and started the book with my new character.

I find it easier to right from the First Person POV but it didn't work for my novel. I think it would have been too confusing for the reader to write a fantasy, in an alien world from the main characters perspective.

Melly said...

Hiya Fred.
Changing the gender of a protagonist is no small feat.

Personally I don't like first person that much. I find it limiting, but lately it's been the trend and a few very good books have come out in first person.

Pat Kirby said...

I used to hate reading first person novels. Funny thing is, lately, I prefer them over most third person POVs. I like the immediacy of first person. Interesting how taste can change.

I write in either third or first depending on the story. I'm actually debating whether to sneak in some third person POV into a first person manuscript (like aforementioned Talyn). There reason being, it would allow me to show rather than tell what happened with the other characters.

Melly said...

It definitely is amazing how are taste changes. I used to dislike humour books and films, now I love them. (I don't prefer them, but I enjoy them).
That's usually the reason I find it difficult with the first person. Getting away from the telling. Although right now I'm reading an excellent novel that is at least equal parts telling and showing if not more telling, but it's just excellent.

Dodo said...

Interesting problem. Deciding who the POV character will be before each scene is vital, I believe.
One problem with giving the POV to another character to narrate the protagonist's story throughout the book is that he will always stand between the reader and the progagonist. The reader will not get close enough to the protagonist to know him, and if he doesn't get to know him - well, perhaps the reader will lose interest.

Another thought - If the 'best friend' narrates the story doesn't he then become the progagonist?

Giving the best friend a POV in that particluar stage of the book that you mention might be solved by giving him occasional POV scenes earlier in the book so that the reader already knows him.

Melly said...

Dodo, you bring excellent points. Thanks.
I read a couple of excellent books where the POV isn't the Protagonist's - The Great Gatsby being the prime example.
It is probably harder to do but it can bring other aspects the protagonist cannot bring. So you lose some things, but win othes.
It's a dilemma for sure :)