Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Deciding Who to Write as the Point of View Character


by Sarah Sally Hamer @SarahSallyHamer

Choosing a point of view character is probably one of the first major decisions any writer makes when writing a story. Getting it right is one of the most important.

So, who is the point of view character? 
  • It’s the person who tells the story. 
  • It’s the person who tells it from his or her perspective.
  • It’s the person who has the most to lose.

The person who tells the story is usually the one who also has the largest character arc. For instance, in the movie “Gladiator”, Maximus is the POV character. The story is his, all the way through. He is the one the audience responds to, ultimately knows the most about, and the one who is on the Hero’s Journey. 

Scarlett O’Hara is the POV character in “Gone With the Wind”. Dorothy Gale is in “Wizard of Oz”. They all tell the story from their own perspective, with the audience sympathetically following behind. What if, instead, “Gone With the Wind” was told from Melanie’s perspective? She adores and admires Scarlett but is a bit of a namby-pamby. She leans on Scarlett and never really stands up for herself. 

Can you see that she’s not the person to tell the epic story of the War Between the States? We get to see the Wicked Witch of the West’s POV in the Broadway musical “Wicked”, where Dorothy is the bad guy. It’s a brilliant counter-point to the original story, and the green lady’s goal, motivation, and conflict is very real. 

And, ultimately, each of these main characters have something to lose. Maximus’s goal is to be with his family because he’s tired of war in far away lands. His conflict is that he’s a brilliant strategist and the heir to the throne of Rome is a madman. If Maximus can’t defeat the bad guy, he can’t go home. Scarlett wants Rhett and Tara, not necessarily in that order. If she doesn’t fight for them, she’ll lose both. Of course, she famously loses Rhett, but Tara is in her blood and she returns there to lick her wounds and find solace. 

It’s a lot to lose. Dorothy wants to save Toto and go home (do you see that all three have a similar goal? Do you think that might mean something? LOL!). But Dorothy can’t without learning the lessons Oz and all the fascinating people there will teach her. Eventually she has to decide—stay with Toto in Oz or go back to Kansas without him. And, once she finally understands her own personal power, she gets to have both.

So the question is—which character in your story is the point of view character? Who needs to tell the story? Who needs to be the one to learn the lessons? And, again, which one has the most to lose? 

My suggestion, when you’re first creating the story, is to audition your characters. Sounds funny, I know, but imagine for a couple of minutes that you’re creating a story with two people who want the same treasure. Are they on an equal plane? Do they both “deserve” the treasure? If they do, you might decide to divide the pages in the book between them by having two point of view characters. But maybe one is the better choice to win. Maybe one will use the treasure to keep from losing the house, where the other only wants the glory and the money. Either can still be your POV character, but which has the most to lose? 

Sit each of them down in front of you (figuratively, of course) and ask them questions. It’s called a character interview and they’ll have to tell you everything! Ask him or her WHY the treasure is important. Ask HOW it would change her or his life. 

Ask WHAT it means. For Maximus, his goal was a yearning he couldn’t walk away from—to be with his wife and child. For Dorothy, it meant the difference between her one connection to her family (Toto) and isolation. For Scarlett, it was Tara, which meant the world to her (one of the very first scenes is Scarlett begging her daddy to make Ashley marry her—he told her that “land is everything”).

So, after the interview, who deserves to be the point of view character in your story? I’d love to know!

TWEETABLE

Sarah (Sally) Hamer, B.S., MLA, is a lover of books, a teacher of writers, and a believer in a good story. Most of all, she is eternally fascinated by people and how they 'tick'. She’s passionate about helping people tell their own stories, whether through fiction or through memoir. Writing in many genres—mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, medieval history, non-fiction—she has won awards at both local and national levels, including two Golden Heart finals.

A teacher of memoir, beginning and advanced creative fiction writing, and screenwriting at Louisiana State University in Shreveport for almost twenty years, she also teaches online for Margie Lawson at www.margielawson.com. Sally is a free-lance editor and book coach at Touch Not the Cat Books, with many of her students and clients becoming successful, award-winning authors. 

You can find her at hamerse@bellsouth.net or www.sallyhamer.blogspot.com

From Sally: I wish to express gratitude to the giants upon whose shoulders I stand and who taught me so much about the writing craft. I would list every one, if it were only possible.

7 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for your excellent post, Sally. I especially appreciate the concept of "auditioning" one's characters for the role of main POV character. Well put! :)
      And, yes. That all three characters in your examples want "to go home" in some way is quite significant. :)

      Delete
    2. Sarah Sally HamerJuly 7, 2022 at 12:10 PM

      Thank you!

      Delete
    3. Sarah Sally HamerJuly 7, 2022 at 12:11 PM

      MaryAnn, I discovered that as I was writing the blog. It is significant, isn't it? Could it be that every story is really about "going home"? LOL! Thanks for the comment.

      Delete
  2. Thank you for your excellent post, Sally! I especially appreciated the concept of "auditioning" one's characters for the main role of POV character.
    And, yes! That all three characters in your examples want "to go home" is quite significant.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Write from the POV of the character who has the most to lose is my rule of thumb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great! Just as you should! :) Thanks!

      Delete