Back in February of this year I attended a writer’s conference and promised to share notes from a few of the sessions. Now, five months later, I’m finally getting around to it. One of the most useful sessions to me as a writer was presented by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury where she discussed using a characters point of view to propel the story and more importantly resonate with the reader.
In general, the point of view character is the one who has the most at stake in a given scene. Some books choose to follow one character throughout giving the reader gets an in-depth view of how that character sees the world. Other books flip between characters to show different story lines and explore other characters.
In advanced point of view the writer finds the character in the scene that has the most potential to resonate with the reader. Most of the time this will be the character that has the most at stake, but not always. As writers one of the biggest payouts is when we can make our readers feel something deeply. In contests I have often heard that the winning entry is the one that made the judges cry the most.
Here are a few examples shared by the presenter:
The Lord of the Rings is about power, conflict, and ruling the world; but, at its heart is the struggle of good and evil within individuals. This is where the story finds its success. We resonate with the story of the Lord of the Rings because the struggles the characters face are ones that we have had to deal with as well. Aragorn doesn’t feel he can handle the spotlight. Frodo just wants to go home. Sam wants to help his friend with an unbelievable burden.
Tolkien uses advanced point of view several times when he leaves the lead character and changes to someone near him. Once Aragorn becomes king his character becomes too large for normal people to identify with. When his character becomes too large Tolkien switches his point of view to someone else.
The same happens with Frodo when his character becomes withdrawn and subject to the ring at the end of the quest. Most people have never been possessed by a piece of jewelry and forced to then destroy it. Tolkien changes the point of view over to Sam and we get to see the struggle from his eyes. He is still a normal guy, just in an extraordinary situation.
Another literary example shared was Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew he wasn’t as smart as the character of Sherlock Holmes and therefore could never voice him properly. We see him instead through the eyes of Watson or the Client, who are normal people. This way the reader can be amazed along with them as Sherlock goes about solving mysteries.
Some take home tips and advice from Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury:
- One of the best way to learn how an author uses point of view is to read the book three times in a row, back to back. You’ll end up hating the book, but it will be very clear how it was constructed. – OR – You can type copy passages from sections that you would like to figure out.
- Changing point of view between scenes and chapters is fine BUT the next point of view has to be equally interesting or the reader will skip those sections. This is especially true with cliffhangers.
- If the reader cares enough about the characters there are no reason to have cliffhangers.
- Characters have to have weaknesses or readers won’t identify with them.
- Thou shalt not head hop – modern readers are no longer used to it even though it used to work in some settings.
Hope this review has been helpful. As always, the comments section is a great place to ask questions or share ideas.
Until next week,
Thanks! This is really useful.
Thanks for coming by!
I’m trying to wrap up a story that is written in third person but only through one character’s POV (except in one flashback sequence). But I’ve written it such that the main character is not in the last scene. probably against the “rules,” but it’s how the story goes. I’ll let readers decide.
If the writing is awesome, which I know it is, and it makes sense to shoot from that point of view, then I say go for it!
Interesting. I like to use first person present tense with a less frequent viewpoint in third person – apparently, common in thrillers and crime writing today.
I lean almost exclusively toward third person with a tight focus on the character. From what I’ve seen, most fantasy genre books are written that way as well.