From a Certain Point of View

Chicago Bean

Chicago Bean by Jeremy Cliff

As a writer, point of view (POV) or perspective can have a dramatic impact on how characters are judged by readers and on the overall story. One of the first choices to be made is whether the story should be told from first person, third person, omniscienct, or maybe even the dreaded second person POV. In this regard, Writer’s Digest fortunately has a great post with six tips for choosing POV in a story, so I’ll just turn your attention there for those interested.

Instead, I’d like to talk about other ways perspective can have an effect on characters of the overall story.

How Does Reader/Writer Perspective Alter How A Character is Perceived

Cindy Angell Keeling wrote about visiting Chicago’s famous sculpture, The Bean, which casts shifting reflections back at the view from a variety of angles and perspectives.

“It occurred to me that we writers get to know our characters by viewing them from different angles and perspectives. As we polish them into being, what is reflecting back? From here, Bob seems affable and responsible. From there, we see an angry side with a tendency to shove problems under the rug. From fifty feet away, he’s helping an old lady cross the street. From ten, he’s threatening a neighbor.  Standing underneath, we see a scared little boy, bruised and hiding in the closet.” (Source.)

People are multilayered and complicated and contradictory. But from the outside, if you see only one moment, one angle of their lives, it’s easy to make judgements and make assumptions about them based on that limited perspective.

Likewise, readers only have access to the perspectives writers choose to include on the page. If a character is presented from only one side, then the reader will make assumptions based on that information and may begin to see the characters as flat. Therefore, it’s up to the writer to provide multiple

Prompt: Take a look at your characters. Consider them from another angle, maybe as seen from a grocery store clerk, or the neighbor across the street, or their mother. Is there a side to them you haven’t seen yet? Is there an aspect of their lives that will grant greater intimacy or distance?

How Does a Character’s Perspective Alter Events

Years ago I read and loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. The story is about a missionary who brings his family to the Congo. One of the aspects I loved about the book is that it is told from five different POVs, each with their own distinctive voice. In an interview discussing her book, Kingsolver said that she essentially wrote the entire book five times, once from each POV, which allowed her to consider events from every angle and choose the best perspective for a specific moment in the novel.

“I conceived the structure this way from the very beginning, even though I knew it would be quite difficult to pull off, from the point of view of craft. I spent almost a year just honing the different voices, practicing telling the same scene from all five different angles, until I had differentiated them to the point that the reader would instantly know who was speaking, just from a sentence or two. So yes, it was hard, but it had to be so. The four sisters and Orleanna represent five separate philosophical positions, not just in their family but also in my political examination of the world.” (Source.)

The perspective of each individual character in the story is a really powerful instrument, because each individual sees the world a little bit differently.

My mom is fond of saying, If three people witness a car accident, each one will tell a different story of how it happened. A police officer may describe the scene with precision because his career requires it. A young student may describe it from a place of anger because they had a friend die in such an accident. An old man may tell it from a place of panic because of the shock it caused it. Each of them will have their own stories, memories, experiences, passions, and fears that colors how they view any given moment or event.

Prompt: Write a scene fives times, each time from a different character point of view. See if you can give them each a unique voice of perspective. (This is could be good for trying to add depth to side characters.)

This post was loosely inspired by The Daily Post prompt: Perspective.


2 Responses to “From a Certain Point of View”

  • Cindy Angell Keeling Says:

    Great post, Andrea. Thank you for the reference! You definitely ratcheted the idea up a few notches. (Love the photo, too.)
    Your mother’s (and your) observations about car accidents/perspective is very astute. And, Barbara Kingsolver… *sigh*

    • Andrea Blythe Says:

      You’re welcome. Your post definitely resonated with me at just the perfect time. 🙂

      Kingsolver is amazing. I’ve only read a couple of her books, but loved both. And the fact that she wrote the book five times still astounds me. Such an amazing dedication to the novel.