Point of View: Who’s Telling the Story?
May 15, 2017
When writers start head hopping and writing a scene with multiple points of view, they have lost trust with their readers.
You sit down to write with a room full of characters.
A couple of lovers sit drinking champagne in the corner of a mid-town bar.
A couple who have fallen out of love are ready to sit at separate table, takes separate taxicabs, live separate lives.
A detective is entangled in a puzzle.
A Mob boss is the puzzle.
Two spies are fighting a war that no longer exists.
And a very lovely victim has no idea she is the victim.
She’s the life of the party.
She’s a blonde.
You are faced with the most important task a writer has.
Which one of them tells the story?
And that comes down to point of view.
Too many authors want to step in and tell the story. They play God. They know it all. They are omniscient. They are in the way.
The author is only the director.
The author needs to remain in the shadows, keep his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself, and let the characters tell the story.
If the author interferes or forces his will or her way into the plot, the story fades away and generally isn’t worth telling.
When I write, I never know the beginning, the ending, or the where the story is heading.
The characters do.
I turn the story over to them.
So many writers are confused about point of view.
It’s really very simple.
Each scene has only one point of view character.
That character allows the reader to crawl inside his head and know his thoughts, what he is thinking, and what he is planning to do.
No one else in the scene has any idea.
Everyone is ignorant but the reader and the point of view character.
Everyone else in the scene conveys his or her thoughts through dialogue or action.
But the door to their minds is closed and locked.
For example, let’s say two spies, George and Alexi, are in a dark alley on the bad side of town where no one walks after dark.
It’s George’s point of view.
“It’s time to quit fighting,” he says.
Alexi shrugs. “The war’s over.”
George smiles, “It’s been over for a long time.”
Now we enter George’s point of view.
He stares at Alexi and thinks: Before the night ends, they would no longer be chasing each other. Alexi would be dead before he reached the end of the alley, and George would be looking for another war to fight. In their chaotic world, there was always a new war to fight, either hot or cold.
George knows he will kill Alexi.
The reader knows George will kill Alexi.
Alexi walks away into the darkness believing he has nothing else to fear.
We have no idea what he’s thinking.
Alexi has no point of view.
He has no idea the man behind him has sentenced him to death.
And that makes him a sympathetic character.
He is a dead man walking.
Alexi has no idea he has only minutes, maybe seconds, left to live.
The reader is left in suspense.
When will it happen?
Why will it happen?
The reader is on the edge of the seat.
The chapter ends.
The next page begins in Alexi’s point of view.
His hands are thrust in his pockets.
His back is bent against a cold wind.
And here come his thoughts.
He is smiling to himself as he thinks: Farewell, old friend. He and George had been through some tough times together. They had fought with each other. They had fought against each other. But now it was all behind them. A trained Russian assassin lay on the rock wall above him. He was watching every move George made. Whether he made the right move or the wrong move, it didn’t matter. The bullet would be placed in silence just below his right eye.
George thinks he is the killer.
He has no idea an assassin lies in wait.
Alexi knows better.
The reader knows better.
The tension is heightened.
The conflict is strengthened.
A shot is fired.
A life is ended.
Who shot first?
Will there be a second shot?
The suspense is palpable.
Take the reader for a wild ride one scene at a time with one point of view at a time.
I read a quote from a noted author the other day that sums it all up for me. He said “When writers start head hopping and writing a scene with multiple points of view, they have lost trust with their readers.”
That’s the unpardonable sin.
Who’s telling the story?
No one knows.
And after a while, no one cares.
The story is over even if it has three hundred pages to go.