Tuesday, October 13, 2009

So what I told you is true, from a certain point of view...

My leading lady spends quite a bit of time in Greece. Mostly because this is an area of history which I'm familiar with, and for a variety of other factors that I won't get into now. The trouble is, for a woman, Greece was not a very exciting place to live. Especially if one has an awareness of how else one could be living, which my leading lady, and my gentle readers, both do. So instead of taking my readers through Greece from the point of view of my leading lady (from whom they would only see the interior of her home for the most part, long days of overseeing the slaves taking care of the weaving, while her husband absents himself to do whatever it is he does), we see it instead from the point of view of a god. A god, in fact, who does not lord over Greece at all.

I brushed on this a little bit in this post, where I talked about how the clothing my god was wearing was less important than the things he was saying and his enormity of size, when my leading lady finally meets him. An understanding of what your characters care about and would notice is important, especially when you're writing third person limited or first person. They can't see everything. They won't see everything. They won't CARE about detailing their own living space.

Myself, I tend toward a very close third person limited point of view, so if I want blocks of description about the Greek city, or the life my leading lady is living, she can't give it to me. Or, if she did, it would be out of character. What I can get from her is an eyewitness account of daily domestic life, which of course, because I'm within history, requires research. But even that eyewitness account is going to be limited to what she cares enough to notice. I can imagine that she spends quite a bit of time staring at her loom (because while she has slaves, and would be able to avoid doing the general weaving, she's quite accomplished at it, and often does it to relax) so perhaps I can use her to describe that part of life. Greeks wove, unlike Egyptians, from the top down on vertical looms. We have evidence of this in Herodotus and on painted pottery. But chapters on weaving are hardly going to keep things moving, so a switch of perspectives was in order.

By choosing a character perhaps not as familiar with the area, I'm able to give a closer account of things in general. He could stare in confusion or appreciation at the methods of construction and the temples that have been built. He could notice the richness of the fabrics which weren't available to his people in the north, and my leading lady might take for granted. And as a god, he could be noticed by the Greek pantheon within those lands. Maybe he even runs afoul of those other gods in his pursuit of my leading lady, who is married and locked away in her house. And doesn't that sound more exciting than watching a woman weave? More interesting?

Character perspective is quite possibly the most important tool in your writing arsenal. Choosing the right character to tell the story is critical. Choosing someone too limited in understanding can cripple the narrative and frustrate the reader, but choosing someone who is too omniscient can leave a reader disinterested in reading on, because they already know everything and there's no mystery to the story. Learning to stay within the point of view of the character(s) chosen is also important. In third person it's easy to play with, and easy to slip out into another character's head without meaning to, and while there are no hard and fast rules to how far you can go with third person--limited to omniscient is a fairly big sandbox-- and it's okay to break out into an omniscient eye, if that's your style, the trick is to be AWARE of the fact that it's what you're doing. To do it purposely, and know what you're trying to accomplish by making it happen.

Point of view isn't just about Obi-wan Kenobi wanting to twist his lies into truth. But it is about storytelling. And isn't the story that Darth Vader betrayed Anakin, and hunted down and killed all the jedi a simpler story than the more complex (and prequel/sequel spoiling) truth of how he fell to the dark side? Be like Obi-wan (and I suppose, George Lucas), and make sure you've got a character who can keep SOME secrets, and doesn't necessarily have ALL the facts, telling the story.


  1. I probably quote that particular line from Return of the Jedi more than anything else in Star Wars because of its relevance in life.


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