January 8, 2018

Perspectives: A Novel View

A big decision in novel-writing concerns which perspective you'll present to unfold the story and/or develop the characters you have in mind.

To find what will work best for your book, consider these questions:

• Whose story is this?

• Can your main character tell the story well or will someone else’s view be needed?

• Would a single viewpoint or multi-perspective be better?

• As a reader, which do you prefer?

My favorite novels almost always center around the viewpoint of a single person I identify with or admire such as Anne of Green Gables, Mary in The Secret Garden, and Christy. In addition, I like to observe people and discover what shapes, guides, and motivates them. So, it’s pretty much a done-deal for me to write from a single viewpoint, staying in the eyes, ears, knowledge, and feelings of one main character who intrigues me and has her or his own story to tell. Therefore, I mainly have to decide whether to use first person (I, me, we us); second person (you) which isn’t likely in my case; or third person (she/he, them, they.)

Regardless of persons, the advantage of this single view is intimacy and immediacy. i.e., You feel as though you’re there as the story unfolds and primary character matures. This makes the book your story too as you read. Or, equally important, this gives you an idea of what goes on in the heads of people like and unlike yourself.

In describing my book, Hand Me Down the Dawn, which I recently revised for its second printing, I’d have to call the novel “character driven.” i.e., The motivations, choices, introspection, and action come from one main character, who’s dealing with a theme of trust as she overcomes hard times and enjoys life-changing experiences in this inspirational romance novel set in Florida in 1895.

That’s the story behind my story, but let’s look at a different perspective on perspectives. In his newest novel, Dancing King, Glynn Young needed multi-viewpoint characters to keep his action-driven story in motion. Besides expanding the view for readers to get a fuller picture of the story movement, this treatment effectively produced a potential television mini-series, especially since the book is the third in a trilogy.

But I wanted to know what Glynn’s thoughts were and why a multi-viewpoint story came to him. When I emailed to ask, he wrote, “It's a big story, ‘big’ in the sense of complex. It's the story of a young man unexpectedly finding himself and his family in an exalted position.”

The size of your story and its theme, purpose, and reach can help you determine the perspective that will work best for your novel.

In my novel, for instance, a young woman grows up and learns what love is. And so, telling her story from her point of view makes sense.

In Glynn’s trilogy, the story of the main character – a priest-turned-king “is the heart of all three novels. In the first, it's part of a larger group of characters' stories, but he remains at the center. In the second, there is a period in which someone else must tell the story because he's incapacitated. In the third, the story is so large that it can't be told by just one narrator. To tell it properly requires the key players.”

The overall effect reminds me of an action movie that cuts from one character and scene to another as each episode interlocks to create a larger story with a huge theme: the need for political and religious reform. If, however, a single character had presented such a global story, it would most likely come across as either too cerebral or too slanted to maintain balance, and so Glynn's novel is well-suited to a multiple view.

Character-driven or story-driven (action)…? Knowing which category your novel best fits will help you to find perspective and get your writing off to a good start. Then, you can let your main character or main story idea lead you to The End.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018

Dancing King, paperback

Hand Me Down the Dawn, paperback

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