Monday, April 11, 2022

A Tale of Three POVs

 Q: Do you have tricks for writing multi protagonist stories? Multi POV stories? 

- from Susan

No tricks. It’s what we’ve all heard, observed, and admired when it works. Basically, each character with a voice and a unique perspective needs to be as distinct from every other POV as you can make her, him, or them. Each POV character has a responsibility to the story that goes beyond mere dialogue or personal tic. Each POV advances the story by action, voice, and distraction. Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you have three distinct point of view characters in a crime fiction novel.

Character #1 will represent the “normal” persona, someone the reader may identify with. The character seems to view the world through a lens not unlike the readers, is angry or sad when the reader might be, likes and dislikes the same food, work situation, or cultural touch points. When Character #1 is telling the story, the reader believes them*. Character #1 acts and moves the plot along according to their values, professional or social position, and day to day logic. This character uses language in one way, probably linguistically clear, and perhaps echoing the way the reader talks.

Character #2 will seem less transparent, may have bad habits like lying, losing their temper, or living like a slob. They may be defensive, mean to other people, be stubborn, and drink too much. It’s apparent Character #2 is biased, careless, and may lead the reader astray. In fact, Character #2 is themself often going off at tangents, making things happen in the plot without seeming to plan that. This character may speak in non-sentences, may offer non sequitors, swear or otherwise cloud their narratives.

Character #3 is perhaps a child, or some other innocent, who looks at what is happening and reports it in literal, undigested ways, without the ability to synthesize and without an understanding of nuance. And yet, character #3, moving along a line, may be the one who generates the twists and turns, sets up crises, and acts as a magnet for trouble without being self-aware. This character speaks differently from the others, in simpler syntax, perhaps, or in dreamy similes.

Readers are led to trust Character #1, distrust Character #2, and fear for the safety of Character #3. 

But – the big aha – characters and their points of view serve the plot. So, after leading the reader along, the author may twist the true meaning of the points of view the reader accepted. The reader’s led to believe Character #1, even to like them, but Character #1 turns out to be a corrupt person who uses their persona to mislead the reader and the other characters, killing with impunity. Character #2, who could be the villain because the author disguises their strengths behind a wall of distraction, trusts their instincts, doesn’t accept what’s presented, and discovers the false nature of Character #1. And character #3? Their simple understanding of right and wrong allows them to report faithfully to the reader what’s really happening in front of them, even though the reader didn’t give them credit for the reporting until the end.

Different personas, different postures to the world, different language, different habits, different points of view, all of which are catnip to the author. 

*This post is an experiment about the proposed language changes that eliminate gender. I found it awkward at times – what do you think? 

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