Changing point of view in your stories can change everything.
If you’ve spent much time writing, this probably isn’t news to you. But I think sometimes we can forget just how powerful a tool it is – not least because there are plenty of examples of brilliant novels that never change point of view. Try and imagine Harry Potter written from a different point of view, for example – it wouldn’t be remotely the same.
The thing is that whichever choice you make, that choice is incredibly powerful. This is especially true in fantasy novels. Fantasy is perhaps the genre that is most known for its point of view changes. George RR Martin changes point of view so often that you can sometimes go half a book – or in some cases a whole book – before you cycle back round to a character. In many ways, this multi-viewpoint approach is the standard.
But I personally find that when I sit down to write something, I default to single point of view. I did it writing Mundane Magic – the entire first draft was wholly and completely from Odette’s point of view. Now that made it powerful in a certain way. It gave me as an author the power of a biased narrator, one whose perspective is limited, and gave me a lot of control over how the audience saw the action.
This is something that John Green does to great effect in Turtles All the Way Down – and no, I will never stop talking about this book or how incredible it is. As I type this, it is sitting just to my right on top of my computer, a reminder to be daring and bold. And Turtles is that powerful because it is entirely from Aza’s point of view.
However, this didn’t work as well for Mundane Magic. As those who have read it will know, there is a point at which it becomes very hard to appreciate what is happening from Odette’s point of view. It desperately needed another viewpoint – so on the second draft, I went through and added Henry. It was like the whole novel had changed. I count that decision as one of the most powerful things I did to improve the book.
You would think that I would have learnt from this. But no – I wrote the first draft of Protos last year, and lo and behold, I wrote it entirely from one character’s point of view. Today, three chapters into the second draft, I started writing from a second point of view – and once again, the entire story gained a new level of depth.
So why is a second narrative point of view so powerful? For me it really comes down to the opportunity to show a new perspective. I have never been comfortable writing from an omniscient narrator point of view; my narrative has always been a way to convey the character of the person from whose point of view I am writing.
Inevitably, no matter how perceptive or wise your protagonist is, they are going to see some things in a certain way. From the very literal sense of not being in the room where it happens to the personal bias of hating someone so much they cannot see their depth – there will be points where your narrator simply cannot show certain things.
You might want that. That is the power of choosing a single narrative point of view. But, like me, you also might find that deviating from it offers you a greater ability to show the truth of your story. To show the thoughts of your other protagonist – or perhaps even an antagonist. To show your first protagonist through the eyes of someone else.
So why not try it. Try writing just one scene from another point of view. Look at how it changes your story and what it can add to it. You might find that it doesn’t work – that it reinforces your decision to keep a single narrator. Even if that’s the case, you’ll have learnt a lot more about your story and how you want to tell it.
But you might just find that you open your story up to more complexity, more depth and more engagement. And – if you’re taking part in Nanowrimo – you might just find it gives you that boost of inspiration that you desperately needed!