Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Trick To Point of View

After the success of my last post on writing backstory (find it here) I thought that I would write another one with a few quick tips on point of view.

Alright, comfortable? Here we go:

Tip 1: Remember that it is from the character's point of view, not the readers

Confused? Let me elaborate. Say that you are telling the story through the eyes of a middle aged man who isn't very compassionate and struggles to understand human emotion, he may be very factual and observant in his narration. Take this as an example:

He stared thoughtfully out of the window at the metropolis below. Cars streamed past making up a metallic river of colour between him and the towering buildings in the distance. A gentle knock drew his attention away. "Enter."
His secretary shuffled into the room, her hands wrangling with her long navy skirt. "Sir, your ex- wife is on the phone."
He sighed heavily before dropping into his desk chair. "Tell her that I'll call her back."
"She says that it's urgent."
He frowned, taking a moment to glance at the message that had just popped up on his computer. "Fine, put her through." When he failed to hear her leave, he glanced up to see her still hovering, her eyes appearing to be fixed on the photo on the wall nearby. "What?"
Jumping at his tone, she blushed heavily before continuing to fiddle with her skirt. "Nothing, sorry sir. I'll put her through now."
She left the room quickly, the door quietly clicking behind her.

We don't know what was wrong with his secretary. She clearly seemed anxious but, due to the narrator's point of view, we don't know why. What's more, we couldn't even tell that there was anything wrong with her by his version of events- it's through our perception that we notice her unease.

Tip 2: If you have more then one point of view make the difference obvious

There are various ways to do this, whether that be by showing a difference in character's personalities or the characters that surround the narrator. The author Trudi Canavan shows this brilliantly- especially in her 'Black Magician' trilogy (a series I highly recommend to any fantasy lovers!). She shows the contrast of characters by using different settings and by the different slang around them.

If you read the previous example and then the following, you'll see what I mean:

Her heart was pounding. That man- no it couldn't be. Pulling herself away from the office she stumbled over to her desk and gripped onto the wood tightly. It wasn't possible- there was no way...
A door slamming on the other side of the office made her flinch. Her heart was racing as she forced herself into her chair, her eyes roving about the room and her legs trembling.
She had managed to go all of these years without seeing that face- without having to deal with that part of her life- but it had once again come back to haunt her.
James Gardner, the man she had spent the last five years running from, seemed to be best friends
with her new boss and she had no idea what she was going to do about it.

From this we can clearly see the difference in narration as well as character's personalities. Also, as mentioned in my last post, this supplies a nice way to show backstory.

Tip 3: Be consistent

It sounds obvious, right? But you would be amazed by how easy it is to lose sense of the character's personality as you go on through the story (or screenplay, of course!)
Sometimes you won't have this problem at all- especially if you have a very strong willed characters- but if their personalities are more subtle or less outspoken you can slip out of character.
So, here are some quick tips (for my tip) on how to keep your narration consistent.
  1. Read how their narration starts. Unless the character has had a big revelation or a life changing event, they shouldn't have changed too much from where they started.
  2. Sneak in phrases during their internal thoughts that seem to summarise them. If your character is a pessimist they may have the occasion thoughts on how they "can't say they're surprised" over bad news or if they're sarcastic they may have thoughts about a character they clash with such as, "naturally" or "why am I not surprised?"
  3. Like the above tip, if they have a nervous gesture or particular habit make sure that it stays. Not only does it help to keep the narration consistent but it also can give the reader more insight into how the narrator feels or, if the perception is from another narrator's point of view who is speaking to the other character, it may give the reader an idea of what the character is thinking.
I hope these help and if you have any more suggestions or ideas that you want to add, let me know!