One of the biggest decisions you have to make before you begin writing a story is through whose eyes are you going to tell the story–otherwise known as a Point of View. If you’re new to the idea of POV, click here for a good primer.
For those writers who invent their characters first, and then build their stories around those characters, choosing the POV is an easier task. But what if the story–or at least the premise—came first? How do you know who would be the most effective POV character? What if you’re using multiple POVs and have more than one to choose from for a specific scene? If you decide to tell the story through multiple POVs (yes, I know, technically this would be PsOV, but roll with me) you’ll probably struggle a little, even if you’re a character-first kind of writer.
In my novel A Sword for Chaos, all three of my main POV characters shared the same physical space for a good portion of the story, and were present for the same events, so I came up against this conundrum more than once.
Sometimes, the only way to tell which POV is the most effective is to write the scene from more than one, and see which works best. This is a good learning experience, and I’ve done this myself on a number of occasions, but it takes a lot of time. I won’t say wastes, as I firmly believe that no writing is wasted, especially while you’re still learning the fundamentals of the craft. It’s always frustrating to have to cut a few thousand words, though, when you realize something isn’t working–so here’s a shortcut. Ask yourself the following:
Who is the least equipped to handle the story/events?
Who has the most to lose?
Who will grow the most from the experience?
Ultimately, this all boils down to who’s going to have the most feels? A big part of writing is an attempt to get the reader to feel what the characters are feeling, so nine times out of ten, you want to go with the character that will experience the most fear/anger/attraction/eagerness/doubt/etc during the course of the scene. That’s where the conflict and tension are–and where the conflict and tension are, that’s where you want your reader.
So, what if you’ve got a tie? In a good story, you probably have the tension ratcheted up as high as possible for everyone involved, so it might not be immediately obvious. In that case, you’re going to have to decide who needs the ‘screen time’–or rather, whose emotional arc needs the screen time. One of the worst things you can do is put a character front-and-center just because you haven’t for a while, and you feel like you should (Perrin Aybara, I’m looking at you).
In one particular instance, I had my two main characters dealing with their primary conflict. All of their personal insecurities and frustrations were about to come smashing catastrophically together, and the scene was kind of a big deal for both their arcs. However, I found that with one character, I’d actually already devoted a good bit of wordcount to her side of the emotional equation, and bringing it up again would feel like retreading old ground. If there’s one way to make a character seem whiny, it’s to go back to the same angst over and over again. On the other hand, I hadn’t touched as much on the other character’s inner struggles, so I ultimately opted to tell the scene from his point of view, and it was the right call.
Point of view can really impact the tension and pacing of a story in a massive way, so it’s important to get it right. It’s also a great way to help you look at an issue from another angle. If there’s a spot in your story that you just can’t muscle your way past, try writing it from another point of view. It might not be the right one in the end, but sometimes turning the box over helps shake something loose, and you can come at the scene again with a fresh perspective.