Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Selecting the POV Character

You know about POV styles and you can make decisions whether to use first or third singular or multiple POV in a story, but with so many choices, how do you decide which character should “own” which scenes. Which character needs to be the focus and can provide the reader with the more satisfying read.

As you develop your plot, you will begin to know the characters and what is going to happen. You know that each scene must present important information and must move the story forward in some way. This means that what happens will have an impact on the major characters of the story. Sometimes one character in particular will feel the impact more dramatically than another. Sometimes the action is important to both characters so deciding which character should be the focal character of the scene or be the POV character, will force you to ask yourself some questions. Who has most to lose in his scene? Who has the most at stake? Whose response will arouse deeper emotion from the reader?

Having the most to lose or the most at stake means that this character will feel the greatest impact on having the new information come to light. It might mean the character will lose something like respect or his home or his job or the love of his life. Maybe he will lose his privacy by telling a dreaded secret that he’s covered for years.

Once you answer the questions above, you will have a better idea which character’s emotions, reaction, and introspection (thoughts) are most important to revealing something significant and will add to the impact of the story. Which character will relate more completely to the reader. Remember, once you selected the POV character, then the scene is viewed through that person’s eyes. What the POV character thinks, feels, knows, and senses is made known to the reader. The other characters attitudes and feelings can only be speculated.

For example, look at this scenario, a story that involves a man, Jim, who once embezzled from his employer, and his friend, Bill, relates a story to him about someone in his company who’s embezzled and he fears the problem may put scrutiny on him even though he’s innocent. We could imagine that both points of view might be important since the man relating the story fears for his well-being and if he’s a major character, the reader cares as well. Still, if the reader knows about Jim’s embezzlement, his reaction might be the one we want to witness first, because this will bring out his feelings of guilt and shame. It will make him deal with his illegal behavior, and if he’s a good friend, he may want to provide some insight for Bill, but Jim can only do that by confessing what he did in the past.

You as the author will have to decide which of these characters can best provide the shock and emotional impact on readers and can add zing to the plot. The decision is easier if the readers are not aware of Jim’s crime. You would then view the scene through Bill’s eyes with only Jim’s reactions seen by Bill and leaving Bill and the reader questioning Jim’s peculiar reaction. Later in the sequel (the scene that allows Jim to relive the scene with Bill)you will let the reader view Jim’s reaction and his quandary. He will then show the guilt and shame and his added guilt of not telling his friend the truth so that he can support him.

When you cannot decide, picture the scene from each character’s POV and look for the pros and cons. What will be gained or lost when choosing one character over the other? Which will have the greatest impact on the story for the readers? Challenging yourself to make a good decision is part of the writing process.

Making the best POV decision possible helps to deepen characterization, and it also provides what it takes to write a book that grabs the reader and holds on.

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