WTW – Same Event, Different POV

Note: I swear I’m lifting this from Writing Excuses (though, I bet they lifted it from elsewhere… just wait for more on that), but since they’re so awesome and their mission is to educate and inspire writers, somehow I think they’ll be okay with the fact that I couldn’t remember which episode I heard it on.

Oh, and hey, some spoilers for Fight Club, Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time to follow (links to Amazon don’t earn me anything, but are provided just in case you’re the last person on Earth to have not heard of these).

Point of view is absolutely critical to storytelling. In my opinion, and maybe this is because I grew up steeped in orthodox 3rd person limited POVs like A Song of Ice and Fire or Wheel of Time, but I think POV is especially important to spec fiction.

Fight Club is told from a limited POV, the narrator’s… uh… not dissociated?… point of view. If you had an omniscient narrator, that story isn’t very suspenseful now is it?

When I was a teenager, Wheel of Time was a series that had a few books yet to go, and the internet was rife with discussions and arguments that hinged EXCLUSIVELY on the limited POV of the 3rd person POV character for one chapter or another. For example, at the end of The Fires of Heaven, Asmodean is killed but doesn’t identify his killer… and thus nearly a decade of debate raged over who it was that killed him.

Flip that around and tell the story from Graendal’s POV and there’s not much mystery, eh?

Same goes for Game of Thrones, in the book it’s not immediately obvious that the people Arya overhears discussing schemes over Ned Stark’s life include the Spider, that adds to the mystery. In the show, however, we see the Spider, and… uh… that’s not that mysterious, eh?

So the point I’m making here, and this isn’t that revelatory, is that a story can change based on who does the telling. When we pick the POV to show a scene from, it merits wondering how another character would perceive the same scene.

(and here’s where the Writing Excuses reference pays off… and seriously, I think the examples I’m using are directly lifted from my memory of an episode)

Think about a couple of people riding into the city, a scholar, a soldier, and a spoiled lord/gourmand:

The soldier rides up and observes the height of the walls, the garrison between the crenelations, the slope of the hill that would make storming the city a nightmare. His character informs his observations.

The scholar doesn’t notice the walls, but she does anticipate finally reaching the storehouse of books stashed away in the city’s ancient library. She’s been waiting for access to these writings for years.

The gourmand doesn’t care about any of that. He knows the city’s got a world renowned chef. He’s hungry and tired, and cannot wait to do business over a daring preparation of fugu.

It works as an exercise. Take a scene from something you’ve written and tell it from another character’s POV, consider how it changes, consider why you told it the way you did in the first place. At the very least it’s fun to think about.

One thought on “WTW – Same Event, Different POV

  1. […] Last week I discussed how different characters will have different perceptions of the same event, ho… I mentioned using the concept as exercise to delve into character, but didn’t really think that all of the perspectives on the event would be in the final product. Don’t tell that to Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Hamilton: an American Musical (yes, a musical, because great writing transcends the borders of media) uses this device in successive songs to spectacular effect. […]

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