Thursday, July 19, 2012

Positioning the camera: POV characters

Picking POV characters can be easy; if the story is mainly centered on one person, it they're sympathetic and/or interesting, then they're a shoo-in.

Whose story is it?
It can get trickier if your story isn't so focused. If there are several factions in play. If more than one character goes through major changes in the course of the story. Too many POV characters can dilute the story, though -- the story needs to be big enough to fit a large cast, and no that isn't an exact science.

I'm telling a smallish story, in the next Part of Disciple (Part V). In fact, it's so small and constrained that it's getting be a bit claustrophobic. And yet, I have four characters clamoring to be POVs. I don't think the story needs more than two, and I'm fairly sure that limiting it to one would mean missing out on too much. But four? Probably too much. So I've been weighing the pros and cons...

In the "for" column
Who's at the center of the action, if there's car chases and gunfights? (there aren't, in this story) Which character struggles to overcome the most important obstacles? Who has interesting things to say? Who would be good at explaining things the reader needs to know and/or would find interesting? And who do I find most interesting?

In the "against" column
How much overlap is there between this character and another potential POV character? How often will I need to decide who gets to narrate a scene because they're both there? Is this character's story important to the central, driving plot of the story? Would they just be a distraction? If it's not their story, are they sufficiently transparent to be a sideline narrator?

Control of information
POV characters are also a way to control the information the reader sees. This is one of the great advantages and disadvantages of first-person narrators. On one hand, you can spring stuff on the character because they weren't in a position to know about it. On the other hand, you're stuck with their eyeballs and sometimes you'll have to go through contortions to put them where they need to be.

POV characters are also a window into culture, since they bring their biases and opinions to the story. They work that information into their narration, and readers will pick up on it. That's another thing to assign a "for" or an "against" to.

I've mostly settled on which two characters I will use: one is kind of obvious, the other less so. A third one is still arguing her case. We'll see how it goes.

How do you pick your POV characters?

Beating a new horse

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