Tuesday, June 26, 2012

point of view fixes everything #1

The Fourth Street Fantasy Convention had a good panel called "point of view fixes everything," but the panelists forgot to mention the most basic reason why thinking about POV is useful for a writer:

Point of view tells you where to start and stop a scene or a story. The essential questions:
  • Where do the important events start and stop for the POV character?
  • Which character has the most interesting perspective on that part of the story?
Consider a murder mystery. You have three obvious POV choices at the beginning: the victim, the murderer, and the detective. Those aren't your only choices—you might start with the person who finds the body, or the coroner who discovers an interesting fact about the body, or anyone whose first experience with the case is interesting—but those are the obvious ones.

If you're starting with the victim, the story starts when the victim becomes aware that something unusual is happening. If you're starting with the murderer, the story starts with the decision to commit the murder or  with the murder itself. If you're starting with the detective, the story starts with the detective learning about the case.

The character with the most interesting POV and the most important character in the story are not necessarily the same: Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist, but Watson is the better POV character because Watson's a more complex character than Holmes, who is brilliant, but broken and monomaniacal in a way that's more interesting when seen from the POV of Watson, who loves and admires him.


  1. Do they mean "fixes" in the sense of "repairs" or in the sense of "fasten, make permanent"? I like that it works either way ;)

    1. I'm tempted to go with C) Both of the above. I think "fasten" works, because POV fastens a perspective on a tale. People can write books like An Instance of the Fingerpost 'cause POV shapes a story. (Though the copyright office may disagree. Ahem.)

    2. ETA: An example of POV changing the story so far as copyright is concerned: The Wind Done Gone.