Whose Story IS It, Anyway?

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Feel free to laugh at me about this, but it wasn’t until last June that I had this particular epiphany, and I can tell you exactly which book sparked it.

It was Shannon Hale’s Forest Born, the fourth book in her YA fantasy series. Each of the four novels stars a different main character, and the fun part about Forest Born for me was having the three earlier heroines there alongside the new MC and seeing how they’d grown and matured through the series and become such wonderfully strong women.

Okay, so here’s the epiphany. The main character Rin doesn’t think she’s as strong as they are and spends most of the book in awe of them. But when it got down to it, when the climax and the crises hit, it was Rin who had to save the day, not because the others weren’t strong enough, but because it was her story, her moment to grow and prove to herself and the reader that she was strong, too. If the other three had saved the day, it wouldn’t have been Rin’s story.

Yeah, pretty basic, I know.

The main character doesn’t have to start out strong and active, but by the end of the book, he or she needs to be the one “saving the day.” That’s how you know whose story it is.

At the WIFYR conference last June, the author I worked with read my first twenty pages and told me I really needed to think about whose story I was telling and think about whether I’d chosen the right viewpoint character. At the time, the conflicts and character motivations weren’t clear enough, and while I didn’t end up changing viewpoints, I have put a lot of thought into this subject since then. I want to be sure that, by the time I write the final draft, it will be obvious to my readers why I chose these viewpoints and why the story belongs to them.

In the fall I read Laini Taylor’s Silksinger with its multiple viewpoints, and the climax blew me away. I was so impressed by how well each viewpoint character fit into the solution. If any one of them hadn’t done their part, the world would not have been saved. It was awesome. It was team work. It showed me why I often love multiple POVs so much.

My goal now is to incorporate my seven viewpoint characters into the climax as flawlessly as Laini Taylor did, giving each of them a saving-the-day role that perfectly fits that character. The story belongs to all of them, and every draft I get closer to discovering how much so.

This draft I’ve done a lot of scene switching where I’ll take a scene from the previous draft and try writing it from a different character’s POV — not just to mix things up but to hone in on which character is most vital for each scene and which character’s story develops the most from those particular events. It’s resulted in some awesome changes. I’m so excited to show the completed draft to my writer’s group at the end of this month.

(I should give Laini Taylor the credit for the strategy, too, since it was something on her Not for Robots website that mentioned doing that: finding the best POV for each piece of the story.)

Writers out there, how do you go about choosing your viewpoint character(s)? Have you ever had to change the viewpoint? Do you tend to stick to one viewpoint or prefer multiple?

Readers, do you have a preference for single viewpoint characters or multiple? What have been your favorite books of either type?

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2 responses »

  1. There are a number of multiple viewpoints books I have loved, but they can also be some of the worst books out there. When the characters are clearly defined, you can make magic. Otherwise, forget it!

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