Ten Tenets of Novel Writing: Perspective
There are a lot of elements that go into writing a good book, and with those a lot of pitfalls that can cause people to trip over. Throughout these series I’m going to be exploring these different elements. This essay is going to be looking at my fourth tenet: perspective.
For this, I’m not talking about the point of view in a technical sense—first, second, third-person, singular or plural, individual or multiple—but I’m talking about who is telling the story, literally, and who it is about. With a basic plot, some characters, and a cause of conflict, you next need to decide who the story is following, and who is imparting that tale.
Just because your story is from a first-person perspective does not automatically mean the narrator is the protagonist. The Great Gatsby, for example. Similarly, third-person stories can be told in first-person, such as Interview with the Vampire, where the story-within-the-story—the vampire’s tale the interviewer is documenting—is from the vampire’s point-of-view.
Within the story there will obviously be multiple characters, yet which is the main one? The Shining and Murder on the Orient Express would both be radically different if the story was that of another character instead of Jack or Poirot. On the other hand, The Hunger Games would largely hold the same plot and conflict if it was Peeta’s story, at least at the beginning; he’s still being opposed by the games but, as his goal would be different from Katniss’, it would lead to a different story.
Every person in your story has their own story and it’s your job, as the writer, to decide which story it is you’re going to be telling, and then work out whether they or someone else is telling it, what their angle is, and why they are sharing this story. There are countless reasons to make a decision and none of them matter—ultimately you need tell the person’s story that you have to tell.
© 2020 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.