“There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.” Goethe
I’ve told you that in September I was able to talk to an agent who did a critique of the first ten pages of my novel. Much of our discussion was on point of view, which has triggered a lot of thinking and learning on my part.
Point of view has always intrigued me. As someone who’s been a therapist, I’ve learned a lot about entering into the perspective of another. That is a critical skill for helping an individual, couple or family make changes in their life/lives. You have to join them where they are, in order to help create a map for how to get to where they want to go.
Covey’s quote is a duplication of my experience. Individuals suffer when they don’t feel heard, and for couples (or friends, or colleagues) failing to listen fractures the relationship. So, slowing down the communication, getting each to listen and “reflect back understanding,” as Covey says, can be healing.
The KEY to this is: To really understand other’s point of view, you have to stop asserting your own. That’s the hardest thing anyone can do. Why? Because typically we only half listen, busy marshaling our rebuttals, hearing our own viewpoint echoing in our ears.
But if you want to listen, instead of making a statement back, you ask a deeper question. Probe. Really try to understand and ask questions until you do. If you do, it gives the other person the chance to do the same. It’s not hard, but it takes work. I have known all this from my therapy practice. So, what did I learn? That writing is a lot like therapy: who speaks and who listens are important questions.
These days the hottest selling books are written from one point of view. One character, usually the “I” of their own story, tells it to you. The only point of view is theirs. Some like this style because it assures the reader will identify with the teller of the story. We become Bella. We love Edward…well a few of us love Jacob.
What is difficult (or not achieved) using first person narrative, is how to create a deeper understanding of the other characters. Show don’t tell dialogue alone is often not enough to demonstrate motivation or doubt, and many characters, especially the villains, in some surprising best-selling books can seem pretty one dimensional.
At any rate, the agent who read my opening pages told me that she wouldn’t represent stories from more than one point of view. She cautioned me strongly not to have more than two, and the true kiss of death, she warned, is an omniscient narrator.
The crazy thing is that I enjoy multiple points of view. I love free ranging discussion, brainstorming sessions, the interchange of ideas. And I have always enjoyed knowing the inner workings of more than one character as well as observations on other characters by those close to them. I relish complexity. I want to hear more than one take on where things stand, wrestle with difference, strike a balance.
In my favorite fantasies, multiple volumes with many characters, I think having only one viewpoint would be restricting. Do we only want to know what Frodo thinks, or Sam? What about Gandalf and Aragorn? Don’t scenes with Gollum bring us into the story?
My novel, an interplay of historical fiction and folklore fantasy, contains a number of complex characters. The Call tells a coming of age story of a young girl, Lis, who is not the simple healer she believes herself to be. This story is set against a backdrop of political intrigue true to that time (1446 Poland) during a contest for who will be king. If there were only one viewpoint it would have to be Lis’. Yet in the grand scope of my book, her choices not only impact herself, her family and her friends, but also her country. To do this all justice really requires several characters to help carry the plot line, and these characters have choices to make as well.
So, I realized that I had to find a way to solve this problem. One point of view or many? IF more than one, then how to manage them? I decided on delineated scenes carried by one character’s viewpoint at a time to solve the problem of confusion…and to still keep multiple points of view. What I hope is this allows my reader the chance to identify with more than one character.
The other thing acheived is that it allows scenes in which my villains express their thoughts. They may still be wrong, even evil, but at least some of their choices can be understood. I think it makes them deeper, multi-faceted, and the possible choice to follow them and choose evil more understandable. To me, like to Goethe, that is not insignificant – every point of view, however skewed, has meaning.
Of course, while I have made the choice of who gets to speak, it remains to be seen if anyone will….listen.