How important is it, when writing, to provide multiple points of view and multiple sides of the story? This is something all authors ask themselves, and it’s an important question without a clear cut answer.
The short and easy response (because it avoids answering) is: it depends on the author and the story. What the author wants/means to do, and the story itself and the method of storytelling.
The weird thing is, we sometimes forget that a character doesn’t have to be a narrator (or followed by a narrator) in order for his or her point of view to come across.
You don’t HAVE to have an omniscient narrator or share multiple first person account.
There are lots of things a writer can do–some more effective than others in a given scenario–to provide a point of view that contrasts with the narrator’s or protagonist’s.
- CALLED OUT: Your well-meaning protagonist can be called-out on an abuse/ oversight by someone else. This tactic rings true to life–people don’t often just sit and take treatment they consider unfair, or accept a status quo they feel could be improved. This can range from a full-fledged intervention to a simple off-hand comment that carries a lot of weight. (Example from “Law and Order”: “One day, Paul, you’ll have to ask yourself if you’re a lawyer who’s a black man or a black man who’s a lawyer.”)
- THE MONOLOGUE: For example, the villain’s monologue (so wonderfully spoofed in “The Incredibles.”) It’s cliche, and limited, and just might work better broken up into parts and pieces scattered throughout the novel or at least into a legitimate conversation. But it CAN work. Monologues are an option.
- QUESTIONING ONESELF: Stuff routinely happens in life that shakes us: makes us question what we believe, what we want, and the systems under which we live. Circumstances can bring a character, easily, to function as his or her own devil’s advocate.
- READING: Some characters are readers. Some writers write about societies with blogs, or newspapers, or a similar method of public information-sharing. Your characters can reasonably encounter a contrasting point of view through such a forum: consider “The Daily Prophet” in the Harry Potter books, always against Harry and used as a great tool by the author to show why the wizarding world grows to dislike and mistrust him.
- A DEBATE: If you’ve ever watched old episodes of “Law and Order,” you know what I mean here. There are episodes of the show where a crime is centered around an AIDS mercy killing, around affirmative action, around abortion, around the death penalty, against religion or faith, around all kinds of issues where people disagree: and the show’s main characters often debate/ argue their opinions in the context of the case at hand. No character’s opinion is pushed or given greater weight. They just present their cases, putting the viewer in the position of the jury.
Not all these options will fit every story, of course. Debates work on “Law and Order” because the characters are educated professionals and they are focused, due to their work, on a “hot topic” that is suitable for debate. The show is, by nature, political.
If you write historical novels set in the medieval period, newspapers aren’t an option. But a public gossip mill…. an overheard conversation in a tavern, perhaps, or on the street…. There are ways to twist and adapt classic strategies to the period.
So, what are your thoughts about this? Do you like it when different points of views are cleverly but blatantly shared? When do you think an author’s focus becomes too much about “thinking” and “arguing” and “information,” so that different opinions subtract from the action and the story?
Can you think of a different way to contrast a character’s point of view? Please feel free to join the discussion.
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