AUTHORS: 5 Ways to Share a Point of View That Contrasts With Your Protagonist’s

Sometimes characters don't see eye to eye. How to present both sides of the story?

Sometimes characters don’t see eye to eye. How to present both sides of the story?

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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  1. Nine ways to get information into the hands of a character
  2. Posts on Point of View and Narration

28 responses to “AUTHORS: 5 Ways to Share a Point of View That Contrasts With Your Protagonist’s

  1. Musings from a writer's life

    Loved this post – gave me something to think about. I never really thought about these “tricks” like this before, but now I will definitely see if I can apply some to my writing.

  2. I use character dialogues a lot. For example, one of my characters takes the life of a non-monster enemy for the first time. He has a few conversations with the characters that are used to such things over the course of the book. So you get their opinions of death on the battlefield during these talks.

    As cliche was monologuing is, it really gets the job done. I get a some criticism for using it. Apparently, anything more than 3 sentences of dialogue is too much for some readers.

    • I definitely think there is a difference between 3 or 4 sentences of dialogue and a monologue! Readers sure can be picky!

      Monologues are one of those things, I think, that can be overdone and can feel forced and cliche and are easy to mess up.

      That doesn’t mean they can’t be done well and feel like they make sense. Especially given the personality of the character. I would never say monologues are always a bad thing or indicate poor writing. Far, far from it!!!

      Like you say, though, some readers dislike them no matter how well written they are. You can never, ever please everyone 🙂

      • It was one of the big complaints of my books and I’m trying to cut it down. Yet, it’s one of the biggest tools to give information in present tense.

        Something I always considered when authors use monologues is the character doing them. If the character is a chatty, verbose one then monologues and long-winded talking makes sense. There are real people like this, so why not characters?

        • Makes me think of Jane Austen: characters like Miss Bates (Emma) and Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice). You want to slap them upside the head every time they start off for pages of monologue, but they are chatty, insecure, and verbose.

          It’s their manner and it makes sense. They end up annoying the reader the way they annoy other characters in the story. It makes sense to me…. I don’t consider it poor writing at all! Now, Elizabeth Bennett going off like that would be a different matter altogether.

          Like you say…. depends on the character.

  3. Great list! I think it’s really interesting to discover different characters’ points of view in different ways without ever actually being inside their heads. That’s how we get to know people in real life, after all. We don’t get to experience those characters as deeply as the POV ones, but we do get to know them.

    Also, I think it’s important when there’s a debate not to just turn each character into a strawman defending a point of view just for the sake of the author wanting to present an issue. It should give us insight into who they are and mesh well and interestingly with what we knew of them previously.

    • I agree: fiction, ideally, is about people and life and living. All people in real life are more complex than strawmen.

      And I LOVE your point about how we get to know what people think in real life without getting in their heads: so true!!!! We can always turn to real life and how we get to know people to help readers get to know our secondary characters and what makes them tick.

  4. I haven’t read a well-written monologue since Shakespeare 🙂

  5. My book was historical faction that dealt with many sensitive and delicate topics in the 1950s-60s such as, unjust murder, rape, abortion, adoption, mixed race children, birth control, interracial relationships, racial tension and civil rights. It was important to have dissenting opinions and much of that was accomplished with different character profiles. For example, Trent was chauvinistic and racist. He never comes out and says so, but is somewhat stereotyped, his behavior, language and actions spoke volumes. Sybil, was most non-judgmental, again, her whole character profile reflected this. She was unconventional and most of her friends were traditional. There were conflicts that caused her to keep secrets. Even having the cab driver yell out, “Is this nigra a botherin you ma’am.” Set the tone. I am looking at the methods you described and I can see many ways that they could be incorporated in my WIP which is a crime novel. Thanks! Your posts are always filled with such useful info for writers.

    • Wow, a story like the one you describe is definitely ripe for lots of depth and discussion between characters. Writing with its greatest potential!

      And crime novels: yep, totally ripe for this kind of thing 🙂 A lot of this list was inspired by my recent rewatching of some seasons of “Law and Order” 🙂 And I’m also reading Sherlock Holmes right now for more or less the first time. So incredible!!!! Glad you enjoyed the post! Hope it proves useful in some way.

  6. Victoria should be teaching at a university. However, fortunately, we have her here. I have learned so much about writing from her posts and value each piece Victoria writes about writing.

  7. Yes, ‘called out’ is one of my favourite methods (or rather, what I tend to do without thinking). Only a few days ago, I realised when editing that my upper-class Male MC is prejudiced against taking the servants in his household seriously, despite the fact that he dislikes his parents’ mistreatment of them. On the other hand, his left-wing brother was the perfect person to say ‘hold up a minute, we could really use the butler’s help…’
    I will admit that the MC has a monologue himself, about love. It was difficult to make it sound a spontaneous argument and not a lecture, actually… 😦
    “Do you like it when different points of views are cleverly but blatantly shared?” Hmm, that depends (!). I’m reading a fantasy book at the moment where the writer has moments of ‘by the way, this is how things work around here’, but I can understand that she wouldn’t really have had another way of doing so. I like it when characters stand up to their beliefs for the sake of plot, not for the sake of having an opinion.
    Great post! I hope to soon write one about my characters’ differing opinions and love in my novel. And you mentioned The Incredibles! *high fives*

    • hehehe…. LOVE the incredibles!!! I agree, I love when characters stand up for their beliefs to advance plot or because they’re forced to… better than just throwing opinions around.

      And i LOVE your example about the butler and calling out! It’s really good. Thanks! I think that might help me distinguish when calling out makes sense and who should do it

      • Aha, thanks 🙂

        By the way, reading the rest of the comments, it seems monologues are difficult to judge objectively as a writer. How do you personally classify them?? (And what makes a good monologue in your opinion?) And, I agree that some characters suit the monologue. My MC has a degree in philosophy, so, like me (well, I start in two weeks :P), he does have a tendency to say things which other characters think are too poetic.

  8. akismet-29794b4c3af9d3489a170d14760587fd

    These are some great suggestions! I tend to use dialogue and omniscient narrator the most but will definitely try shake things up a bit.

  9. I like what you refer to as ‘called out’. It’s often used with more subtlety and wit than the others, and can be a powerful tool for showing that the PoV character’s biases aren’t the authors.

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  12. Multiple first person POV is great. I find it really good to get an older character showing some sympathy to a younger one when going through tough times.

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