June 01, 2020, 11:51:10 PM

Author Topic: Little Point of View problem  (Read 4454 times)

Offline Yora

Little Point of View problem
« on: September 24, 2014, 04:57:23 PM »
I got some ideas for a couple of connected stories, and doing some preliminary planning, got two idea for approaching the issue of the narrative point of view, which unfortunately don't quite fit together completely.

Since I get a lot of my inspirations for storytelling from TV shows and videogames, I think I would be doing best to approach the narrative style from a similar perspective. The narrator simply describes what an outsider observer is seeing. The reader is basically watching everything happen while always looking right above the characters shoulder. The story does not go inside the mind of any character and the reader only sees and hears what the characters sees and hears. Communicating emotions by describing expressions could be a challenge in itself, but otherwise I quit like this approach.
The other thing I want to do is giving the reader only the information that the character has. General information about the greater world around the story, which is known to all the characters, is provided by the narrator, everything else is to be either spoken aloud or written down and the reader looks at it together with the character who finds the piece of text. I want to avoid the technique of jumping into other characters and especially the antagonists, to allow the reader to get a complete picture. If the protagonist is clueless and confused, than the reader is as well.

Now here is the problem I am already seeing. Since the view is always third person, there is no clear definition who is actually the protagonist if the story follows a group of two or three characters. And what happens when they are separated?

On the one hand, I want the reader to only have the same information as the character the story is currently following. But on the other hand, I don't want to be stuck with always following the same character. Do you have any ideas what I could do to make this still work?
One nice piece of advice I just read was that the point of view in a scene should usually be from the point of view of the character who has the most at stake. In this particular case, one solution would be to have both characters have their own stories while they are separated, but only telling the one that is the most interesting, or will have the most relevance later in the story. I've seen that done a couple of times and while it works, the effect was usually not that fantastic. If you have any ideas how to do something more creative with the situation, I would love to hear it.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Liselle

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2014, 09:37:49 PM »
Hmmm that's a tricky one! Maybe it would help to ask yourself these questions: what is the story that I want to tell and what's the best way to tell it? I have a sense that getting really fancy with view points just for the sake of it wouldn't be very helpful to a reader. Like if you're wondering whether you should narrate just the protagonist's movements or a gang of other characters as well, I say let the story tell you whether that's necessary or not. The other characters must have stuff significant to the plot happening as well that progresses the story from scene to scene. If they don't, is it really necessary to show what they're doing? Or would just narrating your protagonist's movements be a clearer way of telling your story? Not sure how helpful that was but it's an interesting topic to ponder!
“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

Offline Yora

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2014, 11:02:55 PM »
In the story I am currently plotting out, the protagonists are a duo that enters a cave but ends up being separated. I already decided that A will fight the big monster in the end, and has to do so alone. There is also a witch who created the monster, who I think should probably be fought as well. If A fights her, then B is reduced to a sidekick who ends up being left behind and does not have any significant contribution to the resolution of the story. But I feel if B goes off to fight the witch, it would brobably not really work as a story of a descend into the beasts lair.
Part of the tension I have in mind is A being conflicted about chosing between going looking for B and continuing on the monsters trail. Since he does not know what happend to B, I don't want the reader to know either. B first appears again when the two meet together after the witch and monster are fought. Adding the experiences of B after that also seems completely impractical. The reader already knows both meet again and are alright.

I think in this story, there really is no way around A hogging all the spotlight. Given my choice of over the shoulder observer point of view, this story pretty much demands it. The best solution is probably to give B a strong characterization and focusing on their relationship as a team in the first half. That way the reader will hopefully be concerned about B, without being able to read the worry in As mind.
However, this is likely going to be a situation that will come up again, so I am interested what other options there might be.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Elfy

  • Writing contest regular
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 7298
  • Total likes: 794
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Purple Dove House
Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2014, 11:49:01 PM »
3rd person PoV does work for what you want to do, i.e.: not lock yourself into one characters setting or viewpoint. George Martin very successfully employs 3rd person PoV, while seeing the same event from different characters viewpoints in A Song of Ice and Fire, and he lets the reader know what character's story or view of things they're following by titling the chapter with their name. You could use a mixture of 3rd and 1st person viewpoints. Rachel Caine did that with some of her later Morganville Vampires books. Mostly the story was in 3rd person PoV, but then she decided she wanted to follow specific characters more closely and get right in their heads, so she included some first person PoV chapters. Larry Correia did something similar in Monster Hunter: Alpha. Jonathan Stoud also used alternating viewpoints in his Bartimaeus books. Every time the genie is talking his chapters are 1st person and when it's any other character it's in 3d person. John Scalzi's Redshirts has codas at the end written in first, second and third person, and as he's basically describing a TV show from the inside of the story that may be something you could consider reading as a research thing. It's also a pretty funny book and won the 2013 Hugo for best novel. You could also consider writing it in 2nd person, that's not easy, but it may fit for the way you want to narrate the events in the way TV shows do it. It's a matter of experimentation until you find something that fits what you're trying to accomplish. I would suggest reading other books that use alternating viewpoints to get a feel of how it's done.
I will expand your TBR pile.

http://purpledovehouse.blogspot.com

Offline cupiscent

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2014, 02:39:52 AM »
Thinking about it like television is probably more helpful than you think. In most television - TV without a main character who narrates (so we're inside their head, effectively) - we learn who the important people are by weight of representation: we see them more often, we learn more about them, we know more about what they do and who they are. We care more because we're given more. (There are other elements too: for instance, you can usually tell whether a new character is going to be a cameo or a new recurring character by the emphasis placed on their introduction.) Show us your characters in action, and we will start to understand who we're following by... well, who we're following.

And consider how a television show might handle your A&B in a cave scenario. A and B separate, and there are alternating scenes of their progress and uncertainty. A meets the monster: gasp! (commercial break, lol) Cut to B, who meets and fights the witch, but the scene cuts away from him at the pivotal moment, when it might still go either way - back to A, who fights the monster and escapes, not knowing whether B is alive or dead... and then later is reunited with B, who relates how he beat the witch when all seemed lost. (And perhaps consider strengthening B's personal conflict with the witch - is she his mother? his sister? did she cause him a personal grief? - so that that conflict isn't a sidekick-fight, but a meaningful conflict with its own emotional weight.)

Good television keeps tension in mind; good narrative does similarly.

Offline CameronJohnston

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2014, 09:00:10 AM »
Third person limited should work well for what you want to do. Good to think of it shoulder-cam view in cinematic terms, with the viewpoint nailed to one character. Too many people head-hop in the same flow of narrative, leading to confusion.

Personally I would go with multiple third person limited here, and rather than have a chapter for each character or having B disappear and then infodump at the end I would chop and change the viewpoint throughout the story, possibly giving a main character more page-time. To keep B in the story you might want to consider B being captured by the witch. Then you can drop in the odd bit of B-viewpoint of the horrible fate that is about to befall them, which would help in ratcheting up the tension. Of course A is entirely unaware, still fretting over going back for B, until final confrontation with the witch.

The only problem is signifying which character we are currently following (I've seen this done very badly). You can do this with them having a different character voice or start with their name, or have another character as a different sex to help the reader tell them apart.

-------------
...Grignir finished off the cave-snake with a mighty blow, grunted, then ventured deeper into the cave.

"Yikes," he thought, dusting off his motley pantaloons and checking his lute was intact. "How am I going to climb back up there?"...blahblah...

He grunted, spat, crackled his knuckles and heaved a rock from his path to reveal...

The bard muffled his harsh breathing and pressed himself against the wall as the heavy footsteps came closer. He swung his sword as a foot came round the corner. In the dark, somebody grunted as they blocked the blow in a clang of swords.
------------------------

Crap as the above is, Gringr would never say "Yikes" or wear pantaloons, so mentioning the name or type(bard etc) is not needed because of a clear differing voice between them. A tic like Gringr grunting would serve just as well to say who we are following if the other character does not do this.

Try playing about with it. I think it would be better to have two narrative strings of tension rather than one and the other not mentioned until the end.

The Traitor God & God of Broken Things

Offline Yora

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2014, 09:44:49 AM »
Jumping back and forth between A and B seems to be the common way to handle it, both in most novels I've read and in TV. The one thing I dislike about it is that it makes the reader know things which are unknown to the character they are currently following. I feel that this somewhat removes the reader from the action, making you watch the characters perform an already complete story, rather than living it with the character as it happening.

Sometimes I read scenes or see something in a work that uses this common approach and start to imagine how things are looking from the current characters perspective, who is unaware that someone is on the way to deliver him a new weapon or device that will allow him to complete his hopeless task. You probably encountered several cases where at the end someone explains "what really happened", and I usually feel like it cheapens the whole experience. Why not keep the unanswered questions unanswered. It sucks the "magic" out of a story that had been great the whole time with some mystical uncertainty. Or when someone leaves the group to sacrifice himself, but you are either shown that he survived and came back, or that he is definately dead. Take for example the last parts of Lord of the Rings. Gandalf and Aragorn feel quite certain that either Frodo or Sam are still alive and have the ring, because the world has not ended yet. They have no idea where they are or how they are doing, but decide to create a huge distraction in the hope it provides them an opportunity to slip through to Mount Doom. They have no way of knowing if this is the right moment for the distraction, or if it would be better to still wait one more week or if they are already a day too late to make a difference. And then they see for certain that suddenly Sauron is gone. If they hadn't had the huge luck of giant eagles coming and finding them outside Mount Doom and bring them to safety, nobody would have ever known what happened to the two and how the ring was destroyed, only that it apparently was.
There is also a nice moment at the end of the videogame series Mass Effect:
Spoiler for Hiden:
The Human fleet and their allies build a huge device using ancient blueprints they discovered, which seem to be for a weapon that can destroy the invading aliens that are in the process of extinguishing all galactic civilization, but they don't know how it really works. At the end of the last game, the machine is ready and the main character is one of only two survivors of the team that is send to put the machine in place and activate it. Huge battle, pretty much everyone dead, Earth already in flames and only a single final hope to save the galaxy. Almost passing out from her injuries, she makes it to the button, pushes it, and falls to the ground next to a big window with a great view of Earth and the massive battle. She is catching her breath, but then gets a radio call from the Admiral: Nothing is happening.
What now? Is it broken? Do they need to do something else? Was that machine ever going to work? What do you do now? Is there even anything you can do now? This was the only hope of the whole Galaxy.
Of course they then find out what needs to be done (in what is probably the most hated ending of any videogame, ever!), but in that one half minute, the completely emptiness of having faild and nowhere to go was amazing.
I love that feeling of uncertainty (and I'm one of the people who think the final shot of Inception was awesome and almost everyone is asking the compeltely wrong questions about it) and I want to try out how the reader can actually experience it.

I think that maybe my problem is actually just a minor one. The story I have in mind is probably going to be in the 30 to 40 page range and I want to use the two characters in other stories as well. If A is going to be the hero in this one, I can have B doing the great things in another one.
The main reason that got me thinking is that A is male and B female. And having one of the big conflicts the descision to finish the job or going to save his lost and possibly injured woman just doesn't sit quite right with me, especially in a story that introduces the two characters.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline cupiscent

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2014, 12:47:16 AM »
The one thing I dislike about it is that it makes the reader know things which are unknown to the character they are currently following. I feel that this somewhat removes the reader from the action, making you watch the characters perform an already complete story, rather than living it with the character as it happening.
Absolutely - and that's why (in my humble opinion) you only want to use this technique to increase tension, not decrease it. You want the reader to know things that the characters don't that make the reader go, "Oh no, character X thinks it's all under control, but when character Y shows up, it's all going to go pear-shaped! Can Z divert Y before that happens?!"

Another good examples is how fantasy often includes little asides showing you the villains putting their plans in motion. Good instances of this make the reader go, "Oh no, this is going to have terrible impact on the heroes, can they handle it?" Bad instances make you go, "Well, now I know what's going to happen, where's the mystery?"

In your A-and-B-in-the-cave scenario, you can potentially maintain tension even through A's victory by not yet knowing whether B has survived - and it will be a hollow victory if the witch has won.

A way of keeping track at this sort of thing is having another column in your plotting outline that keeps track of what questions are still unresolved for the reader at the end of each scene. Ideally, at least one question should be resolved in every scene (otherwise it can get frustrating), but there should always be at least one remaining - or a new one - to pull the reader forward.

Offline Yora

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2014, 12:54:53 AM »
It works, of course. And often very effectively. But I think you have to give up some other interesting options when you do things this way. When deciding on these things, you always gain some and lose some. Not letting the reader know everything that is happening is something I rarely, if ever, see and I really like the idea of trying it out to see how it works out.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2014, 06:08:36 AM »
Sounds like you're mostly trying for something called objective third pov (sometimes also called cinematic pov). This is where you hover over the characters and show everything from without without having an all-knowing narrative voice (which would be omni) or dipping deeply into the perceptions and feelings of one character (limited third). Some authors will use this for transitional scenes, but I'm coming up blank for an entire novel written in this viewpoint (doesn't mean they don't exist).

It could be interesting if you pull it off. Success may hinge on your being able to show enough for the reader to feel the stakes and all that, yet not getting too bogged down in cinematic description. One challenge lies in giving the reader something to hang their hat on and relate to. It sounds a lot like watching a movie, but the one thing prose fiction can do that movies can't is draw us into the hearts and minds of one or more character in a story.

A famous short story that uses the objective viewpoint is "Hills Like White Elephants" by Hemingway.

Offline Yora

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #10 on: September 27, 2014, 10:04:55 AM »
I think probably a crucial aspect will be successfully describing the outward expressions of emotions of the characters. In a movie, the actor is showing the characters emotions with their face and posture, which can have infinitively more layers than you can ever do as a written description.
As a little trick or aid, I want to try describing the world and people around the protagonist not as they objectively are like a photograph, but "colored" by the characters emotional state and personal values. Something looks dangerous, decadent, appaling, or inviting depending on how the character is feeling when he is encountering it.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Gordon A. Long

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #11 on: September 27, 2014, 08:19:32 PM »
Dear Yora,
POV may seem to be all about revealing information, but from the reader's perspective, it's all about empathy. More POVs = less empathy. A more objective POV = less empathy.
The main problem with third person limited, especially if you refuse to go inside your MC's head and tell his emotions, is that it's difficult for the reader to develop really strong empathy with the MC.
The main problem with moving to other POVs in the story is that it dilutes the really strong empathy you get with a single character.
And the problem with misuse of multiple POVs is lack of proper cueing as to whose head we're actually in. Get the reader mixed up and you lose him or her.
Especially if you're not certain about it, I'd suggest one POV per chapter, and use some of the techniques mentioned by others above to keep the reader very sure who is who. I don't see why that wouldn't work for your "A and B separated in a cave." Be kind to your readers and keep them close to the same time line, as well. 
I solved the "revealing information" in my Sword Called Kitten series by having the story from the POV of the Magic Sword. That way, if I wanted the reader to find out something the MC couldn't see, I just had him lend the Sword to the other person  :)

Best of luck with it.

Gordon

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #12 on: October 06, 2014, 10:21:29 AM »
As a little trick or aid, I want to try describing the world and people around the protagonist not as they objectively are like a photograph, but "colored" by the characters emotional state and personal values. Something looks dangerous, decadent, appaling, or inviting depending on how the character is feeling when he is encountering it.

Now that sounds more like limited third. Here's a useful set of links (on an editor's site) that discusses the different narrative points of view and what the strengths and weaknesses of each are.

http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/26/point-of-view-the-full-story-introduction/

http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/26/point-of-view-part-two/
http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/26/point-of-view-part-three/
http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/11/16/deep-pov-whats-so-deep-about-it/

Offline Yora

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #13 on: October 06, 2014, 11:45:48 AM »
Thanks for the links.

But I think what I have in mind doesn't really match any of the categories mentioned there. But I don't think my idea is actually that unusual. It would be basically comic book perspective or movie perspective, only with verbal descriptions of pictures.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: Little Point of View problem
« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2014, 10:10:18 AM »
Well, pov isn't always an all or nothing thing. Whenever we try to describe stuff, we get stuck with discrete categories, but in fact, things can meld together. I think the biggest pov no no is if the writer is in limited third and they head hop from character to character within the same scene. That rarely works out well.