For me, there’s a major decision that must be made towards the beginning of the writing process. And it’s a grueling, soul sucking question. Why? Because I’m not sure there’s a right answer. I mean, it could really go either way, you could make either work. And, most awfully, by choosing one answer, you’re forfeiting the possibilities of the other. You could drive yourself crazy thinking about it.
The dilemma: Perspective: Who’s telling the story? Is it in first person? Third? If it’s in first person, is that person a main character or someone on the outskirts or is it the dog? If you go with first person, you only get one side of the story; but, it’s a deep, personal look. If you go with third person, readers get an omniscient view; but, that ‘in the character’s brain’ thing isn’t quite the same.
For the book I’m working on now, I’ve made the decision to go with first person. And the reason is that my main character, through whom the story is told, has to go through this process on her own. It’s her story, so we need to hear her go through it. In this case, it will be much more genuine. But maybe I’ll play with this a little as I go…
Some things to think about as you ponder perspective:
- Are you writing one person’s story? Or the story of a town, a group of friends, team, etc.
- Will the character be where you need them to be (physically in the story) to get the storytelling job done?
- Which character’s perspective will provide the most (or most appropriate) information for the telling of the story?
- Would it make sense to have different people tell the story in different chapters? One book that I love called The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel actually tells the same story over and over, each chapter has a different character tell the story. It’s brilliantly done. Their experiences are dramatically different, the solid events are the only things that bind them together.
- Will it help the story to hear from one person or to have an all-knowing narrator providing information?
- Write just one chapter and see which perspective you like more. You, as the writer, have to connect with the choice – otherwise it really won’t work.
- Why not flip a coin? I’ve made great decisions that way. If the coin flips the way you want, you’ll be thrilled. If it flips the wrong way, you’ll be upset and, boom, you’ll have your answer.
- Be creative. Who says you have to choose. Let other characters tell a few chapters if you need to. Or switch from third person to first as you move through the book. Do what works.
Because in the end, you’ve just got to trust your gut on this one…and let the story be told.
Image credit: Scottish Libraries