This is topic Another POV Dilemma in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Lyrajean (Member # 7664) on :
I've always felt I could handle POV really well. Until the last week or so when I really began to question whether I was making the right choice in my story.

The story has two main protagonists. Initially, I decided to have one be the sole POV character.

It works cause he's at the center of things most of the time. He's an ordinary soul like us and I think provides a person most of us could readily identify with. Also it allows the reader to enjoy watching him figure out the mystery of who the person who will become the other main character is, why he's there, questioning his motives, etc...

The problem is I think realisticly he can't always be there to witness stuff, namely the long backstory that brought the other character into the picture. And the other main character would realistically be doing things behind the POV charcter's back to try and engraciate himself in the community, and further his own motivations part of this involves the use of some ESP talents which are really hard to explain or witness 'from the outside' of his head.

So, no I'm thinking could I switch back and forth betweeen the 2 men, chapter to chapter. The backstory and flashbacks could all be the second character.

Which revives another question, am I beginning in the right place?

Posted by Betsy Hammer (Member # 8139) on :
Without thinking too hard about it, maybe you should just go with the second guy. If you do both, then you lose one of your reasons for wanting to use the normal human (He would experience the mystery of the alien and the alien's motives. This would be pointless if you could give the same information with no effort in the next chapter.)

Also, you didn't lay out the plot, but it seems to me that you should always go with the POV of the character that has the most to lose or the most to change, etc. The one who's life is more threatened will be more sympathetic, whether they're human or not.

Posted by Lyrajean (Member # 7664) on :
There's the real debate.

1. The character who arguably suffers/has suffered the most is the mystery man, the one with ESP talents (Jan), not the current POV charcter (Ryan).

2. But, if I switch to Jan as the POV character. You miss the wonderful opening hook of having Ryan unravel the mystery of who Jan is why he's there and why he would risk his life to be shipped in suspended animation to this place so far from everywhere. You also miss his clinical curiosity about Jan's ESP abilities, which although rare, are of course no mystery to Jan who posesses them.

A brief synopsis would be the story is about 2 men who get to do some 'cowboy doctoring' on a remote outerspace colony. So a wonderful milieu of frontier medicine in the distant future coupled with a charcter driven story about the mystery that ensues when the 2nd man Jan arrives under suspicious circumstances (he was shipped in cargo in suspended animation at the very real risk of his own life) under pretenses of being new medical staff member that the colony requested (Ryan's been the only doctor on the planet till that point. Everybody wondering why someone with such talents as he has is really there. In reality he's running from something or someone(s) where he came from and that's where the backstory (that only Jan knows about) becomes important. There won't be another ship for 6 months so he has that long to gain or lose the colonists (and Ryan's) trust before anyone comes looking for him which will turn into a big bru-ha climax.

The story starts when the suspended animation box containing Jan is discovered in the supply ship (placed there by smugglers). Of course he's comatose, so he can't answer questions right away. People blame Ryan (the box was addressed to him) etc... and when Jan wakes up he's kind of secretive and not readily answering deep and probing questions about his background.

Do I stick with Ryan for POV? Do I begin the story at a different point?

I can't decide... Maybe I should jsut write the story as is. And decide to change it after. -Help!

Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :
While the mystery might be a hook, I think Jan's predicament is a better one.


Posted by Betsy Hammer (Member # 8139) on :
Jan's your man.

Hook-smook. You can build a hook out of anything, and Jan has a lot of interesting things going for him. He holds all the secrets, he's the one doing everything.

Your starting point should be the place where Jan's life changes, and should point toward your ending. For example, if Jan finds friendship/safety/home at the end, then I think you should start at the point where he's feeling most lonely and adrift. Or, if Jan repents of his crimes at the end, then you should begin right before the first twinge of guilt. This isn't exact, of course, I'm just throwing stuff out there to get you thinking.

Where you start has nothing to do with plot, it has to do with the *story* you're telling. What's the universal message you want to write about? Every great story explores a theme that can be transplanted from space to the sub-urbs. If you know Jan's *story* then we can figure out a good staring point for you.

I'll ask one more question, though. Is there a reason, other than the cool mystery idea, that you wanted to go with Ryan? Did your main theme relate more to him than Jan?

Posted by Betsy Hammer (Member # 8139) on :
Oh, and I'm loving your idea, by the way. I just re-read my already corrected post, and wanted make sure you knew that.

I have a very blunt, flippant style of communicating sometimes, and I realized my post might come off as a lecture or a criticism (like when I said, "hook-smook"). Please read my post as if I'm your BFF, smiling and laughing the whole time.

Posted by Betsy Hammer (Member # 8139) on :
I totally realize that I need to shut up at this point, but I just thought of one more thing...

I took you literally when you said, "character driven story." Meaning that your *story* is what happens to your main character. All my advice on starting point was based on that, but if you're *story* is actually about the "mystery of Jan," then the criteria for where to start would be different, and you'd probably go with Ryan for POV.

I'm pretty sure I understood you, but I'll ask anyway. Considering the whole thing (not just the hook in the beginning) do you want to write a novel about a person, or do you want to write novel about a mystery?

Posted by Lyrajean (Member # 7664) on :
Oh no worries about your tone. I'm sure I come off as preachy and stuff when I jump on these forums too, 'cause I'm always in a hurry.

I'm kind of in a manic writing stage now with the thing so my head is overflowing with ideas. Which is good the story is evolving...

You asked if I am writing a novel about a person or a mystery.

I think it is about 2 people. I want it to be about the relationship these two men develop on the edge of nowhere. The mystery of Jan's arrival on the colony, the unraveling of secrets, even the forces which may be pursuing Jan, these are things which just form the ostacles and at odd points aids to the development of a relationship. Without the partnership the plot will not be resolved. It really has to be a relationship of equals, and I can't help feelng if I chose one of them over the other as the POV character, the other's contribution gets minimalized.

Jan's not an alien BTW. He's human, or at least his ancestors were. One could get into a discussion about whether his race had been bred or engineered to the point where they no longer qualify from a biological standpoint.

Posted by bemused (Member # 8465) on :
My first thought was to center on Jan as the POV. But after some more consideration I think sticking with Ryan may serve you better. Ryan's own intrigue with Jan and the whole situation may work better from a reader's perspective. As you pointed out, he will be easier to identify with.

True, this may make it more difficult to include elements of Jan's backstory and what Jan does behind Ryan's back or otherwise in secret. However, if we see Ryan slowly and naturally discovering and learning bits and pieces of this it will avoid the risk of an info dump heavy flashback. Also it will help keep the reader's focus with the "now" of the story and with one POV.

If you are worried about having the less important character be your POV, think of the example of Watson and Holmes. Certainly Sherlock is the key protagonist, but the mystery of him, his strange habits and talents are better showcased from Watson's perspective than they would have been otherwise, in my opinion at least.

Of course this works because as much as Sherlock Holmes stories are about Sherlock solving a mystery, they are also about the relationship between Watson and Holmes. Watson is never merely a spectator, he contributes. Since you have said this is a story about two people I think it will work.

Posted by Betsy Hammer (Member # 8139) on :
Okay, then. You really seem like you know exactly what you want to accomplish, so I say do it. I think you should go with the switching POV because that IS your story.

My initial reaction was that all Ryan's wondering was going to be pointless because the reader also has access to Jan, but if you're aware of that, then you can work it.

BTW, I didn't think that Jan was actually an alien, I just called him that 'cause I figured it came to the same thing for POV purposes.

This would be the end of my limited advice for you, though. I've never written a multiple POV story. Someone else should step in, here.


Posted by Unwritten (Member # 7960) on :
If you have only one pov character, is there a point to writing in 3rd?
Posted by jayazman (Member # 2818) on :
You could, if you want a longer and more difficult to write story, tell the story from both of their pov. You could have your current pov go up to where you are now (I think where you are now) and then switch back and forth. You could have some real fun with showing what Jan is doing, and then have the other person (I forgot if you named him) not knowing and making assumptions based only on what he could know. The audience will know the story from both perspectives and you could show the misunderstandings and miscommunications and bad assumptions by both parties. This would be a very character driven story and probably longer and more complicated than what you probably want, but it could have some real possibilities.
Just a thought.
Posted by Corky (Member # 2714) on :
I'd recommend that you write both points of view and then decide which parts you like better and which parts work best to tell the story you want to tell. It could mean doing a lot of writing that will never see print, but even so, no writing is really wasted. Getting both of their points of view down on paper will help you understand them better as characters and can make the story even deeper, even if you don't use all the stuff you write.
Posted by Lyrajean (Member # 7664) on :
Thanks guys! For some reason I'd gotten it in my head from something I read somewhere that you could only have one POV character. Then you reminded me about mysteries. Maybe what I read was only cautioning against switching back and forth willy-nilly without distinguishing whose viewpoitn you are following. Well, I am very consciously trying to avoid that type of confusion.

I think I am just going to continue what I was doing. Writing from both Ryan's and Jan's POV where appropriate and go back later and decide if I really need to stick to one or the other.

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