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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Same scene shown from different characters' pov/interpretations

   
Author Topic: Same scene shown from different characters' pov/interpretations
robertq
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Hi all,


I'm considering a story in which the same events or scenes are told from different characters' povs. The Japanese movie "Rashomon" is a good example of this. A woman is supposedly raped by a samurai. The same event is told by witnesses and
"participants." Very different versions emerge.
I'm trying to do the same basic idea, possibly using the parallel universe trope so that the same events are viewed by the
SAME character, but since the character's assumptions and psychology are different in each universe, his interpretation and reactions are very different.

A possibly back-breaking problem of this notion is plot and story-length -- if the same events are depicted but the character is different, and has made different choices,
how does he view the same series of events? How does one keep it from getting too long and possibly unwieldy?


Has anyone read anything like this? How have other writers solved the problem?

I've always been impressed by the breadth and depth of reading by Hatrack member, so I'm sure your feedback will be extremely useful.

THANKS!

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extrinsic
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I've read one short story anywhere close to the given multiple viewpoint criteria. Eight different characters reported their observations of one of the eight's nature. Each was of a different degree of literacy and dialect and bias, sharp differences in voice, so to speak, and want for the focal character's outcome.

The theme, or idea, of the story pivoted upon, overtly, a more or less committee coming to consensus about the vices and relative goodness and badness of the focal persona and, covertly, about the nature of observer bias effect. I do not have the collection at hand to name the story and writer -- the book is in storage.

Challenges for the type include: significant distinctions between each persona's voice and perspective, plus, observable, distinctly different biases for each persona; and as above, a focal theme or, actually, what a narrative expresses and implies about a distinct human condition; and -- the crux -- whether the type, or form, is essential for the narrative, could not be composed any other way.

To wit, does the form express and imply a profound and sublime harmony of beauty, truth, and goodness about human existence? No matter if the depiction is more so of human vice and folly and the unmerited misfortunes thereof for people like us (satire); actually, more appeal potential therefrom than the obverse: human virtue and prudence.

That way, a moral beauty, truth, and goodness discovery complication outcome transpires and a dramatic action completes and satisfies readers' sensibilities. The action, as it were, starts with a crisis, more or less misfortune due to self-error and folly; middle efforts strive to satisfy the crisis at great risk; and the outcome end is the crisis satisfied.

A principle of thumb, not per se a rule or law, for a character ensemble is no more than seven agonists, maybe as well up to seven or so episode installments in one narrative, each a complete scene related to a plot's structural shape. That's about how many sequential thoughts the adult human mind can process per given situation.

The story referenced above fits that principle, due to the eight personas all recount the one persona's "problem." Seven "objective" character accounts about one "subjective" character, who is also the "influence" character. Of course, that character's account is more or less the introduction of the story, a snapshot character sketch of the self and little dramatic movement because that character's motivations are not given, declared, or implied. Movement begins due to the other characters' accounts imply or declare their motivations related to the focal character's outcome. The overall plot and structure flow toward that outcome.

Anyway, such above are ways to constrain narrative length: limited ensemble, more substantively, what the narrative expresses about the human condition and why and how the multiple persona viewpoint form connects to that focus. For example, a maxim or proverb, like, say, but for this one fork in the road, this or that would have happened or not happened. See Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken." (Bartleby.com)

Oh, and a number of narratives where the agonist gets a do-over sequence might also fit the given criteria. Like the motion pictures Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow.

[ May 17, 2017, 10:41 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jay Greenstein
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In effect, you're illustrating a witness's testimony by presenting the scene as if it really happened.

I can't speak for anyone but myself, but were I to encounter it in print, my first response would probably be, "Wait...didn't we just see..." After that, it would be, "Oh no, not again. How many times must we do this?"

It's an unreliable narrator, times X, with X being the number of repeats. That undermines the believability of any scene. In reality, it's a gimmick—something to make your story different from most other stories. And as soon as the reader decides that's the case...

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walexander
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Most mystery novels use a form of this, but pov is the investigator or sidekick, whether first or third person.

What your thinking will be a tricky hornet nest. It will be difficult to make each pov interesting while at the same time not give away the plot. Because if the plot is just about different perspectives of culture on a problem you're going to end up neck-deep in research for accuracy to find the nuances to make it worth reading.

But what you're talking is becoming extremely common in film and TV. Really getting its first success with the movie: Vantage point.

In truth when you really think about it most novels use this technique to a limited extent. The quest party breaks up into two or more groups for whatever reason, and the reader gets to see how each group tackles there part of the same problem and combining in the climax. Even the switch from protag to antitag and back again is showing opposing views on the same crisis.

Just a thought,

W.

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walexander
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Actually, when you think about it, most prequel books are a part of this thinking. Because it usually has to do with giving the perspective of why the antagonist became an antagonist in the first place. Thereby, giving you the later book's perspective of the bad guy/gal.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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It might be argued that the play "Twelve Angry Men" by Reginald Rose is a variation on this idea.

One big difference is that the story starts out with eleven on the men agreed on a particular view of the situation and proceeds as the one hold-out convinces them to consider and then accept a different view.

It may not be exactly what you have in mind, but it might help you think about a large number of characters and how to make them different enough to be interesting.

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Grumpy old guy
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Akira Kurosawa's film was about exploring the nature of truth. What part of the human condition are you considering exploring?

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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The movie, Vantage Point, showed how individuals might interpret what they see differently depending on the context in which they witness an event, even how so-called impartial video can be both manipulated and misinterpreted depending on context.

Phil.

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robertq
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Sorry for taking so long to get back to you all. Computer problems and life has been crazed.
Hi extrinsic, you say,
<I've read one short story anywhere close to the given multiple viewpoint criteria. Eight different characters reported their observations of one of the eight's nature> do you happen to remember that story?

In answer to Grumpy old guy's question. The part of the human condition that I'm exploring is how radically different one can view the same things if one's mind-set is different, and then how that life change affects the rest of that person's life. Ex. A man has been anti-semitic, then finds out he's jewish.
How does the path of the life change with or without the information?

Great feedback guys. Thanks to you Katherine also. Will look into "Twelve Angry Men." Thanks to all!

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extrinsic
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Haven't found the great green doorstop reader book that multiple viewpoint short story is in. Found other things missed for years, though.
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extrinsic
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Found it! A Hero Ain't Nothing But a Sandwich by Alice Childress, 1973. A short young adult novel, not a short story.
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