Getting to the viewpoint

writing pen on notebook

Writing image courtesy of JPPI, Morguefile.

I am intrigued when an author — or blogger — chooses to depart from the usual method of writing. Many authors tell a story in the third person, while others might use the second person or even adopt a first-person view by having a main character act as the narrator for the story.

And the storytelling isn’t just limited to men or women. Some writers might create a story using a teenager, a young child, a cat or a dog as the narrator. Two bloggers I know, Jaclyn and The Byronic Man, chose to write some of their posts from their newborn’s point of view, making for some great material.

You can even turn a plot inside out when you’re a writer and go away from the initial introduction of the characters, the battle of the protagonist(s), the defeat of the bad guys and the denouement. For example, playwright Harold Pinter in his play “Betrayal” tells the classic story of a love affair from the moment a couple meets and has that initial moment of attraction, to the decision to cheat on a spouse, and coping with the emotions of the affair. What makes this story different is that the significant events of the love affair are presented backward in time, so that the couple meets for the first time at the very end of the story. I saw the play in performance once and it felt like seeing one layer after another taken away, as if the affair was analyzed and stripped down to the bare essentials.

In the movie “Snake Eyes” with Nicolas Cage, Brian de Palma took this method of storytelling a bit further. You piece together what’s going on because you are literally seeing different points of view from different characters.

Another book I read recently used an interesting form of plot development. The first chapter was about three women going to their college reunion; each wandered separately to a fountain on campus to relive some memories. The women started talking about their past love stories and the book split into three separate sections, with each woman’s story ending on a cliffhanger. The final chapter wrapped up all three plot lines to satisfy the reader’s curiosity about what happened to the characters. Nice.

I love this kind of creativity. Blog readers, what do you think is the most interesting departure from traditional storytelling that you’ve ever seen?

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Getting to the viewpoint

  1. One of the most interesting and clever plot devices I’ve read was Mark Dunn’s “Ella Minnow Pea.” While the story is chronological, letters disappear throughout the book as they are banned by the government.

  2. Even if you don’t write all the different characters’ points of views in the final version, taking time to look at the action/plot through different eyes can make the final story stronger…and help you spot something you might have overlooked.

  3. Lately I seem to being picking up more novels where the story switches viewpoints. At first I found this annoying and now, when it is well done, it very much adds to the plotline. A recent example is Lisa Wingate’s Dandelion Summer where the story is told between the viewpoint of a sixteen year old teenage girl handling too many issues and curmudgeon bitter with regrets . Third person would have distanced the emotions and one view would have been too limiting.
    The movie Vantage Point comes to mind.

  4. travelrat

    I like stories from a multiple viewpoint … like Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. The ‘letter and email’ format of ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ appealed, too.

  5. In my relatively recent coming into the whole writing scene, I’ve seen a lot of bloggers try a lot of different writing styles; one of the most effective styles I’ve seen someone consistently use is in the blog “On Being a Cop” the writer a retired Chicago Homicide Detective tells stories about his experiences in a very Noir style that I think he pulls off very effectively. I also think though that many bloggers tend to ignore traditional writing styles allowing them to write in a more personalized manner where content of what they say is more important than the stylization of how they say it… But then again I’ve only been trying this whole writing thing for a little over a year and a half so I can only base my observations on my limited time actively exploring writing. In my own writing I’ve stories in 1st and 3rd person perspectives as well as combined 1st & 3rd, rewritten stories from the perspective of a main character in the story but not the original subject of the story as well as deep analysis and humorous pieces… Though I’m not sure I have my own style yet, unless you count wordy… 😉

  6. Two films came to mind here that sound similar to what you have mentioned. Firstly, have you seen Memento? The story is told backwards in a very clever way so that you repeatedly cycle through confusion and then clarification, partly it’s a reflection of the state of mind of the lead character who has memory loss. The other film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, have you seen that? Again the way it is told leaves you confused and then clarified (in a good way!). I love it when books or films take an unusual way of telling story, if it works well it can turn a fairly uninteresting story into something amazing.

    • Yes to Memento and no to Eternal Sunshine. Another good one is the Kevin Bacon movie “He Said, She Said”. The story is told from his perspective for the first part of the movie and from Elizabeth Perkins’s viewpoint for the second part. Lots of “Aha” moments when you see the story through her eyes. I thought it was an interesting switch from the same old, same old.

  7. I’m so glad that you like my Peanut’s Picks posts! I haven’t done one in awhile, but we’ve read some great books together and I keep thinking, “This would make a good Peanut’s Pick…” so there should be a few coming up. 🙂 My favorite slightly-outside-the-norm perspective to tell a story is the epistolary style. I have read a few epistolary novels and loved them, but one example I found particularly creative was in the story “The Vital Importance of the Superficial” in the gaslamp fantasy collection “Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells,” which I read recently. It was such a fun way to tell that story. The authors of each of the stories included a little blurb about their inspiration or writing process or whatever they thought the reader might like to know about their particular story, and it turned out that one was written by two authors exchanging letters. When they started the story, they didn’t know how it would turn out – each one just added to the plot as she saw fit and the other responded, and they traded off. I loved that. I’d love to write a story or book that way myself, someday, if I find the right partner!

    • Ever heard of a round-robin story? A friend and I did that in high school. We made up this crazy story about our math teacher (with word puns included — ever try to create puns with math terms??!!). We took turns writing individual lines, making sure the end of each line was left open (like a cliffhanger). We had great fun creating it and my math teacher thought it was hilarious.

  8. 1st person is a more intimate read. 2nd person is just weird. But I do like some stories with POV changes. But it has to be a clear-cut change to avoid confusion.

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