A storyteller by any other name

Robert Louis Stevenson, the storyteller

One storyteller I always enjoy reading! Robert Louis Stevenson in 1892, as painted by Count Girolamo Nerli. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There are many ways to tell a gripping tale. Some authors go for the traditional one-person point of view, generally the protagonist of the book. Depending upon the author, that main character is a man, a woman, a boy or a girl. For example, Scout Finch, the daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, is the narrator throughout the book and you experience the book’s events through her childish perspective.

Other authors get more experimental. In one book I read, the narrator was several different characters, with the character’s name helpfully printed at the beginning of each chapter so you could tell who was who.

Some writers have even made their main characters dogs and cats. Ever seen “The Incredible Journey”?

I find it entertaining and a refreshing change when both authors and screenwriters play around with their characters and traditional plot structures. This change of viewpoints works particularly well in movie scripts.

I love the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors” because the movie’s plot splits into two parts: what would have happened if the main character had caught a London Tube train on a certain day and what would have happened if the main character had missed the same train on the same day. It sounds confusing, but  Gwyneth’s character gets a haircut in one storyline so you can tell them apart.

Kevin Bacon’s movie “He Said, She Said” and the Angelina Jolie movie “Playing By Heart” use the same concept. For most of “He Said, She Said”, the events happen from one character’s point of view, then it switches to the other character. You find out the the events in the first storyline have a little more to them than is first revealed. In “Playing By Heart”, separate storylines happen and then you get the surprise of seeing who everybody is in the final scene. I suspected that some characters were related, but I still was astonished by the final scenes.

There’s also the Dennis Quaid/Forest Whitaker movie “Vantage Point” and the Nicholas Cage movie “Snake Eyes”. The movie switches from character to character, with interweaving storylines. Each character story adds a bit more and a bit more to the plot until you finally piece it all together and understand what’s going on. I like a good mystery, so it was fun to work it all out.

This is the marvelous thing about being a creative writer, whether you’re doing stories, books or scripts. You can play around as much as you like with your characters, plots and scenes, as long as it all comes together and makes sense at the end.




Filed under Writing

14 responses to “A storyteller by any other name

  1. Different points of view are pretty entertaining and do add a lot to the story. It really helps when the book does put you on notice which one is talking now

  2. Absolutely agree – jumping around (as long as its not in a way that confuses the reader) is a great way to get more from the story.

    In my novel (and in the sequel I am currently writing) each chapter is split into two – the first part from the perspective of the main character, and then the second part is a series of third person flashbacks filling in the back story. For me I found this a much more dynamic and readable way to lay out a story that spans so many years without either having the main character constantly spouting exposition, or taking her perspective away and having it all third person (as her perspective is crucially important too).

    I love reading other books that play with ideas on perspective. Which is why I love the way the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) books are laid out – with each chapter focused on the story of a different character. It’s clever, it doesn’t jar by head jumping, and it makes it more compelling a read.

    • Hmmm…I’ve been hearing a lot of Game of Thrones lately…I may have to check out those books!

      • Personally I love them. I love the detail, the way they are written, the format and of course the story.

        My Husband has read them all too, and although he really enjoyed them he feels they need cutting down a bit, and that they feel like a bit of a ramble. But these are the details that I love and for me the overall feel is like that of an epic in historical tradition rather than a ramble to me.

  3. I love Sliding Doors! (The soundtrack is pretty good, too!) One of my favorite books (despite it being ruined by the ghastly film version) is David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Employing a sort of literary ‘nesting doll’ structure, there are multiple narrators across six different eras whose stories fade in & out… it took awhile to figure out what in the heck was going on, but the creativity in the storytelling blew me away!

  4. Deconstructed plots can be an interesting challenge. My favorite is The English Patient. Not necessarily different narrators, but definitely different plots wound together. Based on real events too. Another is Cold Mountain, also based on real events in the author’s family. I too liked Sliding Doors. And John Hannah….. Dianne

    • I didn’t know that The English Patient and Cold Mountain are based on real events. Interesting! I haven’t seen Cold Mountain yet so I’ll have to check that out.

      John Hanna is so good in Sliding Doors. One of his best comic roles ever, I’ve always thought.

  5. I love the movie Playing by Heart and never seem to meet anyone who has seen it! 🙂

    Hello from a fellow A to Z participant. Great blog you have here. I look forward to following you.

    • Thanks. And now you have met (virtually) somebody who has seen Playing By Heart. Who are your favorite characters in it?

      • I loved Meredith and Trent. Partially because they had great characters, but also I like the actors so much themselves. I love Trent’s lines.

        Meredith- You don’t sit around your house in an Armani suit, do you?

        Trent – No, my house is black tie.

        Or their initial conversation.

        Trent – I am not just asking you out as a preemptive strike against litigation.

        Meredith – Fine, I’ll have dinner with you.

        Trent – What changed your mind?

        Meredith – Anyone who can say preemptive strike against litigation with a straight face deserves a dinner companion.

        But really there’s so much to like about that movie and I agree that the multiple viewpoints all converging at the end is really cool.

        I love Sliding Doors, too, by the way.

        Have a great night!

      • M&T are good. I liked the Keenan/Joan storyline too — solitary Keenan and outgoing Joan.

      • I am thinking I may need to redo my choice for P and make Playing by Heart my post that day. Such a great movie.


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