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I Am the Camera. No, He Is the Camera.

by Alice Day

What story am I telling? Who are the players? And finally, the novelist must ask perhaps the most important question of all: How best to tell the story?

I’m talking about point of view (POV). What is the best angle “to shoot” your story so that the world, the landscape you’re creating, the character(s) and their relationships, the conflicts and tensions, and the resolution can best be viewed.

Jean Rhys rewrote WIDE SARGASSO SEA numerous times during the nine years it took her to complete the short novel. The first section is written from the point of view of Antoinette, the second part is from the point of view of both Antoinette and the unnamed Rochester from JANE EYRE, and part three is from Antoinette’s (Bertha’s) perspective. Rhys regularly revised the voice of the novel, trying to figure out for herself whose story she was telling and how to best tell it (if she had an editor helping her, it wouldn’t have taken her that long). She wanted the reader to understand the madwoman’s unraveling, and because of her use of perspective, she succeeded.

In THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, Helene Wecker works from the omniscient (or God) perspective. This point of view allows the reader to visualize the colorful neighborhoods of New York City in 1899, and it allows for Wecker to write historical fiction that combines folklore and realism. With the freedom to enter the minds of all of her characters—including a golem and a jinni—she creates sympathetic and believable personalities, even in fantasy scenarios.

In KIND OF KIN, Rilla Askew draws on multiple points of views and perspectives to tell a complex story of community and immigration. Askew uses both limited third-person perspective and first person. In that way, the reader experiences the fictive world through the perspective of individuals while allowing for a broader view.

Finally, Bradford Morrow’s THE FORGERS is told entirely from a first person point of view but the narrator is unreliable. The reader is aware that she’s being thrust into the brilliantly warped world of a man who practices literary forgery, and she is forced to ask what else the narrator might be forging.

How best to tell your story? A fun exercise is to look at a book you’re reading and consider how it would change if it were told from a different perspective. Now consider the book you are writing. Whose story are you telling? What perspective will best let the reader uncover your literary nuances; from what perspective should your narrative be shot?


ALICE DAY has been an editor since 1988.

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