Thursday, August 25, 2011

Who do you think I am?

Last Sunday, the sermon at my church was about a time when Jesus asked different people “Who do you say I am?” It wasn’t a Bible story I was very familiar with, but it struck a chord with the storyteller part of me. Jesus didn’t ask, “Who am I?” The question was more subtle and more loaded – it was specific for each person asked. “Who do YOU say I am?”
On the drive home, my mind was busy relating this to fiction and story construction. It made me think about the ever-challenging Point of View aspect of writing. Will you write your story in first person, as if you are speaking for the main character? Or will you rely on limited third person, telling the story from a further distance? Will you see events through their eyes, or will you leap to an omniscient third person point of view and see into all characters thoughts – see events from multiple sets of eyes?
But beyond the POV you’ll choose as a writer for your novel or story, think about this: how do your characters see one another? What are the different points of view within your story?
Take a step back, and let your main character ask his supporting cast, “Who do you say I am?” What kinds of answers will you get? Is your main character fleshed out and well-rounded enough for the others to each have a unique view of him?
I happen to be reading Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion this week, which is a lucky thing. It is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.
The main character, Matt, grows from a young child to a young adult throughout the story. He is a clone, living in a fictional, futuristic country built on the out of control drug trade along the US-Mexico border. He embodies the outsider. He is both different from everyone around him, while simultaneously being exactly the same.
If Matt pused within his own story and asked, “Who do you say I am?” to characters at various points in the novel, he’d hear answers like:
·         Orphan
·         Child
·         Monster
·         Pet
·         Clone
·         Brother
·         Son
·         Friend
·         Prisoner
·         Promise of youth
·         Livestock
·         Hero
·         Enemy
·         Killer
·         Runaway
·         And student

Nancy Farmer helps readers see her main character through the eyes of others – allowing Matt to have more flesh, more body because the reader can see how others view him.  As the points of view change – as Matt grows in both age and in maturity – the answer to the question shifts.
Are your characters so well developed? Have you considered how your cast of characters sees one another? Could you answer on behalf of your various characters, “Who do you say <name of main character here> is?”
As if point of view, all on its own, wasn’t hard enough to tackle, right? I suppose I’m only now learning there will always be a nuance of writing to discover while driving down the highway or a storytelling skill to learn when you least expect it.
Think of it as a version of “job security” for writers. We’ll never stop learning how to tell a story better, will we?

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I write from a third person point of view but delving into the thoughts of main characters (is that cheating?).

    If the main character in my current work in progress asked the rest of the cast 'who do you say I am?', he'd probbably get these responses:

    nephew, annoyance, problem, love interest, threat, someone with promise, friend.