Another writer and I were talking about point of view recently. We were discussing the prevailing wisdom in the writing world that the point of view you want to be in for any given scene is that of the person with the most to lose, or gain. We also discussed well-known best-selling authors who break all the point-of-view rules and head-hop so much that even their biggest fans get dizzy, but that’s a subject for another day. The latest weather report for the northeast gives me an excellent example to explain how very different the same event can be experienced depending on whose point of view you see it from.
Huge white flakes are dancing past the window when you wake up and you can’t even see to the end of your own driveway. The car is snowed in again and it doesn’t look like the street had been plowed either. There are already several inches of the new stuff on the ground and the weatherman eagerly displays a map showing this storm is far from over. Is another day of snow a good thing? Or a bad thing? Is there excitement? Fear? Worry? Or just grin and bear it?
You’re a kid with a brand new sled and it's a school day - another ten inches of snow is most definitely a good thing. A GREAT thing. But if you’re the kid’s dad and you have to shovel the driveway before you can get out for work, or you take public transportation and you end up standing in the wind and blowing snow for a half hour because the bus is late your view is decidedly less positive. And what if you’re the family dachshund desperate to find a place to do your business and get back to the warmth of the house? Or the mom who has to take yet another day off of work because there’s no school. Again!
The same event. The fourth Monday in a row with a foot or more of snow. So many points of view to see it from.
The Fisherman who knows his boat will sink if he can’t find a way to get to the dock and clear the snow off it.
The guy in the plow who’s already been up all night clearing streets.
The owner of a building who knows that the weight of the snow already on the roof is more than the roof is rated for and here comes more.
The policeman, or nurse, or doctor who can’t take the day off, but the roads aren’t plowed yet. They’re going to have to pray they can get to work safely.
And that’s just a snowy day in New England in 2015. Think about the books you write or read.
What if someone has a gun? How many different points of view? The man with the gun? Or the person the gun is pointed at? The father or mother or lover of the person the gun is pointed at? Maybe it’s a cop trying to make a split-second decision – shoot or not? Or maybe the man holding the gun is trying to work up the courage to end his own life. There could be half a dozen people in the scene with the gun, but who has the most to lose? Whose point of view adds the most tension and emotion to the scene?
Point of view is important. If you want excitement, then maybe the snow should be seen from the eyes of that kid with the sled or a brand new BB gun. If you want a sense of urgency, then maybe it’s the doctor with a very sick patient waiting for him to get to the hospital or a robber hoping the bank teller will hurry up. A feeling of impending disaster? Try the fisherman with his life savings tied up in a boat about to sink under the weight of the snow or a a handfull of soldiers outnumbered ten to one. Point of view does more than tell a story. It sets the tone and lets the reader know what’s important. Point of View makes all the difference in how emotionally invested the reader will be in the story.