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A different perspective.
Sometimes in novel writing, a main character starts to feel dull and lifeless. His (or her) thoughts are cliched, his actions boring, and his dialogue feels as sluggish as swamp water.
At such times, I find that a fresh point of view is extremely helpful. If you’re tired of looking at the world through Bob’s eyes, try picturing the scene through the eyes of his best friend Larry, or through the eyes of his nemesis, the evil Black Knight.
You’re guaranteed to gain a new appreciation for the story and probably for Bob as well!
Switching to a different point of view is both a helpful tool and a danger. It’s dangerous because too much jumping back and forth results in confusion and the loss of reader attention. It’s helpful, however, because a different point of view adds new flavor and spice to the story.
From Bob’s point of view, we hear his thoughts and see events from his perspective. We get his feelings about battles, arguments, conversations, food, the weather, himself. But you can also reveal a lot about your main character through a well placed scene set in another character’s point of view.
Friends are an excellent source of an alternate point of view. Jumping into a best friend’s head allows you, the author, to show how the main character is perceived by those closest to him. It allows you to inspire sympathy or kind feelings in the reader through the feelings of a friend.
If Tolkien hadn’t utilized Sam’s point of view in the Return of the King, would the reader get the same appreciation for Frodo’s desperate struggle to get to Mount Doom?
I’ve been reading the Hornblower books lately. It’s an eleven book series written about a British naval officer named Horatio Hornblower and set in the days of Britain’s fight against Napoleon. The second book, Lieutenant Hornblower, is written entirely from the perspective of Horatio’s fellow officer and friend Lieutenant Bush.
From Bush’s perspective, we see Hornblower as a brilliant, if somewhat odd, young officer. Bush is both awed and confused by Hornblower and often downright irritated at his companion’s reserved temperament.
This foray into Bush’s point of view, actually serves to strengthen Hornblower’s character and gives the reader a greater appreciation for Hornblower’s genius than might have been gained through the main character’s point of view.
Using a friend’s point of view helps generate the same feelings in the reader and often serves to make the main character stronger.
Enemies likewise offer a fresh perspective. If you wish to portray your hero as an excellent fighter or strategist, by all means show it in an epic battle, but don’t neglect your enemy’s point of view for emphasis! Generally speaking, no other character will view the main character so critically or with such respect.
Employing an enemy’s point of view also allows you to raise the stakes, slipping in hints about the dastardly traps awaiting the main character.
Wayne Thomas Batson’s book Sword in the Stars is an excellent example of an enemy’s point of view providing insight into the main character.
When Cythraul – a pretty scary character himself – inspects Alastair Coldhollow’s home, the reader gains new appreciation for the skill of the Iceman.
Cythraul’s caution as he approaches the house highlights his respect for his enemy, a respect the reader is led to share. By the time Cythraul completes his tour, the reader is left with the impression that Alastair is one tough dude, and hoping that he’s tough enough to defeat Cythraul.
So, when should you use this handy trick?
To show contrast between the main character’s feelings and behavior.
Picture this scenario. We know that Bob is facing his first command. He’s worried that he’s going to mess up and make the wrong decisions, or worse, be undecided and not know what to do. Then, you switch to Larry’s perspective. Bob seems perfectly calm, rattling off commands like a pro without a moment’s hesitation. Suddenly, the reader thinks Bob is pretty cool.
To strengthen the main character.
Larry watches Bob rattling off commands and wishes that he could keep it together like that. Even though the reader knows how Bob is actually feeling, seeing the scene from Larry’s eyes makes Bob seem stronger. Bob visibly rises above his weakness, putting his fears behind him.
Employing a second perspective allows you to highlight your main character’s strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of another.
To evoke sympathy not disgust.
If Bob is going through a hard time, rather than dwelling in his point of view and risk making him seem whiny or complaining, you can jump to his friend Larry’s sympathetic viewpoint to achieve the proper reader response.
These are just a few of the many instances where a different perspective is helpful. Have you used this trick in your writing lately? Feel free to share an example in the comments.