NaNoWriMo Day 9: Delightfully bizarre points of view

by AA on 9 November 2011

When I read Joshua Ferris’ novel Then We Came to the End, the narrative point of view was a revelation to me. First person collective? If you had tried to explain to me how such a point of view might work, I would have understood it to be merely a novelty, a sort of academic exercise, not a wise storytelling decision. I would have been wrong. Read the book. You’ll see.

I wasn’t thinking of Ferris when I sat down to choose my narrative point of view for Realms Unreel. I did, however, end up making a weird choice of my own. I decided I was going to write the story from the perspective of an unseen narrator–not just your everyday third-person omniscient person–but an actual character who is unseen by the other characters for the majority of the story. My unseen narrator was Dom Artifex, bound by a mysterious connection to the protagonist, Emmie Bridges.

Deciding to write everything from Dom’s point of view made it easy to figure out how to tell the story in the first draft. Scenes could only happen if it were possible for Dom to be there. Only things that Dom could see, hear, or deduce could be in the narrative–no internal monologuing, thank you! I decided Dom was a very patient, distant sort of observer, since he is immortal, and he has been sitting around watching millennia’s worth of human shenanigans, after all. He would be above such petty things as emotions and adverbs.

Several drafts and rounds of reader feedback later, the story narrative split to be told from two alternating points of view–Dom’s and Emmie’s–and neither character was allowed to be fully above emotions or adverbs. Turns out that it’s hard to attract readers with characters whose emotions have to be deduced entirely by the reader :)

Anyway, choosing the point of view for Realms Unreel might have been the single most important decision I made, from the standpoint of getting writing momentum going. Without a point of view, it’s impossible to say anything. I could have spent a lot of time agonizing over the best point of view from which to tell the story, but instead I just made a strong point of view decision up front and ran with it. My point of view laid the ground rules for how the story could be told, so I never entered a point in the action where I didn’t have at least some baseline knowledge of how I had to write the scene. Although my point of view split in later drafts of the book, nothing about writing the first draft from Dom’s point of view was wasted or useless.

I kept things simple with Realms Unreel, initially choosing a single point of view and following it from start to finish. I’m going a little more ambitious with my NaNoWriMo novel‘s point of view. Not only do I have two main points of view, but each one of those points of view is a first-person collective point of view. My two narrators are two different physical locations: one is a private home in the foothills outside Kyoto, and one is a run-down shop in a commercial district in downtown Kyoto. It’s turning out to be a lot of fun to have narrators composed of multiple sub-voices (doors, tables, windows, Roombas, shoes, etc.). Making this bizarre point of view decision up front has given me tons of ideas about how to tell the story.

Previous post:

Next post: