|Photo credit: davidz on Flickr|
One of the earliest questions you must answer, however, before you even write a single word of your soon-to-be Work In Progress (or WIP, for those of you wondering) is which character will be your point of view (POV) character?
Choosing a POV character is arguably the most important part of novel-planning for limited third or first person POV stories, because it affects absolutely everything in the story—from voice, to plot points, to how (and what) information will be revealed to your readers. The POV character that you choose will affect every word in your story, because the story will be filtered through his or her lens.
But while sometimes the POV character is obvious right from the start, choosing a POV character is not always so cut and dry. In those instances when you’re not entirely sure whose POV you should write from, there are two major questions you must ask yourself:
- Which character has the most at stake? This is the most important question—which character has the most to lose? Readers don’t want to hear from a character who has nothing to lose—that character won’t be emotionally invested in the story and so neither will your readers be. The character who will take the biggest risks, who will suffer if he doesn’t succeed, who is so emotionally invested and entangled in the story that he couldn’t remove himself from it even if he wanted to—that’s the character you want narrating your story.
Once you’ve determined which character has the most at stake and will be most affected by the plot, you can then move on to the second question.
- Am I invested enough in this character to stay in his/her head for 300+ pages? This is important because sometimes, especially in the early plotting of our story, we don’t know enough about our characters to really determine how interested we are in them. Before you start writing, however, it is vital that you make your character interesting enough to you that you look forward to spending the next many months living inside of his head—because when you’re writing, especially in a close POV, that’s exactly what you’re doing. If you’re not interested enough in your character to do so, you can pretty much guarantee your readers won’t be very interested either, assuming you even finish the story.
Let’s test two examples:
- Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)—The Harry Potter series has an enormous cast of characters, but the obvious choice for POV character would be one of the main three characters—Harry, Ron and Hermione. Out of the three, Harry definitely has the most at stake—the most evil wizard of all time tried to kill him when he was an infant and left him an orphan, and now that he’s older, that same evil wizard is returning and he hasn’t forgotten about little Harry Potter. The interest bit (very slight spoiler), as we learn later on, is if Voldemort had interpreted the prophecy that led him to attack Harry when he was a baby differently, he may have tried to kill Neville Longbottom instead, and the first story would likely have been Neville Longbottom and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone, instead.
- The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)—It could be argued that anyone chosen in the Reaping has pretty near equal stakes—there can only be one winner of the Hunger Games, so every tribute has their life on the line. Why then, did Suzanne Collins choose Katniss as a POV over Peeta or any of the other tributes? I’m sure there were many reasons, but the two that stand out to me the most are these: Katniss has a little more at stake than Peeta, in that Peeta knows his family will survive without him if he doesn’t win the Hunger Games, while Katniss isn’t so sure and (IMO) Katniss is a more interesting character than Peeta.
That’s not to say that Peeta is boring—but he’s good with the crowd, he’s level-headed and consistent, while Katniss is terrible at public relations (a big deal for Hunger Games tributes), has a relatively short fuse, doesn’t trust anyone and is incredibly stubborn. All of these factors give her more trouble during the games, and put the readers on an emotional rollercoaster throughout the plot.
Choosing a POV character isn’t a process that should be taken lightly, but once you’ve chosen the right character to carry your story, the rest will fall into place.
How do you choose a POV character? Have you ever switched your POV character after you started writing? Share your experience in the comments below—I’d love to hear from you.