Another point of view
I’m partial to the subjective, ‘close’ third person point of view in my novels: the reader sees what the character sees and feels, and not much else. Since I write romances, I usually show the action through the eyes of two main characters – the star-crossed lovers – although the style would allow me to use a wider range of characters too. I especially like to show the action through the eyes of the antagonist, a device I’m yet to use in my Two-Natured London series where it would fit well.
As a reader, I’m not as particular. The third person objective point of view, the omniscient narrative where the narrator knows more than the characters, is interesting to read, even if it’s seldom used in modern literature anymore, though particularly well done in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke. And first person narrative can be fun or intense, depending on the genre. There’s something very intimate about not knowing more than the character does, which is probably why it works so well in detective stories. But it can be very limiting too.
I find the first person narrative especially limiting in romances, which necessarily tells the story of two people. As a reader, I’m often dying to know what the other party thinks of the protagonist as the romance unfolds. It feels like I’m missing half of the story, if I’m only shown the romance from one point of view. I’m not alone in this, and sometimes the author feels it’s necessary to give us the other side of the story too.
One popular way is to write short stories from a point of view of a major or minor character, which are additions to the original. My favourites are the – free – short stories Karen Chance offers to her readers that range from the adventures of a minor character, like Kit Marlowe, to important events in the life of a major character, like the stories about Pritkin. They don’t all add to our understanding about the main character Cassie, but they contribute to the world as a whole.
Some authors take it farther. A couple of extremely popular books have recently been completely rewritten from the hero’s point of view – the exact same story told twice. I haven’t read those popular retellings – I haven’t read the originals even – but I doubt I’d enjoy them much. I wouldn’t be learning anything new even though the point of view is different.
The temptation to tell an important scene twice in the same book from different points of view is familiar to the writers of the close third too – I luckily mostly grew over it before I published my first book. It’s both redundant and annoying, and doesn’t, paradoxically, add anything to the story. There are better ways to add value to your series with the changing of the point of view.
I’ve recently read two books that are additions to popular series and told from a perspective of a major character in the originals. Four by Veronica Roth is an addition to her hugely popular Divergent series, and Brighter than the Sun by Darynda Jones is an addition to Charley Davidson series. They are not retellings of the story we already know from a different point of view; they tell the story of a different character so that the original story gets a new meaning.
Brighter than the Sun tells the life-story of Reyes, the love of Charley’s life, from childhood on; a difficult story to read, as he had a difficult childhood. Compared with the main series, which is at times laugh-out-loud funny like the character telling it, the style is very different. But that’s the way it needs to be, when the narrator, the main character himself, is so different. It’s a short book and it ends rather abruptly just as he finally meets Charley for the first time, but it achieves its objective: deepening the readers’ understanding of a major character and thus adding value to the entire series.
Four, as its name reveals, is about the character Four, who along the narrator Tris is the main character in the Divergent series. The book contains four fairly long short stories and a couple of short scenes written from the Four’s first person point of view. The first three stories are set in the time before Tris, and even after Tris appears in the fourth, the emphasis is on other matters than Four’s relationship with her. He emerges as a fully formed, interesting character with a story of his own, his hopes, dreams and fears – all four of them. The end result is that I now very much want to read a whole new series with him as the protagonist.
If you have chosen a first person narrative for your book or series, and are now feeling its limitations, the way to change the point of view is by creating new instead of warming up the old. Pick a protagonist, be it the love interest or the villain, and write a story that belongs to that character. You will add much more value to the series that way. It doesn’t have to be a full length book. Your readers will love even a shorter story – as long as it’s original. Try it. Even if you don’t publish it, it will deepen your understanding of your characters, and improve your writing. And that can only be good.