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Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Camera on Her Shoulder

I had to choose very early on what voice I would be using to tell my stories, and I hadn't given it much thought for a long time until recently. I have since come to believe that point of view in a story is wildly important to its overall success. Let's take two worldwide bestsellers: Harry Potter and Twilight. With a few exceptions, J. K. Rowling sticks to 3rd person limited in telling the story of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Professor John Granger describes this as like to having a camera on Harry's shoulder through which you, the reader, are viewing the story, but that camera can also look inside of Harry's head. Using this perspective, the reader never gets outside of Harry's own experience (again, with a few exceptions) and therefore empathizes with Harry as they see what Harry sees, feels what he feels, and senses what he senses. This works very successfully for the Harry Potter stories because of the elements of mystery within them. We only feel and think what Harry feels and thinks, and we only see whatever is in his immediate periphery, and that limits our perspective and prolongs the mystery. Twilight is written in 1st person limited. This means that the narrator's voice IS Bella Swan and the reader only gets Bella's perspective, but in a much narrower sense than in Harry Potter. This also causes Stephenie Meyer's target audience (young woman) to feel as though they ARE Bella as they read.... Do I even need to elaborate on how this was successful for her romance driven series? Both of these voices are very successful, although I prefer 3rd limited. I am telling my stories similar to Harry Potter in that there is a "camera" on Darcy's shoulder usually looking out, but sometimes looking into her head. I love telling the story this way. It simplifies the process for me and allows me to limit what the reader is aware of. Readers typically come to trust certain characters and distrust others. When you tell a story that is limited in some way to one character's perspective, you can manipulate that trust or distrust. For example, if you tend to distrust Darcy's opinion because of the bad decisions she's made, I could, hypothetically, throw you a curve ball and have Darcy be the voice of wisdom in a future book, causing there to be a twist at the end when you realize that her opinion was actually right for once! Hypothetically I could do that, I'm not saying that I WILL.

Because this blog post is already quite long, I might as well tell you the point of view that I seriously dislike reading. I hate reading books in 1st person present tense. That means that the story is told how I am writing this blog. "I am sad. I open the door and walk to the store. As the sun shines down on me, I think what a nice day it is. I meet a friend and we have a conversation. Etc..." This type of perspective works well for, well, a blog, but when used to write a story, it feels too abrupt and too much like stream of conscience. If I find that a book is written in this manner, sometimes I won't even buy it because I find the voice so distracting! For example, I really enjoyed the movie I Am Number Four, so I looked into the book, but sure enough! First person present tense. Yuck. Plus which, it must be so difficult to write a book like that! But now I'm just ranting. I should get back to work. I'm over 200 pages and over half way!

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