Saturday, May 30, 2009

Says Who?

point of view--the character or characters in a story through whose eyes and other senses the reader learns and intuits the dramatic action; the teller of the tale; the biased, human filter through which the dramatic information is transmitted.

The writer achieves a significant part of willing suspension of belief from the reader when dramatic forces cause the reader to forget that the story is emerging directly from the writer and that, in fact, the story is pure artifice. This WSOB is well achieved by artful introduction of one or more characters who are telling the story, ASAP. As in:

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip."

The first sentence would actually fit as a Twitter entry. The second sentence pretty well nails the character and his point of view in place, where it remains, a resoundingly successful example of a writer assuming a persona and that individual's traits and experiences in order to relate the details of his encounters variously with his snarky sister, her jewel of a man-for-husband, with an escaped convict, a cantankerous old lady, and a spoiled-if-beguiling young woman named Estella. So gifted a public speaker was Pip's creator that he could have chosen to tell the story of Great Expectations in his own voice. You could profit from asking yourself why he did not, then consider your answer.

There is often some practical reason for a particular character or set of characters having been chosen to narrate a story, sometimes as simplistic as Ahab's case in his selection to be narrator of Moby-Dick; he was the only one who survived the events of the novel. Mr. Stephens was chosen to narrate The Remains of the Day because of his resume as head butler, but also because of his not getting 'it," which is to say because of his naivete. Thus was the writer, Kazuo Ishiguro, constrained to keep Stevens's naivete in mind at all times and to constantly be aware of the need to render it plausibly.

Who is telling your story, and why?

Benjy Compson was chosen to narrate a portion of The Sound and the Fury because the wiring of his intellectual and reasoning processes were some degrees away from the intellectual and emotional outlook of other POV characters. No doubt about it, at some point during his writing of the story, William Faulkner recalled the Shakespearean line from Macbeth"...it is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing." But Faulkner new the need to have larger fish to fry than the mere perception of Benjy as an idiot; Faulkner wished the reader to compare Benjy's vision of reality with that of the other characters in the novel. Benjy is then by no means a case of a writer thinking, Aha, I'll tell a story from the point of view of an idiot. The novel is a complex comparison of attitudes, sensitivities, and behavior in which Benjy emerges as an ironic symbol of the most admirable sort.

Once again, why have you selected a particular person or combination of persons to relate your narrative? What effect will your choice have on the other characters? What effect will your choice have on the reader?

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