When an author chooses to write a story in a certain character’s point-of-view (POV), it’s because the author wants the audience to bond with that particular character – and see events from his or her perspective.
As the old saying goes, “a villain is the hero of his own story.” The choice of which character is in charge of the telling will play a vital role in how the rest of the story plays out.
We will examine this more closely using two examples: the opening of Ten Thousand Thorns, and the “Yellow Trailer” for the RWBY web series. These two pieces of fiction affected me in very different ways, and I think it all comes down to perspective.
Case 1: Sleeping Beauty is a Martial Artist Princess in China
That’s Ten Thousand Thorns in nine words. (Check out the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.)
On page one, we are introduced to a secretive young man hiding in the corner of a tea tavern. (He thanks the serving girl politely when she pours him some tea.)
On page three, a delicate young girl kicks a hole through the wall. She snaps at the tea the waitress gives her, generally acts like a terrible customer, and ends by kidnapping the village elder.
The author has one perspective on this scene:
And I have another perspective…
Namely, that I feel sorry for this mysterious young man, sorrier for the tea establishment who’s out both a free cup of tea and a wall, and utterly unimpressed with this cocky little “Iron Maiden” who seems to have the manners of a whirling dervish.
I’m certainly not prepared for the young man to fall in love with the Maiden over the course of the story (which is what happens). In fact, if someone came along to kick this chick’s butt, I’d be okay with that. Put it down as a gesture to retail associates everywhere.
Case 2: Mz Punchy McPowerhouse on a Power Trip
Now let’s check out RWBY: “Yellow” Trailer…our grand introduction Yang Xiao Long, one of the four main characters (disclaimer: this wasn’t really my first time meeting Yang, so that might have colored my reactions a bit):
What a jerk! What a pompous bimbo! What a…What a cool character!
I don’t like Yang – but I like Yang!
Who’s Head is This?
In my own over-analysis, the reason I like “Yellow Trailer” when I feel I really shouldn’t, and why Ten Thousand Thorns struck me as so very “meh,” is…perspective.
In TTT, the first person we meet is the male wanderer protagonist. Our baby chick brains “imprint” on him…so when he’s stunned and nervous about this sassy little girl kicking through walls, so are we.
In “Yellow Trailer,” our first image is of Yang on her motorcycle. We’re “in” her head. Through the whole rest of the scene, she’s the character we’re psychologically tied to and identified with. Yeah, she’s beating up people for no reason…but it’s a power trip we can have fun with.
In TTT, the second person we meet is the unnamed tea waitress – who never appears again! We see things from her perspective before we even meet the “Iron Maiden” – let alone understand her point of view.
Just who’s going to pay for that wall, anyway?!
It could be I’m just weird. I get that a lot. But the responsibility of “who tells the story” is a heavy burden, and a choice we as authors must make deliberately.
Not to brag – but, yeah, totally to brag – my choice to tell Transmutation of Shadow in first person is a big part of what makes it work. Trying to make Eric Kedzierski “Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Mysterious” would kill the tone, and distance readers from his thought processes… In a book that already starts with Eric murdering a senator for the mob, that kind of distance would destroy author-reader trust.
And that’s pretty much the one thing that’s absolutely fatal to a work of fiction.
Comment! Is there a book you’ve read, or a movie you’ve watched, that would work way better for you, if it just followed a different character?
Kimia Wood lives somewhere in the American Midwest with her family – including the brother people mistake for her girlfriend.
She’s bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, and other excuses for not gardening.