Helen Kerner, a participant in the online critique group I'm currently running, asked an excellent question recently: If a story is from one character's point of view, or POV, how does an author relate information that character doesn't know about?
As a refresher, a POV refers to who's telling the story. Here are the most common choices:
• omniscient: an unnamed narrator floats above the action and drops into characters' heads to let readers know what the characters are thinking
• third-person close: a narrator stays inside one person's head so the readers see, hear, feel, taste and otherwise experience the story through that one character (authors can 1. stick to one character, 2. follow a different character in each chapter, 3. alternate between two characters, or 4. choose any combination therein)
• first-person: the narrator talks directly to the reader (i.e., "I knew my life was headed downhill when I failed the first day of kindergarten...")
In Helen's case, she gave a third-person POV to her main character, a woman in New York City who just fell in love. Helen wanted to know how readers could learn about a surprise the woman's boyfriend planned, a plan that fell through when tragedy struck. How could the woman find out what her boyfriend never intends to reveal?
Here are the suggestions I offered. The main character could:
• get the information from another character through an exchange of dialog (i.e., "He didn't want to tell you, but he was planning to propose to you that night.")
• find a document — letter, email, note on a calendar, message on the answering machine, etc. — that explains what another character intended.
• follow a list of clues — a phone number, a date circled on a calendar, the rental of a tux, a character's manner, etc. — that strongly suggests what another character had in mind.
But Helen threw me a nice curve by saying she never wants her main character to know about her boyfriend's plan. Given a character can't tell readers something she doesn't know, Helen realized she has to go with an omniscient POV that allows the boyfriend to reveal the information. The trick to making that choice work is to remember that whatever the secondary character reveals should push the main character toward the climax, as opposed to just offer an interesting aside.
If you're just learning about POV, here's some basic information:
Point of view, Wikipedia explanation
Point of View, the choices as listed on the New York University website
Points of View: Revised Edition by James Moffett and Kenneth R. McElheny
Choosing the correct POV from which to tell your story is not only essential, but can be tough, not only to select, but implement, too. If you have any questions, let me know and we'll work out the choices.
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