Character is destiny, part 1: The Edward/Bella dilemma

This is part of a six-part series on characters that I'm doing. You can find the other parts here:
~Character is destiny, part 2: The Character Store
~Character is destiny, part 3: Character Store, cont.
~Character is destiny, part 4: Who gets to be the catalyst?
~Character is destiny, part 5: Building a villain
~Character is destiny, part 6: Never underestimate the Everyman 
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Last week I did something I wasn't sure I'd ever do, something I was a little embarrassed to tell people about.

I read the excerpt of Midnight Sun.

For those of you who don't know, Midnight Sun was supposed to be the fifth book in the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. It tells the events of Twilight from Edward's perspective instead of Bella's.

The book was partially written when someone leaked the work-in-progress to the Internet. Ms. Meyer was so upset by this that she has put the project aside for an indefinite period, and put the leaked draft on her website for her fans to read.

I am not so much a S. Meyer fan, though I have respect for her storytelling abilities. (She got me thorough all four books, which is a feat in itself.) But a friend heard me grumble about how much I disliked Edward as a character, and suggested I read the partial draft.

I was amazed.  Being inside Edward's head was a completely different experience from being inside Bella's head, and for me, a much more interesting one. Instead of the Bella's dilemma "Why is this guy ignoring me and what's his dangerous secret?" the central question is "What can I do to avoid killing this girl, and how can I keep my family from killing her?" I found myself more involved in the story that I was originally, and wishing that the entire series was written from Edward's perspective.

This got me thinking about character.
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The Greek Heraclitus said that character is destiny, and whether or not that's true in life, it's certainly true in your novel. Your choice of point-of-view character determines everything. What are the tensions in the story? Who is your supporting cast? What does the voice and tone sound like?

 All of these decisions are affected by who tells the story.

But choosing a point-of-view character is a tricky business. How do you know whose story it is? And to complicate things further, your main character and your point-of-view character may not be the same person. Many classic mysteries, for example, have the sidekick tell the story. That way the detective can save the final reveal for the very end, astonishing everyone, including the sidekick.

So how do you decide whose head to stay in?
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It depends of course, a lot on the kind of book that you're writing. But here are three questions I ask myself:

1.) Who has the power? Powerless or passive characters can be very hard to engage with. (I would classify Bella as one of these, but that's just my opinion.)

If your story is about a prince rescuing a princess and the princess spends almost the entire book locked in a tower crying, you may want to try telling it from the point of view of the prince. Or a servant who secretly helps the princess by smuggling her food, and eventually assisting in her escape.

2.)  Who changes the most?

Terry Brooks says that without change, nothing happens. The process of changing and adapting to new circumstances creates an automatic story tension. In the Twilight story--at least in the first book--it isn't Bella, but Edward who changes the most. His internal struggle gives the story weight.

3.) Who keeps the secrets?

This is largely applicable to mysteries or thrillers. If a character has a secret the reader absolutely cannot know until near the end, try telling it from a different perspective. But be careful here. Sometimes keeping a secret from your readers isn't necessary. I preferred watching Edward try to keep his identity secret, as opposed to watching Bella try to ferret it out.
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Any thoughts? How do you decide which character tells the story?

26 comments:

  1. Very interesting post! I'll have to check out Midnight Sun now. :)

    I actually grappled with this very issue a while back. I had decided to go with one character as POV, but the more the story developed, the more I wondered if the male love interest actually had the more interesting story to tell.

    Ultimately, I put that WiP aside for a while. But when I come back to it, I think I might just rewrite a few chapters from the guy's POV and see how it goes.

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  2. I think I would prefer the story told from Edward's perspective. That sounds really interesting!

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  3. Renee- Good idea! :) Another tactic might be to do alternate POVs for the guy and the girl. That way you can keep the story moving and still have a girl character readers can identify with. (If that's important to your WIP, of course.)

    Karen- It was! Also because Edward's supporting cast were his family, who were much more interesting than the kids Bella hangs out with at school. :)

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  4. Good for you for reading. I read it, too :)

    Sometimes it seems so clear who to use as the POV, but other times, it's not so much, and I've been trying lots of trial and error to see what works best.

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  5. PJ- Oh good, I'm not the only one.*grin* It's so true that POV can be complicated. Sometimes I think trial and error is the only way you CAN figure it out. Sigh.

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  6. What an interesting perspective on POV - now I'm tempted to read Twilight's 5th book. I just don't know if I have that in me!

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  7. I liked Midnight Sun much, much better than the original Twilight, for exactly the reasons you pointed out! This is a fantastic post! :) (I think your other Twilight posts are spot-on, too.)

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  8. Interesting post! I'm definitely going back through some of my stories and asking your questions. Thanks!

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  9. Megan- Heehee, I understand that. You could jsut try the first chapter and see if it pulls you in. (Or just go read a really good book with alternating POV.)

    Maggie- Thank you! It's funny that you thought the same things. :)

    Laura- You're very welcome! Let us know how it goes. I've never had to rewrite an entire story from another character's POV, but I'm thinking I should dig up some of my short stories and try it. It would be good writing practice!

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  10. I definitely enjoyed Midnight Sun more. I thought Edward's perspective was much more compelling. Although I really cannot stand Edward a lot of the time.

    It is tricky to find the right POV. One of my used to be FMCs is so passive that I don't know if I can keep her perspective in. It's become a quandary for me.

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  11. Yes! Yes! Yes! and YES! I wish Twilight had been told from Edward's perspective, but I also wonder if S. Meyers had just matured as an author by then. I wish she'd finish it because his POV was much more compelling.

    POV is a very interesting subject, isn't it? I wonder how many books would be improved with a POV change.

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  12. Rebecca- I had a HUGE problem with a passive MC in my first book, so I relate to your quandary. I wish I could tell you how I fixed it, but that was the book it took me years to rewrite and I don't remember! *sadness* Maybe start with one, huge, plot altering choice she can make?

    Wendy- The excerpt definitely shows her maturing as a writer, which is awesome. And encouraging for the rest of us who are still trying to get there!

    I love your POV question. I'll have to think about that...

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  13. Great post! You raise a lot of interesting questions. A variation on number three...if you're a very clever - and very careful - mystery writer you can write from the perspective of a character with secrets. In several Agatha Christie novels she allows the reader to share the thoughts of multiple characters, one of whom is the criminal, but is either selective in which of their thoughts you share or (even trickier) has them written in such a way that you misinterpret them. Without giving away any solutions, you should read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None to see how she used this technique. It's really tricky. I'm going to try writing scenes from the perspective of a character with a secret in my novel-in-progress, and I know it's going to be a big challenge.

    And then, like you said, sometimes there are no secrets for the reader - it becomes more of a suspense story with the reader waiting to see if the characters will find out in time. A good example of this is Destry Rides Again by Max Brand (totally unrelated to the movies of the same title).

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  14. Elizabeth- Excellent point! I've actually read both those books, and that is an excellent way to do it. IF you're good enough, that is. :)

    And thanks for the Max Brand referral, I'll have to check it out!

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  15. Awesome post. I had the exact same reaction to reading Midnight Sun -- as soon as you begin thinking of the story from Edward's POV it becomes so much more complex, with more tension and conflict than in Bella's confused narrative. I was peeved that S. Meyer abandoned it.

    Thinking about rewriting from another perspective is daunting, but sometimes it's the best thing for the story. I cheated in my WiP and used multiple POV, based on whose perspective would work best in each scene.

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  16. Sarah- Thank you. I was bummed too, though I understand her reasons. It would be hard to finish a book in such a disappointing situation. Maybe someday...

    I have never written a multiple POV, but I admire people who do. I know it brings its own challenges. :)

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  17. Anne Rice's 'Interview With the Vampire' is told from one character's POV, and its not Lestat's, but its no less compelling, and the reader gets Lestat's POV in the subsequent book, 'The Vampire Lestat'.

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  18. Ee Leen Lee- That's a good example, and I think Rice picked the right narrator for the story she was trying to tell. Just goes to show, you can always go back and tell the story from another perspective if you want to. :)

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  19. A little late here, but had to add my $.02: I wrote the first two chapters of my novel from the POV of the character that I thought the book was about. Gradually I began to realize that this person really was not very sympathetic. So why would the reader read on? Rewrote the entire thing from the roommate who helps get her out of her jam -- voila! Much more enjoyable to write -- and read!

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  20. Genie- Sometimes writing from the perspective of the friend is the best way to go. Arthur Conan Doyle did it with Sherlock Holmes, for suspense reasons of course, but also probably because Holmes wasn't a very sympathetic character.

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  21. Very interesting, Miriam!

    I suppose with the story from Bella's perspective, the reader gets to stare at Edward for four complete novels ;)

    But you make a really good point from Edward's POV. He has so much to lose. And that always makes an interesting read!

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  22. Joanne- I say bah humbug to staring at Edward, sadly. How many times can you read about one guys pale, sparkly, tortured perfection? :)

    Of course, I lean more towards the blond, scruffy and funny type, so it might just be me. *smirk*

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  23. I want to be able to relate to my character so whatever point-of-view is good for that is going to sit well with me. The thing is, if the point-of-view is from a despondent, needy girl who whines constantly then this isn't going to relate to me at all and I'm going to put the book down. My point in saying this is that everyone is going to have different demands for their story so you should just write what you want to write. Someone out there is going to like it, you know?

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  24. True. If you don't care about the story, no one else is going to! :)

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  25. Wow. I needed this post. THANK YOU! :D

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