Who Should Tell the Story: POV Strategies for Successful Storytelling
In Alan Haehnel's play Nora's Lost, Nora (the protagonist) suffers from Alzheimer's and wanders away from a nursing home. Her story is told by point-of-view characters, including a younger version of herself (pink and black scarf) and a younger version of her daughter (pink chiffon).
I'm not sure why Haehnel chose to use these point-of-view characters to share Nora's journey, but it works and creates a dramatic effect.
Think about your favorite stories. What's the POV? My favorite is The Great Gatsby, where a young and naive Nick moves into a cottage on Gatsby's property. We learn about the intense love affair between Nick's cousin Daisy and Jay Gatsby through Nick's eyes. And after Jay is killed by a crazed, jealous husband, we learn the deeper truths from Nick.
As storytellers, we choose through whose eyes readers view action and reaction. And, we decide if the protagonist or a point-of-view character earns the privilege of telling all. Can the protagonist be a POV character? Absolutely!
If you're in the planning stages, several exercises can help you determine who should be the storyteller. I have two tried and true methods that work.
- Fracture it. One of my favorite classroom activities to try differing POV's is to fracture or retell a fairy tale (any story will work) by telling the it from a different character's viewpoint. A great example is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. In this version, Alexander T. Wolf explains what really happened when he met up with each of the piglets.
- Send a letter. Assume the persona of a standout character from a memorable story and write a letter to a different character in the same book. What's changed? What would you say to that character if given the chance to ask? How does the character feel about the action that took place in the storyline? Any secrets worth sharing? You may be amazed at the insight!
Limiting the involvement of a POV character can cause a few problems in a manuscript. Most importantly, it prevents the reader from seeing a lot of the action as it occurs. Instead, readers learn about what's happened to the main character ONLY after the narrator discovers the truth.
But the benefits of keeping the two separate can aid storytelling. Storylines can continue, which is important if a tragedy befalls the main character. And, a POV character can reflect on what's happening, offering observations that the main character may have never shared or realized.
At the end of Nora's Lost, all POV characters swirl around the old woman as she struggles for her life, memories colliding with reality, strong will clashing with fragility. It's poignant and leaves an impression on the audience.
POV is a powerful storytelling technique that can make or break a piece of work. Who is telling your story?
Photo of O'N'eill St Mary's Drama Department production taken by LuAnn Schindler (who also directed the award-winning play)
by LuAnn Schindler. LuAnn also writes a column for WOW!s Premium Green and freelances for regional publications. Her work is available on her website, http://luannschindler.com/.