Perspective in Stories—how to choose it.


Perspective: The Cinderella Story
Perspective: The Cinderella Story

Do you write from the first person or third person perspective? Do you use an omniscient narrator or a flawed narrator who is a character in the story, like Nick Caraway in The Great Gatsby?

In her book, The Novelist’s Guide, Margret Geraghty, stresses that choosing your story’s perspective or viewpoint, is one of the first and most important decisions you make as storyteller. 

Your choice of perspective will not only affect the tone of your story, but the reader’s emotional response to it too.

A change of perspective can turn Jack and the Beanstalk into a tale about the home invasion of a sensitive, shy giant at the mercy of a rag-tag boy that has snuck into his home.

Additionally, a radical change of viewpoint can allow the writer to mine many existing and beloved stories, generating countless adaptations. The range and depth of digging into the treasure trove of past tales is almost limitless.

Just think: Cinderella, in a reimagined version, can become the sorry lot of an ugly sister, hopelessly outgunned and outshone by a shallow, foul-mouthed bimbo who can’t stop talking about her desire for fine clothes and the prince.

How about the changes in emotion that would occur in a story of adultery told through the adulterer’s eyes and then retold through the victim’s—as in The Postman Always Rings Twice? How would our sympathies shift through this approach?

Perspective favours the character who owns it, although it can also allow for characters who are filled with self-loathing or pity whom we tend to judge more critically. The point still stands: Choosing the right viewpoint is integral to the tone, theme, and the emotional commitment of your readers to your characters and story.

Summary

Choosing your story’s perspective is one of the first and most important decisions you make as a writer.

2 thoughts on “Perspective in Stories—how to choose it.

  1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

    Genre is important Gerhard, but my point is that a change in perspective shifts the location of empathy regardless of genre.

    Reply
  2. Gerhard Pistorius

    Story perspectives provide springboards and they predetermine who we develop empathy towards. Fairy tales like Cinderella also provide good inspiration.

    The Genre is is also equally important. Romantic fantasy – Cinderella’s (POV) finds true love despite the evil step mother and step sisters. Take the same premise and make it a dark comedy told from the step mother’s perspective – Cinderella must be kept from public view because she is a girl who speaks to animals and makes cloths for mice. The step mother and step sisters appear less evil if Cinderella is actually insane. It would also be interesting to tell the story from the sisters perspective who are bystanders to there mother who has to meet the needs of a mentally ill child. Same applies with a story like Little Mermaid : Ariel wants to be part of the surface world but her father wants her to live a life under the sea. The premise sells it self – We all want something we can’t have. Use this idea and tell it from Ariel’s father’s perspective. A king or farmer who has spend a life time building a world for his children only for that child to reject his/her what he leaves them behind. We develop sympathy/empathy for Ariel’s father because the story is being told from his perspective. Imagine it : Triton wants Ariel to take over the family business(farm) only for her to fall in love a foreign man who promises to make her a rock star. That’s a tragedy waiting to happen.

    In short: Genre is just as important as story perspective.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *