Who is the Viewpoint Character in your story?

Nick Carraway as the viewpoint character in The Great Gatsby
Nick Carraway as the viewpoint character in The Great Gatsby

Stories are inhabited by many characters, each exploring the theme from a different perspective; only one, however, is the viewpoint character.

All characters exhibit a point of view, of course. And, indeed, one of the functions of a character archetype is to offer a glimpse of the moral premise as seen from a specific perspective. Typically, the hero, or protagonist, being the character through whom we most often experience the story, is one whose moral vision carries significant weight—certainly by the end of the story where maturation has occurred.

Sometimes, however, the hero is not the viewpoint character. The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway is a case in point. The plot does indeed revolve around Gatsby, but it is Nick Carraway who not only relates events from his point of view, but also transmits the moral perspective of the entire story.

It is important to identify the viewpoint character prior to commencing the writing of the story. Start by asking the following questions:

1. Which character is closest to my (the writer’s) point of view? Whose clear, moral perspective pronounces the theme of the story? In The Great Gatsby, Nick is this character—although the pronouncement is about Gatsby himself.

“A viewpoint character transmits the moral perspective of the story.“

2. Who has the biggest stake in the story and has the most to lose? Who cares most passionately about solving the story-problem? Your answers will point towards your point of view character(s). 

In The Land Below, Paulie, the protagonist, is the character with the biggest responsibility and with the most to lose, but the Troubadour offers the deepest moral perspective in the story—despite the secret he has kept from Paulie all these years.

2. Which characters are the most interesting or the most intriguing? These are the characters the reader or audience wants to know most about.

3. Which of the characters are most involved in driving the story forward? Passive characters are the least interesting and tend to slow the story down.

4. Which characters are the most complicated? Complex characters hold our attention through their unpredictability, complexity and depth. In The Nostalgia of Time Travel, Benjamin Vlahos is such a character—we are uncertain whether he will choose to live or die by the end of the story. 

Summary

Create a viewpoint character by granting that character the moral perspective of the story.

1 thought on “Who is the Viewpoint Character in your story?

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    View points are very important. Perhaps one of the best examples of view point characters are Henry Hill and his future wife Karen. The first line in Good fellas occurs during a especially graphic murder – “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. To me being a gangster was better then being president of the United States ” Immediately the audiences is sucked into a world where we see the human aspect of hardcore criminals. Through Henry’s eyes we see that how growing up in a working class neighborhood and being born into poverty makes the gangster life style attractive and romantic. ” To us to live any other way was nuts. To us those little people that lived honest livings , earn shitty pay and took the train to work every morning were dead. If we wanted something we took it.” In the beginning Henry had nothing to loss accept a sub standard high school education where as if he joined the mob he had everything to gain – Independence , life experience and protection from the mob much to the dismay of his parents. “My parents couldn’t understand that I was being treated like a grown up. They taught me how to score. A dollar here a dollar there , I was living in a fantasy world. ”

    By the midpoint Henry meets Karen . It is here where the first person narrative switches to Karen . It emphasis how this young woman gets sucked into Henry’s world just like the audience got sucked into Henry’s world at the beginning of the film. By the time Karen is married to Henry her moral campus is corrupted to the point where she has accepted crime as a why of life. ” It never seemed like crime. Our husbands were not brain surgeons. The only way they could ever get ahead in life was if they took a few short cuts. It even got to the point where I was proud that I had the kind of husband who was willing to risk his neck just so that we could have the little extras. In the beginning Karen had nothing to lose. However as soon as Karen is married to Henry with his two children Karen risk loosing her livelihood . Being married to Henry means that Karen is married to the mob.

    In short: The viewpoint needs to suck in the audiences as well as the charterers as every new situation forces them to take account of how each decision effects there losses and there gains.

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