How to Manage Narrative Perspective in Story-Telling

Narrative perspective in The Matrix
Narrative perspective in The Matrix

Effectively managing narrative perspective in story-telling is one of the most important and difficult skills to master.

By perspective I mean the hierarchy of vantage points the writer adopts in relating the story to her audience or readers.

There are three main levels of perspective: the author’s (she decides when, what and how much to reveal), the protagonist’s/characters’ (who act as if they have a life independent of the author’s), and the reader’s/audience’s (who interpret the story according to their own expectations).

Most commonly, perspective is intimately tied to the protagonist’s point of view.

In the absence of authorial or directorial declaration, what the protagonists sees and perceives to be truth is transmitted to the audience/reader as being true – until the revelation or point of schism.

In the film The Matrix, for example, the audience is initially as unaware that the depicted world is an illusion as is Neo.

The Point of Schism in Narrative Perspective

The plot thickens when our point of view separates from the protagonist’s. Before this moment, we share the protagonist’s confusion, bewilderment, and surprise as events unfold. Here, our association with the protagonist is one of subjectivity and identification. After the point of schism, we see beyond this limited vision – we perceive the dangers and are made privy to the traps planned for him by the antagonist.

I call this moment the point of schism – or a tear in perspective – and regard it as a narrative device whose importance is comparable to that of a turning point or mid-point. The insight afforded to us at this moment increases the suspense we feel for the protagonist, since we see danger approaching more clearly than he does. An example of this in The Matrix is the meeting between agent Smith, and Cypher who offers to lead Neo and the others into a trap in exchange for being re-inserted back inside the matrix as “someone important”.

Reversing the Schism

Sometimes, however, the schism works in reverse order: the protagonist knows the truth while the audience doesn’t — in The Hunt for Red October, the audience believes that the defecting Russian submarine has been sunk by the Russian fleet, when in fact, it is a trick played on the Russians (and the audience) by Captain Marko Ramius in order to slip through the Russian net and seek asylum in the United States.

Simultaneous Revelation

Occasionally, the story’s true perspective — the perspective of the author — is revealed to both the audience/reader and the protagonist simultaneously. Here, the author withholds crucial information from us and the protagonist till the revelation.

In the film The Sixth Sense, Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist, who is shot in the stomach by a disturbed patient at the beginning of the film, ostensibly attempts to help his young patient Cole Sear with problems arising from his ability to see dead people. His relationship with his wife continues to deteriorate as Crowe spends more and more time in his basement alone, and continues to treat Cole.

The film, which is a master class in sleight-of-hand, reveals the biggest twist of all towards the end of the film when Crowe notices that his wedding ring in no longer on his finger but on his sleeping wife’s hand. We suddenly realize, along with Crowe, that it is he who has been dead all along as a result of having been shot in the stomach.

A Short Exercise

With reference to three films or novels you admire, answer the following questions:

Where is the point of schism in each?

Describe the type of schism.

What is the effect of the schism on the story and how could it have been done differently?

Summary

Choosing precisely when, where, and how to introduce a schism in narrative perspective, and what form it will take, requires an understanding of how it will change your story and what effect it will have on your readers and audience.

New Release

New release
Before the Light – new release

 

So, you have a new release—you’ve written a new novel, posted it it up on amazon, and are hoping to generate some buzz to make it stand out from the millions of other books vying for the readers’ attention.

So, what now?

Advertising your new release:

1. Make sure you have an intriguing, eye-catching cover.

A book cover is the first thing a reader sees. Without a first good impression the chances of your book being noticed decrease dramatically.

2. Make sure you have a catchy, to-the-point longline that allows the reader to grasp the gist of the story with minimal effort.

The blurb of my newest novella, Before the Light, reads:

What has the world’s most powerful quantum computer, operating on board the space station Gravity, discovered about the birth of the universe that it is refusing to divulge? Chief programmer Sam Yeager is sent to find out, only to learn of a plot to sabotage the machine that could result in the death of the crew.

3. Feature a snippet of a great review on the cover itself.

Reviews have become increasingly difficult to procure, thanks to Amazon’s draconian limits placed on reviewers. Counteract this by sending your book off to readers you respect and quote a line or two from them on the cover itself. Here’s what author Donovan Roebert said about Before the Light:

“Calls to mind some of the best and most meaningful stories of H.G. Wells.”

I placed this memorable quote on my cover to entice the reader.

4. Use social media to announce the arrival of your book and follow it up with a series of interesting posts.

In another article I will look at where and how best to advertise you books for optimal results.

Summary

A great cover, good reviews, and social media support are essential in getting your new release noticed on platforms such as amazon.