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