Whether you’re writing a short story or a novel, you need to decide which character is telling your readers your story.
Short stories typically rely on the protagonist to do it, so I’m not going to say more regarding short stories.
If you’re writing a novel, however, here are some tips to help you decide which character will share his or her thoughts, show what he or she sees, reveal his or her emotions, and communicate his or her knowledge.
Consider using these tips to help you determine the point-of-view character you’ll rely on to tell your story. Once you make your decision, you must remember that the character whose point of view you’re using is the only character whose thoughts are known because you can only be in one head at a time.
I used to tell my students that each of them only knows what’s going on inside of self. They can guess what’s going on inside another person’s head, but they can’t absolutely know. When you’re creating the whole world (as fiction writers do), it’s easy to forget that you’re only in one head (one character’s point of view) at a time.
Now for the tips to help you determine which character is telling your readers your story.
- Remember that readers get to know everything your point-of-view character does. Thus, the character telling the story has to know everything you want the reader to know so he/she can share it with the reader.
- Consider where the point-of-view character will be throughout the story. Since the character is telling your story, he/she has to be present in the scenes that are crucial to your story. And, just as importantly, he/she has to be in the culmination scene that brings everything together.
- Decide which character requires the most involvement in the story. Your point-of-view character shouldn’t simply narrate the story. Instead, he/she should be involved and have something personal at stake–a risk of danger, a quandary of some sort, a threatened loved one, etc.
- Figure out which character will be changed the most by what occurs in the story. Avoid characters too stubborn to change, characters who won’t survive the story’s timeline, and characters who are careless or who are unaffected by life.
- Get involved with your point-of-view character and make sure he/she is telling your story the way it should be told. One mystery author friend of mine had to rewrite her mystery because the character she originally chose as the murderer wouldn’t commit the murder. Other authors have shared similar experiences about characters taking on lives of their own, so make sure you’ve selected the right character to tell your story.
If you’re currently writing fiction, measure your character against these tips. If you’re contemplating writing fiction, use these tips to help you decide which character gets to tell your readers your story. Happy writing!