To get a better look at how complex point of view is, let’s consider two fundamental things: every character is RIGHT when we are in their point of view & point of view all boils down to how a character REACTS to events.
Point of view shows differences between characters, and each character is right in their own point of view.
There’s an expression I heard long ago that’s stuck with me through the years, and it goes like this: There are three sides to every story. What he said, what she said, and what really happened.
Nothing is more true than in writing in a character’s point of view. This is where writing in different characters’ points of view can be magical.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Let’s say you have two characters (Carl and Abe) who hate each other. They are half-brothers, and there’s a dispute over the same piece of property. Carl feels that the land is rightly his because it was left to him in their father’s will. But Abe feels the land is his because his uncle originally owned it. (The uncle had sold the land to the father.)
Who’s right in being angry at his half-brother? The answer is both are right to be angry. The whole thing boils down to the third (aka “objective”) side. The author is the only one who knows all the facts. The characters don’t have access to this information. The characters have to find out all the information they can from conversations with other characters or through their own experiences.
So in this example, what does the author know that Abe and Carl don’t? The author knows that the father was a very selfish and greedy man who married one woman to get her money. He had a child with her, and this child is Carl. Carl was never loved. In fact, he was often despised because the father had nothing but contempt for Carl’s mother. Meanwhile, the father loved his mistress and often gave her brother supplies in return for being able to see the mistress at his convenience. The father loved Abe since that was child from the woman he loved. Abe, however, never felt loved because he was stuck with the stigma from the townsfolk for being the child of the mistress.
The reality is neither Abe nor Carl loved the father, and they have a lot more in common than either side is aware. Carl isn’t holding onto the land out of spite. He’s holding onto the land in hopes of getting enough gold to get him out of town so he can be free from his past. Once he is, he plans to give the land to Abe, something Abe doesn’t know. If both sides understood the other’s point of view, there wouldn’t be so much hate and animosity between them.
That example aside, I want you to consider that point of view is all about a character’s perception of events.
In real life when people tell their side of things, they are giving a biased version of events, even if they aren’t trying to. The reason for this is because no one has all the facts. We only know what we can see and hear. This brings together our perception of what is going on. Because we perceive things a certain way, this is how the world is according to our point of view. Likewise, a character will only have some of the facts. Their point of view will be slanted to the way they perceive the world.
Point of view is about how your character REACTS to things.
You start with a reaction and then the character acts, setting off the domino effect that will enhance the conflict (aka plot) in your story.
This is where a character’s perception of what is happening leads to their reaction to the event. The event can be anything that is outside the character. It can be something another character says or does. It can be an impending storm. It can be an animal that comes into the camp. It can be a sweet fragrance. As long as it’s the thing our point of view character sees, hears, smells, tastes, or touches, this qualifies as an event. The event in itself is a neutral thing.
What matters is how the character reacts to the event. The character is the one who brings meaning to the event. Did you ever wonder how some people could be celebrating after an election while other people are crying “doom and gloom”? Or how one person can say, “I love it when there’s a thunderstorm” and another looks upon the same storm with dread?
Let’s use this storm as our example. I used to live in Nebraska, and in the town I was at, thunderstorms often meant a loss of power. More than that, we’d have tornadoes in the area. I got lucky. The tornado never hit my town, but I did hear about them hitting neighboring towns, and a couple of deaths often resulted from them. So for me, a thunderstorm was a scary thing, and I hated them. I have a friend who had the opposite reaction to thunderstorms. She loved them. It was a good excuse for her to sit on the couch with a warm blanket and read a good book, meanwhile listening to the soothing pitter-patter of rain on the roof while thunder boomed in the background.
The beauty of point of view is that you can have the same event happen and two of your characters can react to it differently. That would be a possible point of conflict if the two characters don’t like each other or get into a fight over the way they react to the event.
Also, when you’re writing, don’t worry about whether you would react to the event in the same way the character is reacting to it. This is the character’s point of view. You’re telling the character’s story through their eyes. I’ve heard one of my author friends say they were having trouble with the story because the character wasn’t reacting to an event the same way she would. Well, that’s because she’s not the character. This is the character’s story, not hers.
Let your character be their own person. Let them react the way that is natural for them. Their reaction to the events in the story will go a long way to advancing the plot and bringing the reader along for the ride.