Monday, January 23, 2012

Point of View

An important part of being a good writer is also being a good reader.  Yesterday I started reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  My inspiration for reading this book comes from a combination of the praise for it I’ve been reading on the internet and seeing the trailer for the upcoming film.

That, and the concept intrigued me.  As a science fiction geek, how could it not?  It takes place in a dystopian future where the masses are kept in subjugation through withholding of vital resources, harsh punishments, and forcing each of the twelve districts to watch as their children are put into an arena to fight to the death.  This is their punishment for an attempted revolt.  Imagine how much worse things could be if they retaliated again?

Anyway, it’s certainly a compelling story.  It’s fun to watch a smart, female protagonist who exhibits exceptional survival skills in a ruthless situation.  At the same time, she struggles to hold on to humanity, and as anyone would be who has endured as much as she has, she has trouble trusting love, an emotion that leaves her vulnerable to another.  The only person she really knows how to trust is herself.  And rest assured, there is plenty of deception to go around in this novel.

There is a strong romantic element to the story, but if anything, love helps bring up some of the most gut wrenching questions of the book.  Is it a strength or a weakness to care for another, even when doing so may put you in peril?  Should you abandon that instinct to protect others to save yourself, or is it better to take the risk of being true to who you are? 

I could talk about these themes endlessly, but there’s one brief way I want to tie this back to my writing.  POV.  Point of view determines in a very real way the experience a reader will have.  The Hunger Games is told in first person present tense.  The reader goes along with Katniss as she struggles to survive.  There is a sense of immediacy as we experience everything at the same exact time she does.  In this sense, present tense can even dispense with one of the biggest issues first person usually contends with.  If a story is told by the protagonist, we assume they will live since they’re around to tell us.  Yet, in present tense, not even this can be guaranteed.  We also see her emotions as she has them.  We don’t get the benefit of looking back on them and analyzing them with the hindsight the narrator would now have.  We have to figure out her feelings at the same time she does.

The story I’m writing right now is told in first person, but it’s in past tense.  I want the benefit of only being in that one person’s head, seeing the world as he does, but I want to have his more mature insights that come with the passage of time.  I also don’t want the question of whether he will survive hanging over the reader.  My story isn’t about that, but rather about the change he goes through and how he understands his world differently because of his experiences.  Present tense works in many cases, but I don’t think it would benefit me in this particular case.

Yet, I’ve learned to remain open as I write.  Experience has shown me more than once that a writer doesn’t always know what’s best for their story until the end. 

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