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Come on in and enjoy the view

Point of view, that is.

A novelist has options, lots of options. She chooses her book's setting, creates the characters, builds a plot. But perhaps her most important decision is figuring out who is the best character to tell her story.

Take Gone With the Wind, for instance. Scarlett O'Hara is one of the most memorable characters in modern fiction. Margaret Mitchell chose to relate the story from Scarlett's point of view for various reasons. One would be that Scarlett's life and that of aristocratic Southerners like her could never be the same after what we Southerners call "the late unpleasantness." But what if Ms. Mitchell had created another character, a young black man, perhaps a slave on the O'Hara plantation, to relate events from his own perspective? It would have been a completely different book, wouldn't it?

Or what if there'd been more than one point-of-view character in Gone With The Wind? Mammy, for instance, as a counterpoint to Scarlett. Would that have worked as well? Probably not, because then Scarlett would have needed many more scenes of conflict with Mammy, and Mammy stayed in the background for much of the book because what she could bring to the story was important, but not that important. She was Scarlett's conscience, and who needs a conscience when you're struggling to survive? Not our Scarlett, that's for sure.

Well, how about Gerald O'Hara, Scarlett's father, as a POV character? What if Ms. Mitchell had begun her novel in Ireland when Gerald was a boy? Would the story have had more impact if that were the case? Or less? Since Ms. Mitchell's area of expertise, the milieu in which she'd grown up, was the southern United States, and since she was concentrating on that society's upheaval, I think focusing on Gerald and his Irish background would have diluted the book's emotional impact on the reader.

Certainly Rhett, Ashley, or Melanie could have had their own points of view. It might have been fascinating to see Scarlett, her strengths as well as her imperfections, through their eyes. I'm glad Margaret Mitchell didn't give them a voice, though. If she had, she wouldn't have had as much space to devote to Scarlett. And we would have been deprived of many of the intricacies of Scarlett's fascinating character as she carried the story forward in her own inimitable way.

I'm writing a book with multiple points of view at present. For me it's a natural process. One character or another steps forward and says "Me, me, me! Write about me!" In this work-in-progress, five women are clamoring for my attention. When I started out, there was one. I added two more because my story needed depth, and then another because she was the perfect person to relate the backstory. Finally a sub character, an elderly Gullah woman, both wise and feisty, started jumping up and down and hollering, "Honey, don't you even think about leaving me out! Hunh."

As if I'd dare. Guess I'll go work on one of her chapters right now. Read More 
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