Is Point of View Sacred?

After reading Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent , I wonder.

I like finding old copies of old books in old book stores. Last summer, I happened upon the Steinbeck classic, The Winter of Our Discontent, in a little shop in Depot Bay. It was stamped with markings from the Multnomah County Library. I was hooked.

This spring , I finally got around to reading it.

Somewhere in the first few chapters, the story changes from third person omnipresent to first person. Is this a mistake or a risk in style only masters are allowed?

Curious as to the genesis of this oddity, I read several reviews online, some from when the book was first released a half-century ago. Although many reviewers made reference to Steinbeck’s shift in p.o.v., none seemed to have an explanation. It made me wonder, had he ever explained his choice? I found no evidence that he did.

I have never considered changing p.o.v in midstream. It would be like changing the setting or a character’s name without explanation. But, apparently, Steinbeck found it a useful lever with which to propel his story. Hopefully, someday, I will learn the reason why.


Thinking Outside the Bubble

“Wicked”  brings a new perspective to going green.

We went to see Wicked on its final night at Spokane’s INB Performing Arts Center. It was thoroughly entertaining, but I’m not posting a review. Rather, I want to address the writing lesson offered by this fresh twist on an old classic (or, more accurately, classics – L. Frank Baum’s Oz books as well as the iconic film they inspired) in regard to point of view [POV].

The original tale was told mostly from Dorothy’s perspective. The witch characters barely grew beyond the outlines of stereotype. Glinda, the good witch, was good. Elphaba, the wicked witch, was well … wicked.

But in Wicked, the witches take center stage. Dorothy isn’t even referenced until late in the second act, and then only as a conflict device. This switch to the witches’ perspective, viewed from bubble and broom, represents a dynamic change in the story’s POV. As the tale of Glinda and Elphaba unfolds, good and evil are on display, not as flat attributes of transparent roles, but as intriguing and often conflicting elements of nearly every character on stage.

What does this have to do with writing fiction? It illuminates the value of considering all your characters’ dimensions, both major and minor. Sometimes a cab driver is just a cab driver, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something from them as our main character gets a ride across town (or across a chapter). I don’t advocate inconsistency with your story’s POV, that can be confusing. But if you’re stuck, or fear a linear plot line emerging, try experimenting with a minor character’s point of view. They might just see something in their rearview mirror that you missed with your main character’s forward-looking eyes. The results could be wickedly creative.