Changing viewpoints

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I’ve just had to rewrite a scene from a different point of view. It was really wrenching. The scene, set at a Roman arena, felt very evocative from the original point of view, that of a jaded ex-legionary seeing the games for the first time. I got to invest the experience with cynicism, to make it about of a connection not quite made, filled at once with nostalgia and alienation. And of course a warrior is well suited to notice and describe the details of a fight.

But ultimately, that wasn’t enough. The scene serves a function within the story, moving on plots, developing characters. And those parts of the scene are better evoked from the point of view of a young Roman aristocrat, showing her triumphs and frustrations, the things that are going on around the games.

My big lesson for this is that what best serves description isn’t necessarily what best serves character and plot. Or maybe that what feels most exciting for one scene won’t necessarily be the best choice for the whole story. Or… I don’t know, I’m just trying to retrieve meaning from my disappointment.

Have any of you had to change the viewpoint on a scene or a story? Why? How did you feel about it? Have you read a scene in someone else’s work that you thought had the wrong viewpoint? Offer me comfort or wisdom or both, people of the internet.

5 thoughts on “Changing viewpoints”

  1. On a regular basis, and generally with entire stories rather than one scene. I’m currently rewriting 25k words to give it a viewpoint that works better. The best comfort I can offer is that rewriting often gives me a wider understanding (and choice) of what’s going on which leads to a better story.

  2. Not quite the same, but one of the things I really like about Dorothy Dunnett’s books, and something that GGK takes from her as well I think, is that the POV character is almost never the hero- you are always seeing them through another character’s eyes. It’s an extraordinarily artful way of telling a story and by filtering their actions through someone else’s point of view, the reader can be misdirected in the same way that character is. That gives some interesting opportunities for later revelation.

    I think maybe having drawn the scene from one point of view, you may find that when you are writing it from another you have the events already drawn out so you don’t have to think about what is happening, only how your character is relating to it.

    1. That thing of splitting PoV and protagonist is pretty cool, and something I’ve heard of in theory more than I’ve read in practice. Clearly one more reason to read Kay.

      You’re right about the benefits of knowing what’s going to happen and then just writing it from a different viewpoint. I tend to know a lot of that anyway, as I’m big on planning before I write, but I found I could focus on wording rather than events even more with this.

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