Hello, dear readers! Today, I thought I'd share some thoughts on point-of-view (POV) and how it affects the way that readers/viewers look at the characters in a story.
If any of you have taken advanced English classes, you might know a little about how you can be deceived by an "unreliable narrator": a POV character who has a highly skewed perspective due to mental illness or some other issue. However, it's also important to realize that you can't trust everything that any narrator says. People aren't aware of all the depths and intricacies of themselves or their situations, and neither are fictional characters. In any story, there are biases and deceptions that are maintained by the POV character.
Point-of-view can especially affect the way you perceive the characters of a story. If you're in the perspective of a character who hates another character, the odds are high that you as the reader will also hate that other character. The same applies to the narrator's friends, family, etc. As a reader, you're looking at the world through the eyes of another person, and that person has opinions.
As you may be aware of, recently, I've been very engaged in analyzing TV and movies. One thing I've been thinking about is POV and the way it affects the audience in the BBC show Sherlock.
You see, I was editing #FibromyalgiaStory, and my critique partner Julia warned me to be careful about the way my narrator speaks. Suzanne has a lot of attitude, and when Julia pointed it out, I realized that sometimes she does actually come across as cruel, unlikable, and even unrelatable. As I struggled to figure out the line between being sassy and being standoffish, I said to Julia, somewhat in jest, "But Sherlock's a complete jerk, and we love that show!"
She replied, "Yes, but that's because we're seeing him through John's eyes."
Cue choir of angels.
Up until that point, I hadn't thought much about POV other than as a starting point for writing a novel. As an experienced reader, it came somewhat naturally to me to analyze the narrator's motives. As a writer, all I really thought about was, "Is this going to be first person or third person? If it's first person, who's talking? Great, let's write." I definitely hadn't thought about POV in movies and TV. To me, those were always third person. I hadn't considered which character the third person was focused on and how they, as a "narrator" of sorts, might affect the our opinions.
But Julia made a fantastic point, which I'd like to get into here.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, Sherlock is a modern TV adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes in which an ex-military doctor named John Watson becomes flatmates with a brilliant and extremely rude consulting detective named, you guessed it, Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock is played by the beautiful Benedict Cumberbatch, and John Watson is played by Martin Freeman.
In this show, Sherlock is a jerk. He's a total genius at uncovering truths and solving crimes, but he has no social skills, or rather, doesn't really care to have social skills. He calls himself "a high-functioning sociopath", which isn't actually accurate, but that description does reflect the way Sherlock commonly acts. Most the time, his entire focus is on solving the puzzle and on being a genius. Sometimes, in order to solve the crime, he becomes downright manipulative of others. But the Sherlock fandom, which is large, vocal, and slightly insane, absolutely loves him.
This is, as Julia pointed out, largely because Sherlock is actually from John's POV, even though Sherlock may be the main character.
The show begins with John, in his nightmares (an intimate place to start out in) and from there into him meeting Sherlock. We watch as John gets to know Sherlock, as they become friends, and we see through John's eyes who Sherlock is to him. We're not the ones who like Sherlock (at least, I'm not sure I would in real life). John is.
As time has passed in the show and John's friendship has softened Sherlock, we've shifted a little more into Sherlock's POV, seeing John sometimes through his eyes instead of the other way around, but from the get-go, this story was not Sherlock's to tell. It was John's.
That realization opened up a lot for me in terms of thinking about narrators and perspective. I've paid a lot more attention since then to movies and TV, trying to figure out who the "narrator" is: who we're learning things along with, who we're supposed to sympathize with the most, and often, who the story first begins with. I've also been paying attention to how that affects the audience's participation in and viewership of the story. In Supernatural, for example, it was clear to me at the beginning that Sam was meant to be the "narrator," but as I've raced through the seasons, that role has shifted over to Dean. In Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White isn't the POV character, the Huntsman is (which means it does lack quite a bit in the female empowerment area).
Point-of-view in written text is clearer than it is in movies and TV, certainly. But I think this realization about film POVs will increase my skill as a writer when trying to get the proper reaction out of an audience. It's an important subject! And I'm grateful to Julia and to Sherlock for helping me be more aware of it.
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