It really is amazing how dramatically different a given landscape can appear depending on where one is standing.
But even two people standing in the exact same spot will have unique responses to an identical scene, each interpretation shaped by his or her personal experiences and interests – what might appear like a mundane, everyday occasion to one person may seem spectacular or even horrifying to someone else. And within an individual, any particular sight can have varying reactions depending on current mood, on recent events or distant unlocked memories evoked.
In fiction, I’m not a big believer in static narration. When a story is told, it is best told through the lens of those who experienced it, if not from a firsthand point of view then at least from an emphatic third person report.
And so, when writing a story, be it based in reality or fictional, it is key to consider who is telling the story or from whose perspective are the events of the story being experienced. This will have a major impact on how the story is shaped and how the reader will perceive the events unfolding. So choosing who tells a story or who views and feels what happens in the plot is almost as important as the plot itself.
This is definitely something I’ve been struggling with in my current WIP, one scene in particular: a late night hangout among several friends in an abandoned farm house. I’ve rearranged and rewritten the scene several times, placing the reigns of the plot advancement behind the eyes of at least three different characters, all living through the same night but seeing different things, each knowing something the others don’t. It’s been difficult for me to choose the best way to present the sequence of events.
Here’s a quick example: Ella and Valerie are two girls of roughly the same age, both exploring the same creepy house in the middle of the night with a group of mutual friends. While Ella has lived in town for her entire life and has known most of the people in the group for nearly that long. Valerie, on the other hand, has only recently moved to town from a much bigger city up north and is still adjusting to life in a small town and while she is acquainted with everyone in the group at this point in the story, she does not yet have much personal history with the others.
Now of course, Valerie’s dynamic with the other characters is going to naturally different than Ella’s given their vastly different personal experiences up to this point. Adding to this, Valerie is much more extroverted and is more comfortable in a large group than Ella is. Also, her having spent her formative years in a city, it is safe to say that her worldview is unique among the other, country-born people in the group.
Now throw in a plot involving a spirit board, a half-century old murder, something going thump in the cellar, teenage lust, mood-altering substances, and a girl with a strong connection to the supernatural on top of these differing perspectives and you have the beginnings of a story. Still, behind whose eyes is it best told?
Sometimes the answer isn’t a single voice but several.
When it comes to the all-knowing detached narrator, I’m not totally against it, it’s just not something I like to use personally. But when using this device, I think it’s important to still know who your invisible narrator is, be it an outside character distantly related to the plot or an omnipresent god who has the ability to read every mind and relate every emotion felt by every being in existence (really not a fan of this narrator). Because no matter how detached you think your narrator may be, they are still, unavoidably, a part of the story.
Like a colonizer stepping foot on foreign soil, with every word, the narrator affects and shapes the world she or he describes.