Sunday, November 1, 2009

Whose story is this?

One of the most important decisions a writer can make when crafting a story is to choose who the stars of the story are. Every story has a main character, a protagonist, about whose major life struggle the story revolves. This character is often categorized as the hero (or heroine). The villain (antagonist) is the individual or force the protagonist struggles against, creating the central conflict of the story. Serious trouble arises when the author can’t figure out who the story is really about. There are several possible causes for this.

The Scene Stealer. Sometimes a minor character (or the villain) becomes more interesting and steals so many scenes that the main character seems dull or plodding in comparison. Gradually the story becomes about the minor character, or at least so much that the tale becomes fragmented or torn in two or more directions, ruining the cohesive structure necessary for the reader to identify with and empathize with the main character, the star of the story.

The POV Mish-Mash. The author’s choice of point of view (POV) can have a miraculous or devastating effect on the story. Authors who choose to mix POVs within a scene (also known as ‘head-hopping’) run the risk of confusing the reader by presenting the thoughts and feelings of several characters all at once rather than confining each scene to one character’s point of view. The problem with mixed POVs is the reader almost needs a scorecard to keep up with whose head the scene is in at any given moment.

Diametrically Opposed Storylines. In the desire to craft a story rich with conflict and subplots, the author finds two very strong but very different storylines with separate characters existing within one story, creating an undesirable conflict in the cohesive nature of the story as a whole. The author may end up trying to alternate two opposing stories that are so different, they may not converge until well past the middle of the book. This kind of separate path approach may split the story down the middle and cause the reader to lose direction before the two dissimilar storylines merge and make sense.

Whatever the situation, the author should do what is necessary to bring cohesion to the story to keep the reader on track. In a future installment we’ll devote a detailed discussion to the very important (and sometimes controversial) issue of POV!

Willa Kaye Danes
author of

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