Point of view one is of the fiction writer’s most powerful techniques. Writing from your character’s POV means that you get inside the main character’s head, heart and gut –literally see the world through the character’s perspective. So, for example, when you are in the “bad guy’s” POV, be true to that POV. An excellent example of this is Crime and Punishment where Raskolnikov thrusts an ax into his landlady’s head. Thus begins one of the greatest novel ever written. Did Dostoevsky have to put an ax into anyone’s head to write this? Clearly not. And neither do you. But Dostoevsky needed to experience Raskolnikov’s physical journey as a murderer as well as his emotional journey from darkness to redemption.
William Faulkner wrote: “… the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself… alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the sweat and the agony.”
Faulkner has given us a tough assignment, yet it is an assignment at which we much excel as fiction writers. The best way to succeed at this is to leave behind what you believe to be “true” and open yourself to the vast possibility of life experiences outside your own. For it is not true that we can only write what we experience. As writers, we access the imagination, that cosmic place where everything is possible and the great expanse of human emotions resides.
One of the best ways to experience the power of point of view is to write an emotionally strong scene between two people who, when they tell their story, have very different versions of the experience. For example, write a fight between two people, perhaps a mother and a daughter or a father and a son. A fight has built in tension, which makes the scene easier to write. You also have opportunity to use dialogue – when people fight, they usually have a lot say! Begin by asking yourself what is the issue between the mother and daughter (or father and son, or any two people). First write the scene from the daughter’s point of view. This means you get inside only the daughter’s head. The reader can hear what the mother says and see how she acts, but cannot know her thoughts. This exercise brings you totally inside the daughter. The only inner thoughts you use belong to the daughter.
Then put the daughter’s story aside and write the scene from the mother’s point of view. You need not have the exact same dialogue and almost certainly the story will be very different from the mother’s point of view. This time around, you show the reader only the mother’s inner thoughts. The daughter speaks and acts but we do not know her motivations other than by what she says and does.
This is a great eye opener of an exercise geared to deepening your understanding of the writer’s technique of point of view. It also encourages dialogue. Even if you’ve never written dialogue, give it a try. I’ve worked with a lot of people who think they can’t write dialogue — only because they’ve never tried. The truth is everyone can write dialogue! So can you!