|Perspectives -- Destabilizing with Lights & Darks|
"The Partial Glimpse--Perspective and Dynamic Plotting," by Catherine Brady (Writer's Chronicle, May/Summer, 2013) has some interesting facets to add to our ongoing discussions of POV:
Multiple POV, with all the attendant unreliability and partial knowledge, prejudices of each POV character, can enhance the tensions in an unfolding plot...a device for destabilizing the reader's take on the dramatic situation."
Brady makes the point that we are often advised to choose as the perspective character the one who has the most compelling desire, and yet desire by itself is not enough to carry a story.
For any chosen perspective character you're yoked to that character's limitations, and if you have multiple perspective characters, figuring out how to get information to the reader behind the character's back means you get to play with every possible permutation of the wavering sympathetic connection between character and reader. She continues,
A perspective character's limitations are a veritable gold mine of dramatic tension. His uncertain reliability provides the key...Most perspective characters fall into a gray area in which they sometimes have the reader's sympathy and agreement and at other times do not. This is the engine that drives dramatic tension.Brady uses an Alice Munro story, "Love of a Good Woman," to discuss some of her salient points of multiple perspective construction. This Munro story keeps a reader guessing as to where the story is going, as her stories often do, right up to the epiphany of discovery, or has there been a discovery? The reader has often to re-examine clues to the reliability or unreliability of the multiple perspective characters that contributed to the story. The dramatic tension of any Munro story is most always compellingly resolved.
The construction of our Munro story is memorable in that some perspective characters that contribute to the epiphany never actually meet or interact within the time frame of their narration. For example, a third person omniscient narrator tells of three boys who discover a drowned body in a creek bed at the beginning of the story; the boys and their families, after some discussion of their home life, are not heard from again.
Next, a third person limited narrator tells of a virtuous nurse, Enid, assisting a dying woman and her husband who live in a rural countryside; this is interrupted by a third person limited narrator describing a confession to Enid, by the possibly now-deranged wife she is caring for, concerning a past infidelity with the drowned man and the husband's role in the impassioned killing and hiding of the man's body.
The story concludes with a third person limited narration of Enid's quandary of whether to bring the wife's confession to the attention of the police, or consider a prospect of staying on and maybe even marrying the otherwise decent widower and taking care of him.
Although the story has widely divergent elements, they all piece together rather well in a coherent whole. The reader is perhaps uneasy about the quandary faced by Enid at the end, but then the dying wife's state of mind might have led to her fantasizing the confession, or perhaps, recognizing a potential attraction between her husband and Enid, she wished to poison Enid's mind against him.
What of the role of the boys? They set our mystery in motion, but was it also useful to describe the circumstances of their lives and their families? As Brady points out, perhaps so. Two of the families had difficult circumstances of life, but as country folk, they were attuned to how social conventions shield both the good and the bad, and how good people might have to make compromises in order to get by.
The reader is sure to appreciate the dramatic tensions raised by multiple and shifting perspectives in the story.