Monday, May 5, 2014


I recently went to see the new Wes Anderson movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel--this is a fantastic movie that develops many characters in clever ways.  The point of view in the movie is interesting, and this is what I wish to dwell on here.  The opening shot is a writer telling a story about another writer who is visiting a hotel who meets a mysterious man who tells him a story about how he came to own the hotel.

Sound confusing?  It's not really, but as much as I appreciate a good movie about writers telling stories, I'm not certain the extra layer of frame is necessary.  This frame within a frame within a story, seems excessive, but then again, Wes Anderson is good at the slightly excessive story-telling.

Movies, by their nature, may struggle with point of view because the audience is not always aware of the perspective in which they see the story.  In fact, if the audience is overly aware of the narrative perspective, then the point of view may seem contrived.

Take the Wes Anderson movie: he has a ridiculously framed narrative, twice-removed from the actual story.  The story itself is ridiculous and wonderful, hard to believe, and possibly steeped in rumor and hearsay.  Coming at the audience from a source twice-removed seems appropriate in this way, a little like playing telephone with a group of bellhops and fancy ladies.

In writing, this is not so different.  Writers have the opportunity to share a story and a world with readers, but how we show the story may not seem as important.

As a writer, how do we make these decisions and evaluate our own point of view when writing?  In some genres, the point of view is somewhat established.  Mystery and suspense typically use point of view that doesn't stay in the main character's mind but can "see" other crimes and scenes to create suspense.  Romance writers may choose to focus their perspective on the main character to show the thoughts and feelings and struggles of the protagonist.

One of my favorite examples of POV is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  This brief novel is an epistolary narrative, a collection of letters from different characters that don't have the entire story about what happened.  The final chapters put the pieces of the story together with Dr. Hyde's journal.  This narrative structure is brilliant.  Not only does this work as a detective for the reader, putting pieces together slowly, but also, this builds the suspense increasingly as the reader only gathers parts of the story as the author reveals them.  The POV and narrative structure reflect the story and make the entire novel stronger and more effective.

When it comes down to it, the point of view should be intentional.  Writers may loose the importance of POV in the glory of plot and character and setting, but the POV should reflect and empower everything that the story does.  How the story is "filmed" should be as important as any other aspect of the story.

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