Character is destiny, part 1: The Edward/Bella dilemma

9:02 PM Posted by Miriam Forster

 This is reposted from a six-part character series that I did on my blog, Dancing with Dragons is Hard on Your Shoes. I'll be posting the other bits of the series over the next week or two. Enjoy!
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A while back, I did something I wasn't sure I'd ever do, something I was a little embarrassed to tell people about.

I read the excerpt of Midnight Sun.

For those of you who don't know, Midnight Sun was supposed to be the fifth book in the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. It tells the events of Twilight from Edward's perspective instead of Bella's.

The book was partially written when someone leaked the work-in-progress to the Internet. Ms. Meyer was so upset by this that she has put the project aside for an indefinite period, and put the leaked draft on her website for her fans to read.

I am not so much a S. Meyer fan, though I have respect for her storytelling abilities. But a friend heard me grumble about how much I disliked Edward as a character, and suggested I read the partial draft.

I was amazed.  Being inside Edward's head was a completely different experience from being inside Bella's head, and for me, a much more interesting one. Instead of the Bella's dilemma "Why is this guy ignoring me and what's his dangerous secret?" the central question is "What can I do to avoid killing this girl, and how can I keep my family from killing her?" I found myself more involved in the story that I was originally, and wishing that the entire series was written from Edward's perspective.

This got me thinking about character.
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The Greek writer Heraclitus said that character is destiny, and whether or not that's true in life, it's certainly true in your novel. Your choice of point-of-view character determines everything. What are the tensions in the story? Who is your supporting cast? What does the voice and tone sound like?

 All of these decisions are affected by who tells the story.

But choosing a point-of-view character is a tricky business. How do you know whose story it is? And to complicate things further, your main character and your point-of-view character may not be the same person. Many classic mysteries, for example, have the sidekick tell the story. That way the detective can save the final reveal for the very end, astonishing everyone, including the sidekick.

So how do you decide whose head to stay in?
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It depends of course, a lot on the kind of book that you're writing. But here are three questions I ask myself:

1.) Who has the power? Powerless or passive characters can be very hard to engage with. (I would classify Bella as one of these, but that's just my opinion.)

If your story is about a prince rescuing a princess and the princess spends almost the entire book locked in a tower crying, you may want to try telling it from the point of view of the prince. Or a servant who secretly helps the princess by smuggling her food, and eventually assisting in her escape.

2.)  Who changes the most?

Terry Brooks says that without change, nothing happens. The process of changing and adapting to new circumstances creates an automatic story tension. In the Twilight story, it isn't Bella, but Edward who changes the most. His internal struggle gives the story weight.

3.) Who keeps the secrets?

This is largely applicable to mysteries or thrillers. If a character has a secret the reader absolutely cannot know until near the end, try telling it from a different perspective. But be careful here. Sometimes keeping a secret from your readers isn't necessary. I preferred watching Edward try to keep his identity secret, as opposed to watching Bella try to ferret it out.
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Any thoughts? How do you decide which character tells the story?
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