Using POV to untangle plot

Tangled threads 2


A little while ago I decided I needed a clearer perspective on the villain’s story in Novel Project #3. So I sat down and plotted the story-so-far from his perspective. This proved to be an interesting exercise.

Humiliatingly, I discovered the plot actually didn’t work from his perspective. I had him on one side of the country on one day, then popping up on the other side of the country a few days later with no plausible reason for how he got there, or, worse, why he might have wanted to travel in the first place.

Learning No. 1: plotting your story from alternative viewpoints (even if the story is never told from these viewpoints), is a valuable tool for uncovering plot holes.

Then, I got stuck. I got to a point in the story where I couldn’t work out what should happen next. I knew where I wanted my heroine to end up, but there was a hefty gap between where she was and where she needed to be, and I couldn’t think of anything interesting to fill it. I had that sense of having to write some stuff to fill time before the next chunk of story started, and we all know what a mortal blow that is to plot.

I’d had a sense for a little while that my backstory needed more work, and that some of the plot points so far weren’t quite as convincing as they should be. And what do you know. When I went back and did the work on the backstory that it needed, my story came to life again. By understanding more about what was going on with my villain and a couple of the supporting characters, I understood what else was going on in my story that would galvanise the next chapter of action and excitement. I couldn’t see it before, because I was only looking at it from my heroine’s perspective, and she has no idea about this other stuff that’s going on.

Learning No. 2: Not everything important that is happening in your story is going to directly involve your protagonist, even if it does end up affecting her. Plotting your story from alternative viewpoints will enable you to understand the other currents flowing through your plot, and to know when and how their effects will manifest for your protagonist.

Perspective from the tip of the iceberg

I’m convening the CSFG novel writing group this year, and last month we did a session on connecting the reader to your story through point of view. We did an exercise where I got everyone to write a short, descriptive scene from a character’s point of view. I got each person to read out their scene, then the rest of us shared what information we had gleaned from the scene about that character. I only gave the group 10 minutes or so to write the scene, so they were very short. But, what was remarkable was just how much we all got out of a few well-placed details.

You’ve probably heard about the iceberg writing model. You know the one: only 10 per cent of what you know about your story, your characters and your world, makes it onto the page. The rest stays ‘under the water’, as it were, in the murky depths of your writerly brain. You need to know about it; it’s an important foundation for that tiny 10 per cent of your story that is the only part to ever see the sun.

Image courtesy of Liz Noffsinger at

Well, after hearing what we all got out of these tiny snippets of writing, it struck me that if you include the right details, your readers are going to be able to take that measly 10 per cent and use their imaginations to construct something far larger and more complex than that iceberg tip you gave them. They’ll be able to stand on it and look down through the ice into those depths you left lurking there. They might not see quite the same things that you do, or their vision might be clearer, and they might see stuff you never even knew existed.

But, for me, anyway, that’s part of the whole pleasure of reading: exercising your imagination and using the writer’s words like Lego bricks – to construct something wonderful that only you can really see.