What No One Tells You About Point of View: Part Two, Plot and Voice

Point of view is plot. E. M. Forster says, in his wonderful lecture series/ book Aspects of the Novel, that in a novel with a story, the reader asks, “And then what?” while in a novel with a plot, the readers asks, “Why?” But the trick to creating those questions in your reader has much to do with point of view. The narrator’s perspective or cunning reveals enough to engage while withholding enough to entice. The narrator, that is, through design (storytelling capacity) or circumstance (the limits of his or her own knowledge force limits on the reader’s knowledge), baits the reader. Who that narrator is and when he or she is telling the story will shape the boundaries of the book and thus its plot. While the characters in a narrative are dealing with ascending levels of problems, attempting solutions that land them back at a bigger problem, the writer of a narrative must grapple similarly, but more successfully, with her own problems. Point of view offers much material for this pursuit. Think of the story about the blind men and the elephant: one says the elephant is a wall, another a rope, another paper, another a snake, another the trunk of a tree. Each fingers some piece of the beast–side, tail, ear, trunk, and leg, respectively–and each pronounces on the whole. Your omniscient narrator can show us the entire elephant or dip down into the experience of the man at the ear and then, in the next chapter or a later section, reveal the perspective of the man at the leg. Your close third sticks to the...