Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Who Tells Your Story by Syndi Powell



I had heard about this hip hop musical about one of America's Founding Fathers, and I became curious to find out what such a combination would sound like. I listened to it once, twice. And then it happened: I became obsessed with the musical "Hamilton: An American Musical" by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He's a gifted storyteller, bringing the story of the man on our ten dollar bill to life. But one line that stood out at the beginning changed the way I looked at the book I'm currently writing: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

As writers, we often look to who lives or dies in our stories, but we should also be looking at who is telling the story. Each scene comes from one person's point of view, and if you flipped that it could change how it plays out. After all, two people witness an event, and you'll get two different stories about what happened. The major details may agree, but the little details could change depending on who is telling the story at the time. Similar to the Japanese film, "Rashomon", the truth of what happened depends on who is speaking.

How can we apply this to our writing? Often, we pick whose point of view a particular scene is from by who has the most at stake. But we could add depth to our story by looking at how it would play by changing the POV. Each character comes in the scene with a particular agenda, hoping to steer the story based on that. If my hero wants to convince the heroine that they need to take their relationship to the next level, then he will manipulate his dialogue to get the desired outcome. But what if that same scene is from the heroine's point of view who wants to keep the status quo. She will use her dialogue and body language to emphasize the need to stay the same. Depending on whose point of view you choose will determine the words and mood of the scene.

By coming at the same scene from different points of view, I can determine the strongest thread of action. It will also influence the direction of the plot since I tend to write by the seat of my pants rather than by methodically planning. It's brought up some surprises and twists that I hadn't expected. I hope it's also created some depth in the characters since I'm going deeper into what they see, feel, think.

Hamilton believed in the power of words. He used them to create and to destroy. Miranda believes in the power of music and story. And me? I know that we need to find out who lives, who dies, and who tells our story.

16 comments:

  1. Hi Syndi! I haven't seen Hamilton but I've been hearing about it for ages. I guess I need to get with the times. I really like how you explained the use of POV to create a more powerful scene. I really struggled with a scene once and I finally rewrote from the other POV and it was like magic. Now whenever I'm really struggling with it, I always try it from the opposite POV. What a catchy way to remember it! Who lives, who dies and who tells your story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great advice, LeAnne. Changing POV really does flip how you (as the writer and the reader) view the story.

      Delete
  2. Great post, Syndi, and very true about the point of view!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting stuff, Syndi! I remember in the basics of writing fiction that the protagonist should act and respond differently to the different people in his life because he feels differently about each of them. Basically the same thing you're saying. I think Lin-Manuel Miranda is so cool, and love that he's been so successful with this. Can you imagine the meeting where he pitched this idea?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Muriel, I heard that he was at the White House and told the President and First Lady that he was going to rap from a song that he was working on for them. It eventually became the first song of the musical. Crazy idea, but it works!

      Delete
  4. Words do have tremendous power, don't they? Wonderful post, Syndi!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Profound post. I've seen Miranda on TV several times and he is gifted and a deep thinker. I have always written with the philosophy that when you talk, I think. And when I talk, you think. I may be the only writer who loves to see a reaction in the person to whom the POV speaker is talking. Thoughts can be really revealing about a listener. Clear as mud, right? You melted it down wonderfully. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Roz, I like that philosophy. I am going to have to try that while I'm editing!

      Delete
  6. Great post! This is the fun of character driven novels, isn't it? I love the subtleties of how relationships change and grow, or become more distanced. I never get tired of it! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Patricia. I am a sucker for character driven novels and how you can dive into different personalities to see how they tick. Then again, I'm a sucker for plot driven ones too. I'm a story addict.

      Delete
  7. Great post. I ran over to check if the films you mention are on Netflix for steaming. They're not, but I'll keep checking back. Thanks for the recommendation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hamilton is currently playing on Broadway, so it may be a while. Rashomon is a Japanese film from 1950, but it's rare to find.

      Delete
  8. I often find that switching my POV gives me something I never expected. Enjoyed your post.

    ReplyDelete