How does perspective affect mood in a novel?

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The word perspective has several synonyms including perception, angle, outlook, and viewpoint. Granted, each of them carries a slightly different nuance, but how often do we consider the importance of that when deciding which point of view to use in our stories?

After we decide on the main characters, there is always the question about first, second or third person point of view, and the appropriate tense. Sometimes the decisions are made very offhandedly, as if it doesn’t really matter as long as we choose one and stick with it.

What I’ve been noticing, however, is how the mood of a novel seems to depend on the personality represented by the point of view. Not only does each character have a distinctive personality, but so also does every narrator, and it is reflected in how the story is told.

This idea suggests we should know our characters well before beginning to write – not something that comes easy for me. I tend to develop my characters as I write, knowing them intimately only when I finally reach the conclusion. That might explain why I sometimes end up switching point of view and tense during my revisions. If I did more detailed character studies before I began I wouldn’t have quite so many changes to make later. (I tell myself that constantly, but when a character begs to have his story told I can’t wait to dive in. Does that mean I’m undisciplined? Oh, please don’t tell me that! I have enough problems.)

One of the reasons my first novel has been permanently shelved is because the protagonist is unsympathetic. She’s always discouraged or depressed, and no matter how I rework the chapters, they’re still going to reflect her personality. I’m pretty sure I need to replace her with a stronger, more upbeat character or rewrite the entire story from a different point of view, not something I want to tackle… at least, not yet. I have another cheeky character taunting me with her story.

 What determines how you choose the POV and tense for your stories? How would it affect the tone of your writing if you switched perspective?

 

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8 thoughts on “How does perspective affect mood in a novel?

  1. I love your photos. I hope to visit Canada one day :)

  2. wordsfallfrommyeyes says:

    This is great guidance here – thank you.

  3. Katt says:

    Great photos!
    One of the reasons I love writing fiction is I have no idea where the story is going. I have a teeny-tiny idea in my head, sit at the keyboard and two thousand words later…… people (crit partners) have asked me “where is this going”? To which I replay, “I’ll let you know tomorrow, that’s when I’ll find out!”
    Hugs

  4. Darlene says:

    You’re not undisciplined, you’re a writer. We have our own type of discipline. I think whatever works for you is best. I usually pick a POV and tense and stick with it but every now and then I make a change and usually go back to the original plan. We have to trust our own intuition. Your unsympathetic character may come to life one day and become someone we want to know more about (Like why she is so discouraged and depressed – there is always a reason) I am intriqued already. Write on!!

  5. Keli Gwyn says:

    Carol, I hope that cheeky character of yours starts chatting. She sounds like someone who would be fun to read and to write.

  6. Shari Green says:

    My POV character has a huge impact on the tone of this WIP. It’s the tone I was going for, but I do wonder a bit if it’s too much of a “downer”. I guess I’ll soon see, as the novel’s almost ready to send out into the world.

    My last novel was narrated by a much cheekier, less depressed character. She was kinda fun to write. ;)

  7. Welcome, Olivia and Wordsfallfrommyeyes. Thanks for dropping in here. I discovered Olivia’s in Australia… another beautiful place to live. Come visit anytime. :)

    Katt, that’s how I wrote my first two novels. They were “seat of my pants” because I couldn’t see anything beyond the initial seed of an idea and the main character. I’ve tried to plot subsequent books, but I’m only moderately successful. I’m not a plotter by nature, I guess. I’ve found a little bit of pre-planning does make a big difference, but many scenes still unfold on their own.

    Darlene, I like your idea that writers have their own type of discipline! I agree that being guided by intuition is often best, assuming there’s some measure of reason behind our choices. And yes, that character has a very good reason for why she’s discouraged and depressed. How she overcame that reason is the basis of the story but that’s where the focus should be, not on her weaknesses. It’s not marketable the way it is, and I’ve moved on, but maybe one day I’ll tackle a rewrite… just not right now. I have a fourth book on the go and another lurking. :)

    Keli, I can’t seem to keep her quiet. Such a mouthy thing! I’m making occasional notes, but have a different story to finish before I can let her run loose.

    Shari, I liked your cheeky character. ;) It’s not a bad thing to challenge ourselves to write from darker places, as long as there’s still conflict and a character that readers can relate to. I’m looking forward to reading this one.

  8. I don’t think that makes you undisciplined. It makes you a Seat-of-the-Pants writer! My characters take shape as I write. All those character charts make me want to run and hide under my desk. :)

    Third person is my favorite POV. Someday, I’d like to try first person.

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