Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Toni Morrison on Point of View I

This is from one of my favorite books about literature, Conversations With Toni Morrison (Edited by Danille Taylor-Guthrie; University Press of Mississippi)

Q: Do you love all your characters?
A: Always!
Q: Do you identify with any of them?
A: No, that would not be a good position to take . . . . I love them and I cherish them, and I love their company as long as I am with them. The point is to try to see the world from their eyes, and I think that is probably what causes readers some dismay. I like to do what I thinks actors do on stage. My work is to become those characters in a limited way, to see that they see, not what I see. I need to see how they see the world. Each one speaks his or her own language, has an individual set of metaphors, and notices certain things differently from other people.

My biggest direct influence when it came to P.O.V. was Toni Morrison, and I'll write about that at more length later. This quote, which I found after I had already get well started, isn't obviously about P.O.V. in that it doesn't say anything about first-person, third-person, omniscience, etc. But it is about P.O.V. in the sense that it reminds me that all the technical parts of a book are integrated. Whatever technical approach I take to the issue of P.O.V.--third person limited, for example--it won't matter if I don't really perceive my characters as fully human.

This can be so difficult to do with the bad guys in a story. (Though I suppose the danger is just as great with the good guys.) The temptation is to treat them like monsters--to have them serve the purpose of antagonizing your protagonist. But if they aren't fully human in their own right and don't have real, credible reasons for their behavior, then you have melodrama instead of literature.

One way I forced myself to do that is to have some chapters that are specifically from the antagonists P.O.V. In my case it's like when Gruendel speaks for himself in John Gardner's novel. It's not always necessary to narrate from the bad guy's P.O.V., but Toni Morrison's point here is that it's always necessary to be able to.


Joel Gardner said...

You are onto something here. Giving POV over to the "bad guy" can be a powerful place for the writer to reach. Outside him- or herself.

RW said...

Thanks Joel. By the way, I did some time in the English Dept. in Sunny B myself, long after your dad's passing. It wasn't a positive experience, so less said better.