Select your viewpoint character with care

Every story is told from someone’s perspective. This someone is known as the viewpoint character.

For example, in “The Matrix” movie series, the story is seen through the perspective of Neo, the tales’ hero. In the short story Thomas F. Monteleone’s “Present Perfect”, it’s the magazine editor William Rutherford. Usually the story’s hero is the viewpoint character. Sometimes this character is referred to as the POV character.

The viewpoint character does not have to be the story’s main character – or even a character in the story, however.

How do you decide who will be the viewpoint character? Ask yourself which character:
• Faces key decisions that must be shown in the story? You must show how these choices are arrived at to move along your plot, so this character is a good choice to be the viewpoint character.
• Makes the best observer? Sometimes the main character facing significant choices doesn’t have the ability to make the right decision; in such a story, your viewpoint character is showing how the main character made the wrong call.
• Serves as a surrogate for the author? This character usually is the author living a fantasy. Making him the viewpoint character can result in a melodramatic story.
• Serves as a surrogate for reader? This character probably is the best viewpoint character as it is the one who readers can identify with.

One last note: Your viewpoint character, if a character in the story, needs to be at an event to tell about it. Having a key event told to the viewpoint character amounts to exposition, a major style issue.