Use point of view to seduce them.
Point of view is the window through which the audience (them) interacts with a work. A writer can go to a lot of effort to craft a point of view that should be relatable, but their work isn’t popular. With these 7 steps to engaging the audience any work can be popular too. In step #2, by using characters who judge other characters the audience is seduced by people instead of imagination.
Dual Point of Views
In The Shawshank Redemption we are introduced to Andy through old-timer, Red. Right away Andy intrigues Red by remaining calm at his initiation into prison life. It’s not what Red bet on and it costs him several cases of cigarettes but that made Andy even more fascinating to Red. We didn’t expect Andy would reach out to Red first (for the rock hammer) and neither did Red. It threw us both for a loop and realizing our mistake we settled in for Andy to lead us himself. By presenting a protagonist through the next most important character’s eyes we can establish their relationship and the status quo without gimmick or breaking the belief barrier.
Red didn’t think Andy would make it in prison. He was surprised and Andy continued to surprise Red throughout their friendship. Not only were we won over by Andy, but Red’s point of view preserved the mysterious aura pervading him even to his fellow inmates. As Red accepted it as part of Andy we allowed ourselves to as well and it lead us both to Andy’s biggest secret…his escape. An escape he conceived and worked to carry out for years, a secret he kept even from Red and the audience.
This secret hope pervaded every action Andy made and explains without words the motivation we’d sensed but not been told about yet. It was essential for the plot that Red be narrator but it also set up the audience to experience Red and Andy’s friendship from both points of view. As both men evolved their opinions, concerns and thoughts on the other the audience went along with the understanding there are two sides to any story.
A Single Point of View
In The Twilight Saga, the reverse technique was used. Bella was drawn to Edward right away and his reaction of dislike (so different from everyone else’s fawning) only intensified her fascination. Add to that his odd behavior, the differences in his eye color and his saving Bella’s life and you totally buy into her attraction to such contradictions. Like Bella, we are swept into this raw, fresh relationship, both anticipating learning about Edward’s secret, the audience mayhap more than Bella does herself. By presenting the next most important character through the protagonist’s thoughts we can establish motivation for both characters’ actions, again, without gimmick or breaking the belief barrier.
During Twilight, because Bella figured out Edward was a vampire through Jacob, it made perfect sense for her friendship with him to deepen in New Moon. From this beginning we knew a relationship of lovers was doomed between the two of them. We’d already seen from Bella’s own eyes her feelings for Edward and Jacob. Even if you were rooting for Jacob, by seeing her point of view of Edward you could see the mountain Jacob would need to climb to change Bella’s mind.
Because we were in on the creation of the bonds between Bella and Edward and Bella and Jacob we feel like we are part of those bonds. A silent 3rd party if you will with our own opinions about what we think is best for Bella even as we can’t help but think it’s too late and her fate is set. Of course, this is the beauty of first person narrative and it’s easy to dismiss it’s power when used in a romantic setting. It explains though why Twilight fans are so rabid about the series. Through Bella’s narration the audience understands and feels the rightness of the actions the characters’ take as well as their motivations for them.
Multiple Point of Views
In Mad Men we are introduced to Lane Pryce in season 3 as an under appreciated yet skilled money man. Don approaches Lane to break their contracts by firing them (the core partners) so they can create a new agency. Lane capitulates to Don’s words and moves with him as the financial officer in the new agency; even putting his own financial future on the line to keep them afloat. In season 4, Lane tries to deal with his marriage falling apart much in the same manner as Don did his own. It’s not a successful strategy and in the end it’s his father who ‘helps’ set Lane straight.
This season, after a cancelled check gets him chewed out, Don demands Lane’s resignation. He cites lack of trust even though Lane is cornerstone to the agency’s existence and success. So through Lane we see Don’s magic impelled him to take a risk, we see Lane try to become Don and fail, then when Don rejects him Lane’s forced to come up with an “elegant exit.” Don in turn takes Lane’s death hard, his guilt taking on a physical presence as it reminds him of Adam Whitman’s suicide, also instigated by his rejection. Through this one secondary character’s arc we see what a heavy burden Don’s power can be and why it brings him the curse of unhappiness.
With Mad Men the format lends itself to the idea of presenting the protagonist through not just one other point of view but a whole cast of secondary characters. Every recurring character has some sort of relationship with Don Draper and every single one has a form of worship or fascination behind it. By presenting the protagonist through multiple point of views with specific but similar feelings attached, the audience accepts they are to be similarly effected as these point of view characters have been. Because we join their ranks this makes the secondary characters as important to the audience as Don. We desire to feel him influence us as well. He doesn’t always influence for the better, so it’s a 50/50 chance you’ll crash and burn from it but the risk makes the whole effort worth the attempt. Lane Pryce’s point of view confirms to the audience why, yet again, we are seduced by Don Draper.
I wanna be popular too you say…and you can be. Use point of view to seduce them. This twist of point of view was the most unexpected quality the popular works shared, but actually made the most sense. In real life when we learn another’s opinion, many times, is when they become real to us. With these opinions we can better judge if we can relate to them or not. It’s human nature to be influenced by other people’s opinions. Whether we agree with them or not doesn’t matter; they stop being characters and start being human. An intimacy is created between them (the audience) and the point of view character when we learn their judgments about another. As we form our own opinions we are seduced into the story.
As a writer, take the second step in your own work to engage the audience: use point of view to seduce them. Continue reading how, with these 7 steps to engaging the audience, any work can be popular too.