How to Control the Point of View of Your Story

point of view in storytelling
'The Shawshank Redemption'Credit: Columbia Pictures
The point of view of each scene adds up to tell us the point of view of the entire story. 

So much of writing is about control. You have to be the one feeding the audience details, the plot points, and then letting it all pay off.

It's this kind of control that makes me love writing film and television. You're like God, because you get to decide what happens when. You're delivering the story to the audience and dealing with their emotions. 

One of the biggest choices you need to make, not just scene to scene but for the entire film or TV show, is that of the point of view.

Today, I want to talk about point of view and how it affects the way you tell a story. It also will change the way you develop characters and their arcs. We'll look at examples of points of view in film and television, as well as dissect some tips for you to use while writing. 

All right, let's begin. 

How to Control the Point of View of Your Story 

There are lots of different ways to analyze the point of view of your story. When you're writing and directing, you need to decide how the audience will digest the story. How will you feed them the facts? Will it be restrictive? Will you throw it all out and let the audience sort it out? Will you use a character to tell us bits and pieces? 

Point of view matters. 

Point of View Definition 

In storytelling, the point of view refers to how the filmmaker, character, or narrator tells the story the audience can see on screen.

This perspective is chosen by the writer. It can be omniscient, limited, or specialized, depending on what the writer chooses. 

Why Does Point of View Matter? 

This viewpoint will affect how the movie or show is shot, how characters come and go from scenes, and how much the audience knows versus the people within the scene.

Think about a mystery movie where we might be ahead of the characters, or one where we are picking up the clues at the same time as the detective. What about a movie with a voiceover, where someone is telling us a story? What if that voiceover is unreliable, and tells us a tale that's not reflected in what happens? 

Also, think about the way your favorite movies and TV shows are shot. Sometimes the point of view can refer to the way a scene is shot, like if we are in the killer's perspective in a slasher. Maybe we can see someone hiding in the closet, but the killer inside the room cannot.

Or maybe, for comedy, we can see what bodily fluid is hanging from someone's ear, but the character can't. 

The way you write and direct these scenes needs to take an audience on a journey and be consistent with how they come together as a whole. 

Examples of Point of View in Film and Television 

I think the best way to understand point of view in film and television is to look at a few examples.

First, let's talk about a character's point of view. In The Shawshank Redemption, we hear the story of Andy Dusfrane, as told to us by his fellow inmate, Red. There is a great article we have that dissects this point of view in terms of main characters and protagonists, but rest assured, that whole movie is told from Red's point of view. That means Red has no idea when Andy is plotting his escape. That's why the reveal is so fun. The audience only knows what Red knows as we go. 

But all voiceovers don't have reliable narrators.

In The Usual Suspects, Verbal Kint is our narrator who tells us a story that winds up not being true. We have his point of view on the story, but it's actually not accurate. Sure, there are scenes outside his POV, as the cops try to get a picture of Keyser Soze, but all of the flashbacks are from his point of view. 

'The Usual Suspects'Credit: Gramercy Pictures
A movie with an omniscient point of view, but also voiceover, is Little Children. We have scenes from each character in the movie's point of view, and we get to hear their internal thoughts from a disembodied voice talking over them. 

Of course, most movies have points of view that change depending on which character is in which scene.

Think about a movie like The Birds. In this scene, we get the main character's point of view, not knowing that when we widen the scene, there will be a ton of birds behind her. Writing this scene would be important because you'd want to write in the description that she has no idea they are landing behind her. 

'The Birds'Credit: Universal Pictures
You can also use point of view to challenge the audience.

In the opening of Touch of Evil, the audience is ahead of the characters. We know there's a bomb in the trunk of a car, and we see that car driving all over, nervously waiting for the timer to tick down.

In TV, point of view also matters, especially when writing subplots and B-stories.

Think about the great Breaking Bad season 2 cold opens with stuff falling from the sky. Those are the limited point-of-view moments that add up to pay off the story of a grieving father Walter White never meets, but one who was affected by him, because he caused his daughter to overdose, and therefore that guy caused several planes to collide in midair. 

Finally, let's talk about the recent hit Mare of Easttown.  This is a detective show where we are privy to the clues Mare finds as she searches around town, but because the point of view of the show extends to multiple characters and storylines, we also have clues and ideas that she has not stumbled upon. 

As you can see, as writers and directors, point of view is crucial to plotting the scene and to telling actors what their characters do or do not know. 

Summing Up Point of View 

The point of view dictates not only what characters can see and feel, but how the audience will react to certain moments and payoffs. When you tell a story through a distinct point of view, it can alter the narrative, giving us information only as one character picks up on it. 

The point of view is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. As a writer or director, it dictates the exact way the audience should imbibe the story details and can also change the angles at which you shoot and the way you want to edit later. 

What are your takeaways when it comes to point of view? 

Let us know in the comments.      

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