Monday, April 8

Twelve Dancing Princesses and...

Oh, my good Lord! Where are my manners? To talk about fairy tales and archetypes and various aspects of the writing craft—like plot or backstory—and then NOT mention point-of-view. What was I thinking?

So sorry. On to a proper story...

Part of the wonder of a fairy tale—whether it is oral or written—is in the perspective of the narrator. Rarely is the audience given the impression that a key member of the cast is the one telling the story. This allows the narrator to freely move from place to place, from character to character, without disrupting the framework of the tale. In “Snow White,” for example, we pay a few visits to the Evil Queen's private chambers to see her with the mirror, the huntsman, and the witchcraft—even though Snow White never stops being our protagonist.

Now, not all fairy tales bounce between the good guys and the bad guys. “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is one of many stories that follow the fairy tale recipe of opening with the problem, then following the hero (or heroine) as he (or she) solves the problem. In modern story-telling, this technique is frowned upon, because writers are encouraged to be consistent in their point-of-view. (Unless they have a well-established fan base, as many a beginning author may complain.) To begin with a clear, consistent pattern of following the actions and thoughts of one (or a select few) character. Omniscient point-of-view has fallen very much by the wayside these days.

Not always a bad thing. But sometimes limiting, especially for fairy tales.

To pick apart point-of-view, there are any number of stories we could be using. What works about “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” in this case is how the story teller keeps secrets from the reader. We uncover the mystery and see its resolution in time with the soldier of fortune hero. Not in time with the angry princesses' reactions, or the king's desperation. And, we have the added bonus of seeing the characters' actions, not their thoughts.

Before I delve into point-of-view, its uses, its powers, and its limitations, you might take a little time to examine this story. How might you tell the story differently if you could only choose one point-of-view? Try once through the soldier of fortune's eyes, once through at least one of the princesses', and once through the king's. A different perspective might force you to restructure the story, so don't be afraid to move events around or create extra ones as needed. A different point-of-view, after all, means working with a different set of information. What's in the omniscient point-of-view is only one version of the truth...

Best of luck! 

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