Does the main character have to have a point of view?

When I stared writing, I never questioned this. The answer was a definite “no”. For example, in Sherlock Holmes stories, my childhood favorites, Holmes is definitely the main character, yet the point of view belongs to Dr. Watson, the man who admires Holmes and always stays by his side. Brought up on the classical literature, I have seen many such examples. The most powerful one is probably Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot”, where getting into the main character’s head would have likely destroyed the book.

As I started participating in writing groups and author discussions in the US, I was surprised to find that a different opinion prevails among the readers and authors in some of these circles. By a majority vote, at least on my lists, someone without a point of view cannot be the main character. Seeing these discussions, I began to wonder if this may be genre-specific, since most of my circles are related to speculative fiction.

As I write, I tend to feel so personal about my main character that often I find it difficult to write in his/her point of view and maintain the tension and drive in the story at the same time. Giving a point of view to a main character can often destroy the image, the mystery and excitement that surrounds this character. In such cases, the story and the character have to be shown through someone else’s eyes, someone’s who is close to this character and ideally admires him/her, but never sees into this character’s thoughts.

I have written books both ways, inside and outside of the main character’s point of view. But to me, some of my favorite characters have to maintain the enigma, much the same way as the enigma built around Sherlock Holmes. While I do not parallel my writing with that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (or Dostoevsky, for that matter), my point of view choice in writing has been inspired in part by reading their books. Would it be fun if we sometimes get to learn what Sherlock Holmes thinks and feels? Probably yes. But to me, it would destroy his image, make him too accessible to marvel at, too similar to everyone else. As I now realize, this was one of the reasons why I liked the movies much less than the books.

In my recently published epic fantasy “Blades of the Old Empire” such a point of view switch has apparently become a controversial point with some readers. The book  has several major characters, but the majority of the story revolves around Kara (who is also the focus of the cover art and the publisher’s blurb). She does not have a point of view in this book, even though she acquires one in the sequel, “The Guild of Assassins”, to be released in July. To me, this lack of the point of view has been important–and made lots of sense.  Apparently, however, lack of her point of view in combination with this cover and blurb came as a surprise to many readers. (As a disclaimer, while the cover and the blurb were not written or chosen by me, I felt happy about these choices, because they showed how well the publisher has tuned in to my feelings about the book). And, during the first month since the release, I had many occasions to feel special, and gratified, to find readers who tuned in to these feelings as well, and reflected it in their praise.

I tend to think there are no “rules” in fiction and everything is possible. Yet, I see many discussions out there stating what is expected and what goes outside the bounds, at least in the speculative genres. My point of view choices seem to fall into this category.

I am very curious to know what other people think about it:

Does the main character have to have a point of view? Does having a point of view always make the character stronger? And, is your opinion on this genre-dependent?

Please let me know, by leaving comments!

About Anna Kashina

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4 Responses to Does the main character have to have a point of view?

  1. I actually didn’t think of her as the main character. Unlike Holmes, she’s not constantly onstage which coupled with the lack of POV made me think of her as one of the ensemble. It didn’t hurt the book though.

    • Anna Kashina says:

      Fraser, I would be curious to learn your thoughts about the same issue in book 2, where most of the action revolves around a non-POV character, and to me he was the one driving the plot. Overall, this discussion is making me re-think my ideas of main, central, and secondary characters altogether. The on-stage part is really true.

  2. Pingback: Writing-Related Links (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Plus Holmes is, in his world, one of a kind whereas Kara, formidable as she is, is part of an entire guild of formidables.
    I’ll see what I make of the sequel.

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