In ninth-grade English, I had an assignment to re-write a fairy tale from a different point of view. My partner and I chose “Snow White” from the point of view of the mirror. While it’s interesting on its own to write from the view of an inanimate object, that exercise was an eye-opener. Each character in a story, no matter how large or small a role they play, sees the story’s events from a unique perspective. Perhaps the most important of these perspectives, next to the protagonist’s, is that of the antagonist.
The well-done antagonist has a mind of their own. They participate in many of the events that the main character does, but they see them in a completely different way. Sometimes the antagonist is just plain evil–the various stepmothers and kingdom usurpers of fairy tales, villains of fantasy stories, outlaws in westerns. But sometimes the antagonist isn’t so much evil as just using their point of view to see things differently from the main character. Because of their past, or their present vantage point, they want something that’s in conflict with what the main character wants, putting the two of them in conflict.
My work in progress is more along those lines. The antagonist of the book is actually the protagonist’s grandmother, to whom she is very close. The grandmother loves the protagonist as any grandmother loves her first-born grandchild. She wants the best for her–but her view of “the best” comes from a very different place than the protagonist’s. And it goes deeper than a teenager trying to strike out on her own. Events in the present parallel events in the grandmother’s youth, and the grandmother sees the current events through that lens.
As I forge ahead with my third draft of this book, I am forced to look at every scene from those two points of view. My protagonist’s view of her grandmother doesn’t take into account all these past events because she doesn’t know about them until much later. But, unlike in my first draft, the grandmother can’t suddenly start seeing things that way when the main character makes her discoveries. She sees things her own way from the beginning. Not only that, but she deals with cultural shifts toward matters such as divorce, high school dating, and abusive relationships. These things are handled differently than they were when she was young and dealing with them. It’s been a wonderful challenge for me to keep these things in mind even as I’m writing a contemporary novel.
Have you ever thought about your story (or someone else’s) through the eyes of another character? What do you discover about the story?