A short note before getting to the meat of this post. As you can see, updates have been scarce as of late. I've been reading, to be sure, but I simply had no motivation to post reviews. I'm going to try some different things, more musings on fiction and more casual reviews where I'll mainly just discuss the book instead of keeping to a format. So, to start that off, let's talk about characters.
In Directing I a couple years back, my director told our class something important about play analysis that has stuck with me ever since: when you're going to be directing a show, you need to decide which character the show belongs to. That means you have to decide who has the journey of character development that you want to follow. Even in an ensemble piece, my director stressed, you need to decide whose play it really is. Now, this advice has been stuck in my mind ever since, as I've always wondered if it applied to novels as it did to plays. It gives me an interesting perspective from which to analyse stories. Whose story, I ask myself, is this?
Sometimes it's obvious who the main character is. In A Doll's House, Ibsen's tense drama that gave rise to naturalism in drama, you would have to be very creative in order to justify the play being anyone else's besides Nora's. This play is all about Nora's inner struggle. Similarly, plenty of books have obvious main characters. Who is The Goose Girl about but Anidori? Her journey from a weak-willed girl to a strong-minded woman with the courage to take her destiny in her own hands in the whole point of the novel. No one else gets nearly as much focus as Ani does.
However, there are cases where it's trickier to decide whose story is the most important one. Taking another stage example, look at Wicked. Knee-jerk reaction is to characterize this as Elphaba's play; after all, she's the Wicked Witch of the West, the one who is "wicked". But some, myself included, might argue that Galinda has at least as big a journey of character development, possibly even a bigger one than Elphie. After all, we see Galinda go from a mean-spirited rich girl to a well-meaning ditz in just the first act, and from then she has to make choices about her future and her friendship with Elphaba. There's a real human struggle in her path, choosing between what's right and what's easy, and she doesn't always make the right choice either. In my book, that's certainly fuel for the possibility of making Wicked Galinda's show. And what about in books? Well, let's take another of my favorite series and look at The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Haruhi's the title character, Kyon's the narrator. Again, Kyon seems the obvious choice since we're inside his head, but it's Haruhi's development as a character that we're following, watching as she goes from a frankly terrifying amoral hellion into a determined but good-hearted girl who's always looking for more fun and adventure. She learns the value of her friendships with the members of the SOS Brigade and calms down and learns to enjoy life instead of moping about how it's not exciting enough. So again, whose story is this?
However, what about books like The Ask and the Answer? Two points of view in that one. Sure, Todd was the sole POV character in The Knife of Never Letting Go, but it made complete sense for there to be only one viewpoint in that book. At first we're not supposed to know that there's even a girl in the picture, and then we're following Todd's complete confusion as he tries to figure out this person with no Noise and who doesn't even seem to be able to sleep. Viola would lose a lot of her mystery if we were in her head, and consequently the reader wouldn't be able to identify with Todd quite as well. A large, large part of the novel's success as a moving story rides on seeing the relationship between Todd and Viola develop as Todd comes to understand her better. But then we come to The Ask and the Answer, where both characters get viewpoints. So is it still just Todd's story? Seems to shortchange Viola quite a bit that way, since we suddenly understand her so much better than we did in the first book just by being inside her head.
So, is this problem of whose story negated in novels by the author's ability to utilize multiple viewpoints? I actually don't have an answer. Can you say that just because each character gets a viewpoint section that one's not more important than the other? Especially with books series that have tons of viewpoints, like Green Rider or A Song of Ice and Fire, it becomes harder to weigh the characters equally. So is it a necessity that even in novels there can only be one truly main character in a work? I'm not at all sure, but I'm certainly going to continue to keep this in mind when writing my own stories and when reading the works of others. If nothing else, it continues to provide me with an excellent perspective from which to analyze media.
Well, I'm interested in people's thoughts on this issue, so if you have anything to say, please leave a comment! I'd like to know if other people have ever thought like this as well, or if this has given you a new way to look at stories. Also, expect either a book ramble or another discussion post within the next few days. I have an idea for a top ten female protagonists post that I've been working on for a while. Still need a few more girls for my list, though.