POINT OF VIEW (POV)

The POV is the character from whose perspective the story is told.

First-person observer:  The narrator is often the observer in a story and uses the first-person perspective of ‘I. The observer presents the story’s events and the actions of other characters through their point of view and may participate in the story’s events. This narrator relays their thoughts and feelings but cannot access other characters’ thoughts and feelings. The reader experiences the action with the main character, learns things when the character learns them and gets a glimpse into that character’s thoughts and emotions. The observer/narrator may be the main character, a secondary character or a removed observer, but the narrator’s perspective affects the story’s tone and perspective.

First-person participant:  A participant in a first-person narrative is another character in the story. They may contribute to the story’s conflict, but their feelings, thoughts and motivations remain a mystery to the reader.

Third-person narratives:  In third-person narratives, observers and participants are characters but not narrators. They are either omniscient, meaning they know everything about events and characters, including their thoughts and feelings, or limited, meaning they know certain characters’ events, thoughts and feelings.  The characters may observe and watch the events, but the narration is not analyzed according to observer or participant status. Participants in third-person stories are restricted to participating in events but may not make observations about the story.

WHO, WHAT, WHERE AND WHEN

Both nonfiction and fiction narratives should address the w’s: who, what, where and when:

  • Narrative fiction should include detailed characters, setting, and the essential elements of a plot: introduction, rising action, climax and falling action. The narrator communicates the events that push the plot along.
  • Nonfiction narratives still communicate the characters, the conflict, the setting and the timeline. The beginning draws the reader in, and the action builds to the ultimate point of conflict in the story, followed by a resolution or conclusion of the problem.

Characters

The story carries some of the message of a narrative work, but the characters carry much more. “The Tortoise and the Hare,” for example, derives as much of its message from the personalities of the title characters as from the circumstances of their race. Fables work best with simple, unambiguous characters, often characters that represent the core ideas within the message. This focuses on the story and its lessons rather than the characters themselves.

The story happens to the characters because of them. The protagonist is the central character, often referred to as the hero, although that character may be anything but likeable or heroic. There can be more than one protagonist in a story, but sticking to one simplifies things for the writer and the reader. The antagonist is the opposing force — the villain. The antagonist is the cause or the representation of the conflict for the protagonist and may be dark and unlikable or sunny and deceptive. An opposing force doesn’t always have to be a person, although that option is very satisfying. It may be society, events or an internal struggle that takes place wholly within the protagonist. Animals may be protagonists or antagonists, but this is tough to pull off credibly. “Jaws” might be an excellent example of a story with a non-human antagonist. Characters are people and animals that populate the story and have identities. They sometimes perform actions that influence the plot and engage in dialogue, a conversation between two characters. Words spoken by the characters are often put in quotes, but not always.

Setting

This matters because it alerts the reader to context, which is how people make sense of the information they take in. The setting is the backdrop, the geographic location, the moment in history, the climate or the weather. The setting can be the atmosphere and curling tendrils of fog around the action. The setting is usually historically in the past, so most stories are told in the past tense. This is logical because a story is recounting. The setting can include a time, place and details. Sometimes, the setting is also the antagonist, such as if the character struggles to avoid drowning after a shipwreck. The setting is the location of the plot, which is the procession of events that occur in the story.

Plot

It has a beginning, middle and end. The opening is the introduction to the hero, the setting, the conflict and the story. As the story unfolds, the problems and disputes surface and influence events. The climax is the point of highest drama, the moment the plot has been building toward. The solution and conclusion explain and resolve the narrative so the story can end.

Conflict

This is the reason for the story, the hook for the reader, and the point of telling. Conflict is a struggle and always involves the protagonist, pitted against the antagonist, threatened in some way with some undesirable complication or loss. A conflict can exist between two characters, between the main character and society or between the opposing forces within the main character. It must conclude for the narrative to be satisfying. Conflict is the spice and the edge-of-your-seat material. It follows an arc that rises throughout the story to the climax and then subsides to resolution, propelling the audience from “Once upon a time…” to “…happily — or not — ever after. The end.”

The protagonist is the main character and usually the character the audience is expected to root for. The story is often told from the protagonist’s perspective, but not always. Antagonists are characters that resist the protagonist. Antagonists are not necessarily villains; the antagonist could be a good person. For example, the antagonist might be a character that competes with the protagonist for a job. The antagonist is also not always a human but can be an animal, weather, an abstract concept or even the protagonist himself.

Without an obstacle to overcome, there is no reason for the protagonist to become the hero or the antagonist to become the villain. The conflict is why the narrator tells the story in a narrative, whether fiction or nonfiction. The conflict centres on a problem the main characters have to solve. The battle is fundamental to the story, even if the narrator is a casual observer and is not involved in solving the problem.

METAPHOR AND SYMBOLISM

A metaphor is a comparison of two unlike things. Metaphors are often used to convey moods or symbolism (a symbol represents something else, e.g. in the Bible, the apple represents sin) or to explain something. An allegory is an extended metaphor that can encompass the entire story. For example, Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” is an allegory for the narrator’s search to understand his purpose in the world.

CONCLUDING THE STORY

The best inspirational stories deliver understanding and hope. Hope itself has transformational power. There is nothing you can’t do if you have hope. For a message in an inspirational story to hit home, it must contrast with expected outcomes. Although an account with an expected ending can still carry a message, it will not be as engaging as one with tension and surprise. For example, “Beauty and the Beast” would not as effectively sell the idea that appearance isn’t everything if not for the expectation that Belle would marry a beautiful, successful human being. When writing your inspirational story, touch on known themes, archetypes and popular stories to underscore the expected narrative. This will make the twist ending and attendant message all the more powerful.

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