Mark T. Barnes, author of "The Pillars of Sand" discusses how he uses different perspectives to tell the whole story.
A group of people in the dark touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a single part, either the side, the tail, or the trunk. The people compare observations and learn that they are in complete disagreement as to what the elephant is, showing us that while one's subjective experience is true, it may not be the complete truth.
So how to use subjectivity in telling a story, and to leverage from the conflict it can create? Shakespeare has been one of my literary influences and one of the things he did so well was to engineer tragedy based on misconception. As the audience we are aware of the truth, but the characters themselves are not. I wanted to emulate this dynamic in The Echoes of Empire series, told in the novels The Garden of Stones, The Obsidian Heart, and The Pillars of Sand. My goal was to have three point of view characters tell the story, where only the reader had the 360 degree view of what was happening. In this way the reader could see and understand the nature of each character by the way they acted, and reacted, to the story as it unfolded while still having a comprehensive view of the story as a whole. They could also learn more about the characters and the world from the perspective of the point of view they were reading.
In many stories we only ever see what happens from the perspective of the hero, or a selection of heroes who are aligned by commonalities in cause and a shared purposes. Heroes would be nowhere without a villain to inspire them: generally speaking it is often the villain who initiates a course of action that the hero needs to bring to a resolution, yet we don’t get to walk around in the villain’s shoes to understand how the sequence of events came to be. The villain’s perspective can lend a stark and brutal honesty to the story: where the hero generally works for the greater good, the villain can have a rather different agenda that is not represented in such a high tone. There’s also the benefits of seeing the story from the middle-ground, where a character may have commenced down one path, but transforms from a source of temptation and change for both hero and villain, to a powerful force of change in and of themselves.
When I planned The Echoes of Empire story I wanted something different from a lot of what had come before in the fantasy field. Echoes is a character and story driven trilogy of political machination, vengeance, action, love, and adventure. The characters are older, a little broken (maybe a lot broken), and have suffered personal loss to be who and where they are in life. Similarly I moved the story out of what is a fairly consistent Dark Ages Europe to a more exotic Orientalist / Mediterranean setting where arcane science allows for all manner of wonders to exist. To take advantage of this new world I wanted to reveal a large and complex story and history via the points of view of three people, with different perceptions and experiences of the world in which they lived.
The Echoes of Empire novels are told from the perspectives of Indris (the protagonist), Corajidin (the antagonist), and Mari (the contagonist). The traditions of the Great Houses inform where allegiances lie: Indris and Corajidin come from rival houses, and Mari as Corajidin’s daughter should be directed by historical prejudices. But a chance and anonymous meeting between Indris and Mari allows them to develop the basis of a relationship without the weight of history colouring their perception. Similarly the independent personalities of both Indris and Mari allowed for them to step outside what was expected of them. This leads to a character dynamic that allowed me to tell The Echoes of Empire from three different, intersecting perspectives of a world that was changing around them. Starting with Indris who is trying to do the best thing he can in the circumstance he is in, to Mari who sees a break in the clouds that may lead to greater freedoms for herself, to Corajidin who set a lot of suffering in motion, the reader gets to witness the decision making process that drives the story forward.
Readers may not agree with all the decisions the characters make, and why should they? Disagreement can be healthy. It certainly elicits a reaction. But the important thing is that the reader is there to understand the decision, and to accept both causes and effects as the story progresses.