Writing in skewed POV gives a depth to your characters, and also adds layers to your writing. This article will first define skewed POV, go over examples of it in film and literature, define pitfalls of writing in a skewed POV, and finally tips for how to get it right.
What is skewed POV?
A skewed POV is a point of view told from one character’s perspective. Every character has their own pre-conceived ideas, prejudices, world-view, and knowledge, so therefore everything they experience will be filtered through all these things. They also may notice parts of an event that other characters do not, and miss things that other characters do see.
Due to all these factors, each character will experience and remember any event differently than any other character. The difference in each character’s experience may be very small, or very pronounced – it just depends on how similar the characters are, where they were when the event took place, and whether or not they get the chance to ‘compare notes’ after the event.
Examples of skewed POV
The Rashomon Story
One of the most recognizable forms of skewed POV is the Rashomon style story. A Rashomon style story is a story where several characters describe a series of events, and there are differences in each version that are impossible to reconcile with the rest. None of the characters are lying, they just experienced or remember the events differently.
Examples of this include any television sitcom where the character’s each ‘flash back’ to show their version of a series of events. An example in literature is in Harry Potter, where Professor Dumbledore’s account of Madame Trelawney giving the prophecy about Harry differs from her own.
Notice that there doesn’t need to be a ‘true’ version of the Rashomon story – for example, the movie Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.
Other types of skewed POV
Most stories – especially those told in first person – will be skewed toward one viewpoint. Think of The Hunger Games. We’re given the viewpoint that the games are barbaric (which of course they are), but from the POV of the Capitol residents, the games are much less insidious.
Some examples are more pronounced, however. Think of season 3 episode 13 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Zeppo.” In the beginning of the episode, Xander is hit in the head, and the rest of the episode is told from his POV. If seen through the normal Buffy lens, the episode is wildly inconsistent in both tone and content. The only way to reconcile it is to note that we’re telling the story from Xander’s perspective, and not Buffy’s, as we usually are.
Tips for writing in Skewed POV
The place in your writing where skewed POV comes in handy the most is dialogue. Note that each character will have their own version of events that might differ from the main one in your story. These differences are wonderful opportunities to subtly explore character and add depth to your story.
Note that most stories – as in The Hunger Games example above – will be told in a naturally skewed POV.
pitfalls of writing in skewed POV
The more you commit to a skewed POV, the more you chance having your work misunderstood by readers. Note that while The Zeppo is renowned by many, it is equally despised by those who consider it overtly campy and inconsistent. It’s up to you to decide if you’re ok with this.
Also resist the urge to draw attention to the fact that a POV may be skewed – this draws your reader out of the story and flirts with breaking the fourth wall.
Edit: Here’s a funny little movie told in a skewed POV: POV Hot Girl