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Character perspective and its impact on story structure

Did you know that character perspective in a story can affect the story structure? This is particularly the case in a type of narrative called an interactive narrative. This is where there are two separate parties or characters who have differing or contrastive goals (though they are both part of the same single "story"). If you follow the storyline from each characters' point of view, you'll see that the story structure (e.g., resolution vs unresolved conflict) varies.

Let me show you what I mean with two common examples: the How to Catch a... series and The Three Little Pigs.

How to Catch a... Series

There are [currently] 17 books in the How to Catch a... series. 10/17 are written from the perspective of the creature (e.g., reindeer, elf, turkey) and the remaining 7 are written from the perspective the kids (the "capturers").

Why does this matter?

In this series, the logical "main character" is the narrator.

When the main character is the creature (10/17 cases)...

  • assuming the "problem" is that children are trying to capture the creature, the story ends in resolution because the creature always gets away.

  • if you want to be really "nit-picky," some would suggest that, other than in the few cases like How to Catch a Turkey, when considered from the perspective of the creature, the story is not considered a "true narrative" (episodic) because the creature is not actively attempting to resolve their own problem--they are simply reacting to the attempts/traps of the kids. This classification of story is called, fittingly, a reactive sequence and is the most complex of "pre-episodic" structures, but does not clearly fit a traditional story grammar schema without slight modification.

When the main character is/are the kid/kids (7/10 cases):

  • the story naturally reads with a more clearly episodic structure--meaning that there is a character (the kid(s)) who is actively trying resolve a problem/achieve a goal (e.g., the kids want to catch a monster so they lay a series of traps).

  • there is no resolution. In every story, despite all the kids' attempts, the creature gets away.

  • This is not necessarily "bad." After all, not all stories have resolved endings. However, if you are still working on establishing the story schema with your child, I recommend using other stories that are clearly and straightforwardly modeling the complete schema you are targeting (most of the time, this includes (at least) a character, problem, attempt, consequence and ending). Then, once that base schema is established, stories like this which are less straightforward or which do not have resolved endings can be introduced. It is difficult to identify when a schema is deviated from if a child does not first understand the typical schema.

Note: If you use the perspective of the children, the SWBST framework works nicely. For example, if reading How to Catch a Reindeer... The children wanted to catch Comet the reindeer, but he was elusive. So they left a bunch of traps, but he never fell for them.

Click here for my Story Grammar-SWBST visual supports!

The 3 Little Pigs

Now that I gave you an example with the How to Catch a series, can you see how this plays out with the story of the 3 Little Pigs?

When viewed from the perspective of the pigs (the traditional view), there is resolution because they get away from the wolf.

When viewed from the perspective of the wolf, there is no resolution (he still goes hungry, depending on the version you read).

When reading these stories, you can, of course, consider both perspectives, regardless of who the narrator is. However, being aware of how character perspective impacts story structure/storyline is important for you as a clinician choosing stimuli for your therapy sessions.

So, why did I even write this blog post? Why does understanding this this matter?

A) If you are in the stages of establishing story structure, you ideally want a story or perspective that will model the schema or structure you want acquired. So so a structure check and choose carefully!

B) If you are in the later stages and the schema is acquired, you can use either perspective, to demonstrate how sometimes stories do not have resolutions and deviate from the base structure. This is a good metacognitive skills and exercise-- it is just much more effective if a base story schema is already established.

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