Whose story is it anyway?

Point of view (POV) is one of the most important aspects of a story, just as it is in life. Who would we want to tell what happened when Best Buy opened their doors on Black Friday—a salesperson or a mother intent on buying the featured sale item for her kids? How about a bank robbery? Whose story would you rather hear—the thief’s or the bank teller’s he held up?

In a fictional story, a narrator may be telling his own story or someone else’s. He may be reliable or not. Maybe she’s telling her side as the story’s main character. She may be speaking to you with limited knowledge in terms of another character’s thoughts. A story can even be told (though much more rarely) by a collective—a community or group of some kind.

Most of the short stories in Tangled Roots are told in close third person POV, i.e. we know what the main characters are thinking, but they are not the narrators. The main story line about a young woman working on her Ph.D. thesis, however, is written in first person POV. We hear her speaking; we view the other characters, setting, etc. from her POV. We get to know what Deniz is like very quickly because she reveals who she is—intentionally or not—through her words.

Only two of Chet Ludington’s ancestors tell their own stories. One of them is a tenth century Viking named Bersi. Let me back up to show you why I chose to write the story from his perspective.

As I researched Vikings, an interesting fact emerged: the Vikings not only had slaves, but sex slaves. What was it like for a young woman to be kidnaped from her home, watch men murder her family and friends, and then be taken to a shore where she knew nothing? The people, the language, the customs, the food, the clothing—all of it would have been unfamiliar to her. Being sold there to a man who only wanted to use her for his sexual gratification? How utterly horrendous!

My response? Let readers hear the story of one such young woman and the way she chose to defy her captors and the man who claimed her as his property. Her story, unsurprisingly, was sad and violent. (Really, you can’t expect a story like that to give you warm fuzzies, right?) I left the story and moved on to something else.

One day, though, I revisited that story. What was the guy—Bersi—who bought this bed slave like? Was he a heartless monster, wicked through and through? Should readers hate him because, at least from our modern perspective, he did something society tells us is one of the worse kinds of evil a person can do? Or could I allow him to tell his side of the story?

I decided to give Bersi a chance and discovered an altogether different character than I expected. Above all, Bersi is human, with human needs, vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. What he wasn’t was a depraved man.

Someone who gave me feedback on the story was surprised to find himself liking Bersi. I like him, too, for the man his is and the man he becomes. I hope readers will feel the same.

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