Tell Your Story as a Novel from Different Points of View

Stories have power.

We humans are narrative creatures. Our stories anchor us to our identities and help us understand ourselves. When we are in a new relationship, we dole out our stories as a way of inviting someone to know us, and if you’ve been with someone for a long time, you know his or her stories by heart. We tell children stories to teach them values, like persistence in the Little Engine That Could or generosity in The Giving Tree. History, we know, is written by the victors, who all too often erase inconvenient or unflattering chapters. And leaders and influencers know the power of a compelling story to move people to action — whether to get buy-in on a new strategy, to motivate a team to execute on a plan, or to spur the electorate to vote. 

And yet, great leaders know that as powerful as stories are, they can also get us into trouble, especially when we get too attached to them. Most folks pay lip service to the fact that “there are at least two sides to every story,” but we tend to be pretty certain of the truth of our own version — the one where we are right and the other person is wrong. Though David Copperfield wondered, “whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anybody else…,” any fixed role, including hero, victim, or villain, is by its nature limiting. Trapped in our stories, we may feel righteous, isolated, powerless, without choices — stuck in a prison of our own authorship. Thus Byron Katie wonders, “Who would you be without your story?”

Some of my favorite novels alternate among points of view. Dickens, Tolstoy, Stegner and many others knew the richness and nuance to be found in telling a story from different points of view. What if you could do that with your own story? Try it sometime.

  1. Explore your story.
    • Write about a challenge or conflict you are experiencing. Is is a drama? Comedy? Tragedy? Epic?
    • Step back and distinguish between fact (actions and words) and interpretation (meaning, inference, beliefs, assumptions). Make a list of each.
    • How does the story serve you? How does it keep you stuck? How does it put you in relationship to others?
    • How constrained or free are you? What options are available to you in this narrative?
  2. Retell the story from another perspective.
    • Write it from the point of view of another character, or zoom out to a helicopter view, or forward in time to your future self.
    • Notice if you resist seeing it from another perspective or imagining an alternative interpretation.
    • Where do the stories agree and where to they diverge?
    • What truth do they see that is hidden from you? What do they not see that you are hiding from them?
    • What questions do you have for them?
    • What options are available in this version of the narrative?
  3. Repeat as necessary. How does exploring other perspectives inform the story you tell yourself? Connect you to others? Open up choices you didn’t see before?

Harness the power of story to open your understanding, connect you and offer options you couldn’t see before.