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The Power of Point of View in Fiction

Over the last month, we’ve been exploring not just the masterful storytelling of Disney’s Encanto, but specifically why it works and how we can practice its techniques in our own writing.

We’ve seen the story of Mirabel’s quest to save her family’s miracle as she serves as a confidant to her older sister Luisa, interrogates her relatives about her estranged uncle Bruno, and leads her perfect sister Isabela to a new height of individualism and creativity.

She brings out the best in all of them, proving that all along, she has had the gift of empathy and providing emotional healing for others.

But there’s still one person she needs to console and help, and that’s Abuela, with whom she’s been at constant odds with since her childhood. It takes an encounter at the river where her grandfather Pedro died for them to reconcile and for Mirabel to fully understand the truth about her family’s history.

This is our closing post in this series, and of course, we can’t leave this story behind without exploring the emotional climax of Encanto: the “Dos Oruguitas” sequences.

According to composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Dos Oruguitas” was intended to sound like a folk song that had existed for decades, even using traditional Colombian instruments and rhythms to achieve this style. The song follows the story of two caterpillars in love, navigating the changing world around them and taking it on together.

However, a time comes when they must separate, each entering its own chrysalis, in order to fully embrace the future waiting for them when they emerge as butterflies.

The song works on both a literal and metaphorical level, as it serves as the background for a montage portraying the romance of young Abuela and Pedro, up to and including his death and its aftermath.

There is more to the song, though, than providing backstory for Abuela’s character. It gives us a profound lesson in point of view and why it matters to our stories.

A Crash Course in Point of View

Most people think of point of view in fiction in terms of pronouns. Do you use first person and write in a character’s voice using “I”? Do you use “he,” “she,” or “they” in the third person? Or, do you take the more experimental road and use the second person “you”?

All of those choices are important because they determine from what distance you will tell the story, but there’s much more to point of view than that.

The more important matter is that point of view defines how each character perceives the events of the story.

Here’s an illustration. Think about the conversations that unfold when your family gets together. When someone starts telling a story about the past, someone else will inevitably jump in with a correction. Then, another person will correct them. Eventually, people start arguing about which version of the story is right.

There are basic facts of what happened, but the ways each person perceives those facts are different. Often, it seems as if they aren’t even describing the same event.

It’s the same way with your storytelling. The way a character perceives and understands the events of a story depends on several factors:

· Their attitudes and/or preconceived judgments about the event or the people involved

· Their motivations related to the event or the people involved

· Their emotional distance from the event

· Their physical distance from the event

· Their defense mechanisms in regard to communication, including what they say or do when they are unwilling to tell the truth

· Their sources of information and the accuracy of these sources (e.g. heresay, gossip, etc)

It works this way in our personal lives, not just in fiction. We make snap judgments about events based on who was involved. We emphasize different details depending on where we were positioned as eyewitnesses.

We either consciously or subconsciously omit or emphasize details based on our own motives. We may even outright lie as a form of self-preservation.

It’s crucial to keep these things in mind when we’re creating characters and placing them in situations.

To see how this works, try this exercise. Choose a story you know well. Then, write a diary entry from the perspective of a minor or secondary character in the story. Think about how they would talk about the events and the other characters and how a shift in point of view creates a very different story than the one you’ve experienced.

Having established this, let’s get back to Encanto.

“Dos Oruguitas”: A Point of View Lesson

Encanto shows many of the events portrayed in the “Dos Oruguitas” sequence twice. At the beginning of the film, Abuela tells young Mirabel the story of how the family’s miracle came to be.

We see Abuela, Pedro, and their three babies leaving with the rest of their village in response to a military threat, as well as Pedro’s death. But the majority of this prologue focuses on the giving of the magical candle that became their miracle, leading to a new home, village, and place to start over.

This account of the Madrigal family’s history lasts for just two minutes before plunging us into the present-day action

Later, in the scene by the river, we get a very different account of these events. Instead of beginning with Pedro’s death, we see Abuela as a young woman when she first meets him.

We witness their courtship and wedding, and the joyful announcement that she is expecting not one, but three babies.

Then, the tone of the story changes. There is fighting and violence in the streets, and Abuela and Pedro leave behind their home to go with the rest of the village in search for a new life.

We then see the same images of Pedro’s death from the beginning of the film. This time, though, the account takes on a darker tone.

While the prologue quickly cuts to the giving of the miracle, this version features a raw depiction of Abuela’s grief and loneliness as the realization that she must raise three children alone sinks in.

The joy of the creation of the Encanto itself is completely absent.

What makes the two accounts so different is not just that the writers have decided to give us new information about Abuela’s past, though the footage of her as a young woman in love adds dimension to her character.

But the primary power of these portrayals is that they show the perspectives of two different characters on the same events.

The movie’s prologue is seen through Mirabel’s eyes, focusing on the wonder and awe of a child about to take her place in her family.

By contrast, the “Dos Oruguitas” scene is seen from Abuela’s perspective, as told to Mirabel. We know this because Mirabel herself can be seen in the background of the events, watching Abuela’s fear, anger, and sadness unfold.

It is this perspective that leads both of them to realizations about the consequences of their actions throughout the story. Abuela blames herself for the destruction of their home, saying that she wanted so badly to protect her family that she has left it “broken” instead.

Mirabel, though, responds differently:

Abuela…I can finally see. You lost your home, lost everything. You suffered so much, all alone, so it would never happen again. We were saved because of you. We were given a miracle because of you. We are a family because of you. And nothing could ever be broken that we can’t fix together.

The scene represents a crucial turning point for these two characters who have been at odds for the entire movie. For the first time, Mirabel is able to understand everything that Abuela went through.

But perhaps more significantly is that the usually cold and reticent Abuela chooses to release emotions that have remained unspoken for years.

This is what makes it possible for Mirabel to help her begin to heal.

The use of point of view makes it possible for us to see how Mirabel understood the family’s story as both a child and a teenager, grasping both the joy and wonder of the new home that formed out of tragedy and the grief of Abuela’s unspeakable loss.

This is what makes Encanto a powerful story in total. It is, in the end, about the brokenness of families and how empathy, understanding, and unity can be the key to healing generations of trauma.

How to Practice Point of View

Remember the above exercise with the diary entry? It’s time to try it again.

Only this time, instead of writing from the perspective of a secondary character in a story you enjoy, write from the point of view of a character in your own story who is not the protagonist.

See what new insights and developments emerge as you explore the events of your story through someone else’s eyes.

Also…if you want to learn more about how to use point of view in your own stories, check out my Ultimate Writing Project Workbook.

This free resource contains worksheets, templates, exercises, writing prompts, and more to help you develop your characters, chart the course of your plot, and put your narrative into action.

Click here to download a copy.

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