I was just wondering how you choose which POV to tell a scene from. Like why the prologue in Heavenly Fire was told from Emma’s point of view and not Sebastian’s. I enjoyed Emma’s perspective but it seems like it could have been a chance to get a look into his mind? Thanks and if you post this could you take my name off?
Name redacted from incendiary question about viewpoints. :) No, I am just teasing. This falls into the category of “Writers, why do you do the things you do?” Which I always think is interesting, because the choices we make shape our work, but — even if I explain my reasoning, you don’t have to agree with it. :)
Prologues are an interesting thing in writer-land because they actually are controversial. Some people love them. Some people hate them. The big argument against them is often that if the information in them is important, why is it not in the main body of the work — i.e. why isn’t it just “Chapter One”?
Me, I like a prologue. I find that they give an opportunity to tell an event in the world from the perspective of a character you’d never otherwise hear from — for instance, Aloysius Starkweather’s perspective in Clockwork Princess. Yes, we can be told the information later in the narrative that his granddaughter died receiving her first runes, but it’s much less visceral than experiencing it on the page, and it’s interesting to be in the head of someone whose viewpoint you’ll never get again (as in 1878, Aloysius is pretty far gone in senile dementia). Similarly, we get Valentine’s viewpoint in City of Ashes and then, as far as I know, never again. And it gives us the birth of the fear demon, which means that when Agramon shows up later, we know what it is. No one else in the book besides Valentine could have been there for that, or they would not later have been surprised about Agramon being around.
Sometimes prologues indicate a time skip, big or small (the prologue of CP where we see Will and Jem at 12, or CoLS where we see Simon two weeks before the rest of the book takes place.) Sometimes they exist to set a mood (Will’s prologue in CP.) Prologues do a lot of different jobs.
As for why I chose to tell the prologue of The Dark Artifices from Emma’s viewpoint and not Sebastian’s — I have written Sebastian’s viewpoint before, in City of Lost Souls. Mostly as a way to let people know he was Up to Something with Faeries, but not what. But the prologue from Sebastian’s point of view would have been near-impossible without revealing his involvement with the Fair Folk, given that they were with him at the time. He would have had to spend the whole prologue deliberately not thinking about 1) the faeries right next to him 2) the existence of Edom, to which he is about to return 3) his overall plans, including his visit to the Adamant Citadel.
Unreliable narrators are great, but usually they’re unreliable because they’ve bought into their own mythology about themselves. Being coy is something else — just not revealing what a character is actually thinking — and Coyness in Writing is a whole other topic. It drives my critique group nuts though; whenever anyone’s being coy with info they get yelled at.
There are important factual things we learn in the prologue about the story — that Sebastian is attacking Institutes — but even if I’d never planned to write the Dark Artifices, I’d still have told it from Emma’s point of view. To me the Blackthorns have a symbolic weight in City of Heavenly Fire. They represent the stakes of war.
Without any representation of the people — ordinary Shadowhunters, some innocent children — that Clary and the others are trying to save, they become something blurry and distantly symbolic. We can understand that they want to save their parents, and those trapped in Edom, but when what’s at stake is saving the lives of Shadowhunters overall, putting faces and personalities to those lives matters.
(Also, in the fact that they escaped the Institute, they bring important information about what Sebastian’s doing to Idris — and they could still have done that if the prologue had been Seb’s viewpoint, but from his view they would have been a bunch of fleeing kids, nameless and undifferentiated. It would have taken all the meaning out of the scene where Emma wakes up screaming for her parents and Julian gives her Cortana. It would have taken a ton of meaning out of the end, when Helen is sent away — the meaning of her being separated from her family is greatly dulled if we don’t know her family.)
So I guess if the overall question is: how do I pick who tells a scene, which POV it’s from, usually I ask myself, Who undergoes the most change in this scene? Think about the engine that propels stories as three C’s: conflict, choice and change (ideally change brought about by choice forced by conflict.) Jace tells the scene between him and Alec, because he changes the most during it. Emma changes the most during the prologue. She makes the biggest choices, her whole life is transformed and she is changed as a person. Sebastian doesn’t change at all. So as well as me wanting to establish what the stakes of the war were, to put a face to all the lives that would need saving over the course of the book, I also wanted to show the birth of a hero, the inciting incident that makes someone who they are. The superhero origin story. :) Which I think is a fun thing to experience, whether you ever read the Dark Artifices or not. :)