Originally Published – August 2013

Posted on Posted in A Written View, Uncategorised

Characters and Point of View

It’s hard to tell which character a reader will find endearing.  My test readers liked the Jon character in Spear, and I was trying to get them to like Bethany.  I wanted them to feel for the mother of the main character, Thomasyn, but they cared more for a sub character.  I don’t know why, I can only assume.  It comes down to who they relate to best in your work.  And if one character is more believable than the others, they will relate to that character.

So how do I make my characters more likeable, or dare I say, lovable?  I think it will surprise you.  Give them something that at first, does not stand out to the reader, but causes a little internal conflict.  Something to set them aside from the cookie cutter characters others may create.  It doesn’t have to be big, just something different.  Example – In the Rowlinson Inc series, my protagonist, John Rowlinson, has a dislike of zero-g and crowds.  So this space-faring hero must overcome these two obstacles in his day to day life.  Do these two traits have anything to do with the story?  Not really, they are just part of his personality, or what makes him, as a character, click.  The little glitches in him only come out to the reader when he is confronted with a trip to a space station, which means time in zero-g.  Later, he is faced with a crowd of people gathering around him and his love interest during their first date.  He steers them away from the crowded area and, keeping with his dislike of large groups, to a more personal section of the station.

Realistic, yes.  But how did I come up with such?

The dislike of zero-g was natural, most people would hate it.  No up or down, no way of using the inner ear to keep your balance.  The perpetual “spins” as I put it.  The dislike of crowds, well that one was a lot easier.  It is one of my own dislikes.  Don’t get me wrong, I love people, I just don’t like being in a crowded place.  So it was easy for me to use the personality quirk I have in my main character.

His nemesis, Shalain, became an endearing character for a bad guy.  Why?  Because I built him in such a manner.  His personality was forced on him by brain-washing.  He was really a good person put into a bad person’s body.  The undeniable need to hunt and kill was forced into him, programmed.  On several occasions, he shows the humanity of a good man while pursuing the death of his target.  Maybe your antagonist has something that sets them apart, like a love of kittens, causing vengeful actions when they notice someone being cruel to the little fluffy wonders of joy.  Whatever you choose, I am sure it will make the reader want to love them, even when they are the bad guy.

But what else will it do for you?  It will build a believable character, not a cliché stereotype the reader will call you on.  The prim and proper supermodel mother who secretly licks the icing bowl for the cupcakes, only to swallow a laxative to evacuate her body.  Try an office worker who strips down at night to be a cross dresser.  Maybe the woman cop bursting at the seams as an enforcer being a closet girly girl when she gets home, trying to be the polar opposite of what she is at work.  Dimensions you really don’t have to expand on, but show to the reader to make them understand, the characters are real.

Point of View

One of the hardest parts of writing is keeping the point of view straight.  I struggle with it all the time, and many authors have the same issue.

When I write, I play the scene in my head and transfer it to the computer via my fingers.  I try to put down as much detail as my mind’s eye sees, what characters are doing, the look of the place, the feel of the atmosphere, and who says what.  In doing so, I violate the Point of View.  On my edit, I clean it up.  Playing what, the character I’m using as my focus, would see.  It centres the point of view.  Try this small section out for size:

I open my eyes and focus just in time to see Bill’s fist coming at me. This is going to hurt, but I don’t move. The impact is hard, but not as hard as it usually is when he hits me. I feel my jaw loosen from the impact, and my head bounces off the locker behind me.

“Leave me alone,” I whimper.Asshole. “Someone help–”

Another punch strikes my stomach, and I struggle to keep my lunch from making a second appearance. My legs almost give out and my back slides across the lockers. Desperate, I try to escape the beating Bill is inflicting upon me, but my legs are weak, and I feel disoriented.

Bill is the resident bully. He finds enjoyment from fighting, but only the kids he knows he can take. He never picks on the bigger kids and I have turned out to be his favourite punching bag for some reason. Maybe because I can’t fight back. It is a mystery why I just can’t find it in me to strike this shit. Maybe it’s because he is molested by his father? It would explain why he lashes out at everyone smaller than him. He is physically stronger than all the other boys in class. I don’t know why. Maybe his dad makes him lift weights before he whips Bill, but it’s only a guess.

I’ve almost made it to the hallway, just a few more steps and the crowd of pimply faced kids will call attention from one of the teachers. Bill will have to stop hitting me then.

The above is from a work in progress, called “I Time Travel”, and is written in the first person POV.  It’s easy to see this, for the main character is telling the story, and as the writer, I am showing you the scene through his eyes.  I don’t tell you kids from the cafeteria are coming to watch, for the main character would not know where they are coming from, just know they are coming from somewhere.  The main character would not know what is going through Bill’s head, nor would he know the thoughts of others, so the POV is preserved.

It could change, though, by sticking something in using Bill’s POV, like changing the first paragraph a little.  Examine the difference and tell me if it makes sense:

I open my eyes and focus just in time to see Bill’s fist coming at me. This is going to hurt, but I don’t move. The impact is hard, but not as hard as it usually is when he hits me. I feel my jaw loosen from the impact, and my head bounces off the locker behind me.  Bill smiles as he feels satisfaction from the hit.  Inflicting pain makes him feel better about himself.

Notice the change?  The story went out of POV to explain why the antagonist was doing what he was doing.  Does it work?  Yes, but it is not right.  There is no way the protagonist in the story would know why Bill is doing what he is doing, thus it should not be in the story.  Maybe in the future the protagonist finds out, but not till I show you how he finds out.

Structuring the POV in your story is important.  Make it work, and your story will be that much better for it.

Next issue – Where are you going and the hook

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