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Posts Tagged ‘Deep Point of View’

Characterisation through View Point, revealed by Action

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 24, 2010

Something that Richard said in his post during the week got me thinking about characterisation.

‘I find I’m creating characters in pairs or multiples or contexts – they only exist when they start bouncing off one another, or bouncing off their contact with a particular setting or turn of events. Sometimes the character comes before the setting or turn of events,  and sometimes vice versa – but never a character on his/her own, not any more.’

This is so true. I found myself showing the movie The Princess Bride to my class the other day and when it came to the fight scenes, I said, Now watch closely. The reason these scenes are gripping is because the people stay in character while they fight.

When Westly (the man in black) fights each of the three men who have been sent to kidnap the princess, each fight is different, each requires a different skill and he wins in a different way.

Inigo believes himself to be such a skilled swordsman he has to fight left-handed, or there is no fun in it for him. When he swaps to his right hand and they continue, the man in black smiles. Why? Because he is not left-handed either.

The giant doesn’t think it is very sportsman like to hide behind a boulder and throw rocks. When the man in black knocks the giant out, he says, I do not envy you the headache you will have when you wake. Sleep well and dream of large women.

When the man in black comes up against the Sicilian, he defeats him using his wits. And even in his last battle with the Prince, Westley plays on the Prince’s cowardice to defeat him.

You can only write these kind of scenes if you know your characters well enough for them to stay in character while they are fighting. How the  characters behave when they interact comes down to the sort of people they are, which is Richard’s point, about characters bouncing off each other.

Action reveals character.

Here is a link to Richard’s tips for Creating Characters in Groups. For his whole section on characterisation see this link. Here’s Holly Lisle’s article on How to Create a Character. She talks about starting with a dramatic need.

Another movie which I show the kids to help explain characterisation is Blade Runner.

There’s a scene right at the end of the movie where the last replicant (android) talks about his past and comes to terms with his imminent death. He’s just saved the detective from falling off the roof. Now he sits there in the rain and talks of the things that he has seen, which will all die with him.

Lost like tears in rain.

This powerful line wasn’t in the original script. The actor came up with it, which is an achievement considering English was not Rutger Hauer’s first language.

In this case you have an actor who knew his character so well, that he knew what the character would say.

This is what the writer should be aiming for. The writer needs to become so immersed in the character that they see the world through that character’s Point of View.

I wasn’t using PoV in the traditional sense, as in how to switch from one PoV to another in a scene, but more in the sense of filtering the world and its events through the character’s perception.

A child character might blame themselves when their parents fight because they’ve been naughty.

A character who is inherently distrustful will see ulterior motives where there are none and a character who is honest, will fail to see the dishonesty in others. Sometimes a ‘good’ trait can be a failing in the right circumstance.

So there are you are – Characterisation through View Point, the evidence is in the action or reaction of your character/s.

What are your favourite movies for characterisation?

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Posted in Characterisation, Point of View, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Convincing First Person Narrative

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 12, 2010

Kathleen from the VISION writing group has asked for an insight into first person narrative*, particularly in the area of conveying emotion.

(*First Person — I did this, I did that).

Deciding which Point of View (POV or VP) to use might sound like a no-brainer, but it can make a big difference to your book. Why do you think mysteries are often told in first person VP?

Because the reader only knows what that narrator knows, and this heightens tension as the mystery unfolds. So if you want to drip feed information, or even mislead the reader with an unreliable narrator you could use first person. (See here for an explanation of unreliable narrator).

Many children’s books are written from first person VP because it is so immediate and the reader can connect with the narrator. Another good reason for writing in first person. Deep point of view draws a reader in. (You can use third person but make it deep point of view by treating third person more like first person).

I like to use first person when the character is not human. The English language is very limited. Say you have an AI that is neither male nor female, but obviously intelligent, what gender do you use? I have come across books where the author invents a non-gender specific pronoun and uses it. But I find this jars each time I read the invented word. It feels mannered. (For a look at female writers of the 70s who challenged gender have a look at my KRK blog.)

So there are very good reasons for using first person narrative. Richard Harland has a section on Point of View in his writing tips, which covers the basics. He also has a section on conveying emotion here.

Trent says:

‘All my books are written in first person.

I think first person is all about voice. If the voice isn’t distinctive or important to the story you might as well write in a close third person. To get that voice you really need to know your character well, look at the world through their eyes, think about how they perceive things, what they feel, the lies they tell themselves. And you have to think about this in how they express themselves. What are they going to see when they walk in a room, what are they going to miss? Are they conceited or self loathing, do they think the world is against them, or they against the world.

Education, and vocab are important too. Do they have any verbal tics, that might be reflected in their thinking or, conversely or do they stammer, but their thought processes are clear. How do they think. There’s so many variables that you can consider. And you don’t need to consider them all, but you do need to be brave and make strong choices – it can even come down to repetition of phrases, or a certain rhythm in the way that character describes things like Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

As far as great first person novels go I think the best, with multiple first person points of view, is William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Every voice is distinctive, and clear. It’s a book worth studying.

As is any short story in first person by Raymond Carver, Angela Carter, or John Cheever. “Reunion” by Cheever is amazing, and only a bit over a thousand words long. As is “Fat” by Raymond Carver. There’s plenty of more recent stuff, and a lot of spec fic with wonderful powerful first person narratives, but sometimes it’s good to look at the techniques of writers working out of the genre. And I reckon Margo is fabulous at creating distinctive 1st Person POVs.

‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” by Mark Haddon is all about voice, a child with Aspergers, and what is heartbreaking are the things that he sees but doesn’t understand. The tone is measured, confused, but logical – he sees the pain in those around him, but can’t comprehend it. Oh and “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a marvellous evocation of voice too.’

And there are the authors who mix first person narrative with third person.  Lian Hearn did this in ‘Across the Nightingale Floor’. Dickens did it with Bleak House, Esther was told in first person. ‘Veniss Underground’ by Jeff Vandermeer uses first, second and third person narration.

Holly Lisle talks about using first person VP and how to handle time. After all, if you think about it, the narrator must be telling you what happened ‘after’ it has happened. She goes into great detail about how long in the past events have happened to the first person narrator. She says:

‘Time is an essential part of any story, but with stories told in the first person, it takes on unique characteristics as a gatekeeper of knowledge and the controller of suspense. If you’re writing in the first person, take the time to think about time.’

There are a of lot very useful writing tips on Holly’s page.

According to Tansy, if you’re looking for good examples of authors using first person narrative and making the narrative voice distinctive  look up Sarah Monette’s Melusine books, and Cherie Priest’s sub press novella Dreadful Skin.

Voice, first person, time and emotion. Have you read any first person narrative recently that impressed you?

Posted in Characterisation, Good Dialogue, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Deep Point of View

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 13, 2010

On Saturday, I ran a workshop on Deep Point of View. (POV or VP). The people at the workshop asked me for my notes, so I’m going to put them up here, where they can make copies of them.

But first of all there is basic Point of View. I covered it here, back in 2009. This covers basic VP types, when you would use a VP and why.

Remember to tell the scene from the VP of the person who has the most to lose. This will be the most exciting VP.

CHANGING VP.

The simplest way to change VP is to change when you start a new chapter or scene but, every now and then, you might want to change VP in the middle of scene. Maybe you want to show how the other character misunderstood something, or you want to raise tension and reveal something to the reader, that one of the protagonists doesn’t know.

To change VP mid scene you need to signal the change clearly. To do this use the character’s name and an emotive verb. Make it clear which VP you are in.

‘Annie didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.’

As soon as you see a word like knew or sensed, felt, wondered or thought, you know you have to be in that character’s VP. These are subjective verbs, they rely on the character’s perception.

Then you can either switch straight away to his VP or slip into omniscient to set the scene then into his VP. Like this.

‘Annie didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. (Third person VP, Hers).

The dust settled on the floor between them. (Omniscient).

Nathan coughed and wiped chalk dust off his shirt, wishing he could think of something wity to say, but he always came up with smart replies later. (His VP).’

Use VP changes sparing for greatest effect. Don’t risk losing your reader and throwing them out of the story.

DEEP PV

To write deep VP you need to know your characters. Know their background, know their motivation and their secret fears. If you think you know your characters interview them and let them answer the question in First Person. Here’s some sample questions. Your character’s responses can be quite revealing. You could come up with questions more suitable to your world if you’re writing genre.

What’s the most memorable moment from your childhood?

Are you still in touch with your childhood best friend.

What’s the most embarrassing moment?

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

If you knew you were going to die in 6 months, what would you do?

If you could change one thing about you, what would it be?

Now that you know your characters, you can write from deep in their point of view. Filter what they see through their perception.

They don’t just walk into a room, the room has significance. If they have been there before and something terrible happened and now they have to face the person who did this terrible thing again, then you have a powerful scene. Let the character’s emotions and back-story colour the way they see the world.

SHOW DON’T TELL

By showing the reader how your characters feel about a place, an event or a person, you filter the story through the character’s perception. You make it more powerful.

Use all 5 senses plus intuition.

Have your character observe others and try to work out what they are really thinking. Your character can get this wrong and you can reveal the misunderstanding using a VP change. This can add to the humour of the scene or raise the tension.

DEEP VP COMES FROM:

Creating vivid characters.

With strong motivations.

Using clear VP changes.

Using all the senses, including intuition.

Imbuing places and events with emotional significance.

Filtering the reader’s perception of the world through the character’s perception so that they feel what the character feels.

Starting our with High Stakes and then Raising the Stakes!

Now that you are aware of VP and Deep VP look at your favourite authors.

How many VPs do they use?

When do they change VP?

Why do they change it and how do they do this?

Do they imbue places and events with significance? How?

Be an informed reader. Set out to observe the writing craft in other authors’ work and apply what works for you.

Posted in Point of View, Writing Craft | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »