Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gotta Have A POV....

I like character driven fiction. I think almost every reader will say much the same – and most writers will say they write character driven fiction. This isn’t the same thing as saying there’s no story. There’s always a story, but a really good novel, the one you can’t put down and sticks with you for decades, those have fully realized characters.

Erica Orloff recently blogged about getting rid of a character. In her case, the character was fully fleshed out, too fleshed out for the story at hand. Sometimes that happens. We know all of our characters, inside and out. But the reader doesn’t need to know all of these things. And sometimes they just detract from the story, because their own story starts to take away from the movement.

One of the things that struck me in writing my middle grade was that having a firm grasp on the different characters wasn’t enough. I also had to have a firm grasp on who they were to my POV character. They say there are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth. Well, the writer knows the truth. We know each character’s motivation, background, exactly what, where, and when... But our characters, if we’re honest with them, can’t possibly be privy to all of that.

My POV character is eleven. I found the biggest challenge in honestly portraying his mother. His mother is around my age, and I get her on a deeper level than he possibly could, because I’m not restricted by her title – MOM. But I had to keep that title in mind while I was writing the novel. The reader had to get her through my mc’s filter. She’s a newly single woman in her mid thirties. In another novel, she might easily be the heroine or love interest. But not in this one. I’m in my thirties now and I still can’t think of my parents as sexual beings... obviously they are or I wouldn’t be keying this in right now... but it would be off the mark to have that aspect of the character portrayed in this telling.

How does the point of view in your novel color your characters? Have you ever read a book where characters stepped outside of the pov filter? Did it work for you or did it ring wrong?


Erica Orloff said...

Great post . . . in my MG, I didn't realize it, but yes, it's all filtered through him. It's most obvious in his opinion of his tutor, Theo. At first, he thinks of Theo as a historian, boring. The "exciting" one is Theo's brother, head of the family, a brilliant magician. But over time, through my hero's filter, he starts to see the foibles of each man. He starts to realize the Theo has humility and inner strength, and that Theo's brother has bravado and daring, and charisma, but he's also arrogant. They move from the black and white that very young children often see in the world (people as ALL good or ALL bad) and move into the shades of gray that is a sign of maturation.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Erica,

First, I'm dying to read Magickeepers - I can't wait until it comes out. And from your posts it sounds like this series is really special to you - which makes me want to read it even more.

When I read your post yesterday, it was funny how much it resonated. I just went back through my middle grade with a fine tooth comb and sent it out to two beta readers who haven't read it yet. One of the things I noticed in revising was that there were two points where I did get away from the pov, both with the mother... both rang wrong and I changed them significantly (in one case completely cutting it). Sometimes that time and distance away helps me catch things I can't while I'm in the thick of it.

I think, too, it can be hard to limit these characters to that one vantage point when we know so much more about them... and sometimes their other side is very interesting. But if you go with the instinct to let it all in, you run the risk of losing the readers' trust... even if they don't automatically know why it's off for them.

MaLanie said...

Mi Merry, I got your post on my blog. Thank you for taking the time to stop by. I looked for a place to send an email or private message but could not find it.

I am in a bit of a rush as I have to pick up a little one from Kindergarten in 15 minutes.

Your blog looks very interesting and I will read it tonight when I get the chance.

And yes, I want feed back (as I curl up in a ball waiting to be hit) I need to grow as a writer and I know honest feed back is what I need.

The first few pages of my book, as well as a synopsis are on my blog.

I need to run. Have a good one!

MaLanie said...

I am back! I was so excited to read your POV post I had run to the computer as soon as I got home.

This is a great post...very insightful, thanks!

Merry, I would love to hear more about your book.

What is a beta reader? Please forgive my ignorance, I am new to the writing world.

I have so much to learn about the character POV. I basically wrote my story as if I were a fly on the wall.

My character Libby represents me ten years ago and the other characters that come into her life to teach her represent me today.

Mary Witzl said...

I've got a sneaking feeling that one of my characters is superfluous -- only there to do a certain job that I need her to do. And yet knocking her out of the story is just such a pain that I can't bring myself to do it. I care just a bit too much about her to get rid of her, so now it seems I must give her a makeover in order to hang onto her.

And I certainly know what you mean about how hard it is to get a mom right: that is probably a far bigger challenge for a writer who is also a mother than it would be for a non-mother. It's hard NOT to identify with mothers and NOT to keep them in the center, overshadowing their protagonist offspring.

Wish this whole business weren't so hard...

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi MaLanie,

I didn't list my email on the blog. I never added it because the blog is open to anyone, and I usually just exchange with people when they ask or we're critiquing each other.

I'm going to pop back over to your blog and give it a good read tonight after the kids are down. I'll give you as much feedback as I can.

Beta Reader is someone who reads your polished manuscript before you start submissions (beta as in test)

I use the terms beta reader and critique partner interchangeably, but really the critique partner is the one who gives very extensive feedback and revision notes, and a lot of writers use beta readers just to mean a reader to test the material out on after it's been thoroughly revised.

I find that its best to stick with critique partners that are also writers, even more preferrable if you meet with the purpose of working on critiquing together. Friends and family can be very supportive, but regular readers who aren't writers don't usually catch editorial mistakes that someone else who's studying the craft will. Also, friends and family usually have a harder time being honest because they're afraid it'll upset you.

I tend to use third person close point of view. It's a stylistic choice, that's just the one that I'm most comfortable with that's worked well with the stories I've written so far. But whatever tense and perspective you write from, it's important that you stay true in your depiction.

It sounds like yours is more narrative, also third person.

I have to tell you, I've learned more blogging with writers and building my writers circle online than I learned in fiction writing courses. If you're looking for more writer blogs, I can vouch for all of the ones on the right hand side of my blog - they're excellent and most of them are writers and publishing professionals.

The agents and editors are toward the top and there are a number of them that do open pitch critiques - Bookends and Editorial Anon and Nathan to name a few. Also Pub Rants has done extensive blogs on how to write queries. Check those out because the discussion and various critiques will teach you a lot.

I'll be over in a bit. Thanks for stopping in, and feel free to ask any question you like. Nobody's born knowing industry terms - we all have to learn somewhere and you'll find most writers are happy to pass on what they know... after all, we learned it from someone else who didn't mind passing it on.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Mary!!!

You should check out the blog I linked at erica's in the post. That's exactly what she had - a character she really loved that was well-fleshed out, but didn't really work in the movement of her story.

Really, you're the only one who can make the choice. I had one character in Raskin's Wings who I adored, but his only real purpose was to show the mc's uncertainty... once the mc grows and starts to gain confidence, that character was completely unnecessary... so I spent the rest of the novel just trying to fit him into the scenes and move him through the action... I loved him, but he didn't belong there. When I took him out, I had to find other ways to show my character's arc without the aid of that character to contrast him.

I think it worked out a lot better. I still have an overabundance of characters, but each one of them is there for a reason.

Lynnette Labelle said...

To me, if the POV character slips out of their POV, then it's a POV slip or author intrusion. That's what I've been taught, so I try to avoid it.

Lynnette Labelle

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Lynette,

Some books with multiple pov's are great, but it's done with great care and forethought.

But you're right, we need to be very careful that we're not slipping in another character's pov or adding our own omniscient information where it doesn't belong.

Colleen_Katana said...

Great post Merry!

POV is always a struggle for me because I always want to convey every character's emotion...but that's just not possible. Because how the hell does my narrator know that this secondary character is thinking about the death of his mother in that very moment? She doesn't. I just have to find more creative and subtle ways to convey to the reader his past. Definitely a struggle and something that we should all keep in mind as we're writing.

Josephine Damian said...

The POV bug-a-boo is one reason why I've returned to screenplays.

Yeah, I see POV "head-hopping" all the time and it can be a big reason "whyI stopped reading (this) book.

Angela Williams Duea said...

Like some other commenters, I've just come to the conclusion that I have a minor character that I don't need. She's gotta go.

My current novel has two POVs, and sometimes it is difficult to make them sound distinct from each other.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Colleen,

I think this is something we all struggle with at some point. But look at it this way, when I was first starting out with taking my writing seriously, I didn't even know about pov.... I still make mistakes, but now I can catch them. It's growth.

The best writers I've seen have a way of giving you enough clues as to what side characters might be thinking and doing outside of the readers' vision... so the reader can piece it together. That's the goal, but it's not easy to get there :-)

Hi Josie,

I'm not big on head hopping and I have seen it in published books, but I love novels with multiple pov's when they're done well. I think you need a lot of control of your craft before you can acheive it though.

Hi Angela,

I've had to cut characters and it's always made the writing stronger. I find I was using them as a crutch and without them in the story, I have to find ways to strengthen my writing and really show the protag. I just set them to the side, knowing that I can always use them later if I love them that much... I have one in particular that I'll likely build a whole novel around later.

I like multiple pov, and they can be very tricky. Do you read it outloud? Sometimes that helps so you can hear the voice for each character and make sure they maintain throughout or don't sound identicle.

Travis Erwin said...

Great post. I've been behind in my blog reading so i just now read it.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Travis,

That's okay, I read yours all the time and don't get time to comment... I always feel like I have to read the comments, too, and you usually have like fifty comments :-)