Being a beta-reader for some of my writer friends has been a fantastic way of improving my writing skills over the years. Not only do I learn how other authors use certain techniques, but when I find what I believe is a problem with their manuscripts, simply trying to explain why I believe there’s a problem is often just as beneficial to me. It forces me to collect my thoughts in ways I wouldn’t have done on my own.
For example, last year I was beta-reading a fantasy story and I realized the main character wasn’t being proactive enough. He just kind of drifted along with the story. It wasn’t that the story wasn’t moving forward, but the character wasn’t driving any of the action. Something would happen, and then he’d react, then something else would happen and he’d react again. It was almost as if the character was just waiting around to see where the story took him.
And as I was explaining my concerns to the author, it hit me that I was guilty of same thing in my writing. I wasn’t writing my character as if he were part of the story, I was writing him as if he were watching the story from the outside--as if he were sitting in the theater and experiencing the movie in the same way as the audience. In other words, I was having him act as if he were reading the story instead of living the story.
Now it’s fine for a character to be reactive (as opposed to being proactive) during the early parts of the story, especially when he doesn’t understand the world he’s just been thrust into, but by the midpoint reversal, the MC is definitely more proactive.
In hindsight, I guess my mistake wasn’t terribly surprising. I write my stories as if I’m watching them unfold at a movie, which is the way many authors do it, but I have to keeping reminding myself that the MC isn’t seeing the story from my POV.
It’s not good for your characters to be along for the ride. They should be driving the car.
Do you have problems keeping your characters out of your POV?