Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Whose POV Is It Anyway? The Character's Or Yours?

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?

ChemistKen





19 comments:

  1. Great insight. You're right, sometimes we can just let our characters see the story and tell it, instead of experience it. And I agree that reading other's work is a great way to reflect back on your own to become a better writer. A way to strengthen both our weaknesses and our strength. Best, Becca

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always learned so much more back in school when I was helping other students figure out how to do the homework. It's not until you have to explain things to someone else that you really begin to understand concepts.

      Delete
  2. Characters need to act and react. React to what happens and make actions that could cause those things to happen.

    Great post! I learn a lot from beta reading for others, and having others beta read for me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a brilliant post and reading it I found myself wondering if I do that too. I'm now off to check my work :) thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a whole checklist of things I know I have to go back and check in my manuscripts every once in a while. It's too easy for things to slip through the cracks if I don't.

      Delete
  4. Actually, Ken, I think that's a good rule for life. I find myself often reacting instead of acting. I may not be the best one to talk, though, because often my writing is in reaction to something that happened!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course, in real life, we don't know that everything's going to work out like it does in the books. It's a lot easier for me to demand the character be proactive then it is for me to do it myself in real life.

      Delete
  5. I always see my stories as movies, so that's something I need to watch for. That's good that you caught it. I've found many of my own mistakes reading others' works.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I catch so many things that way, it makes me wonder how many things I DON'T catch.

      Delete
  6. This is very true. The novel I'm rewriting now had a somewhat lazy MC, but I'm actively making her, well, more active. On the flip side, though, an agent who read it and liked it pointed out that the manuscript was very plot driven, which was great, but she wanted to be more inside the MC's head so she could feel more emotion. That's POV, too, in a different way. Since my book is third person but limited to the MC's POV, being in her head is key to connecting with the readers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every little thing we can do to make us bond with the MC is important. I tend toward plot driven stories myself, but I have to watch and make sure the MC is driving the direction of the story or we won't bond with them as much.

      Delete
  7. Great advice! I never really thought of it that way. I'd like to think my MC is proactive (except for a few specific moments, maybe), but now I think I'll take a second look.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I assumed my MC was always proactive until I actually went back and checked. :(

      Delete
  8. Ah, this is where the Pro- in Protagonist comes into play. And it's a timely reminder for me in my current WIP. My MC was active in the first section of the book, but in the last couple chapters he has lapsed into watching. Need to fix that pronto!

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's so easy for that kind of thing to happen if we're not paying a lot of specific attention. It's because we already know the story in our head.

      Delete
  9. That passivity sneaks up on you as a writer. I've seen it in my own writing.

    ReplyDelete
  10. It is something to be concerned about, but usually writing a story in 1st person POV tends to naturally overcome it. You could even write your story temporarily in 1st person and go back and change all the "I"s to "he/she" and you'll have a good close 3rd person POV that way. Deeping the POV even more does require a change in the language a bit, though.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I also find that critting other people's work teaches me as much as it helps someone else.

    I guess it's because my first books were from a female character's perspective and I hate reading passive female characters, but I prioritize making sure that my characters at least choose how to react within circumstances beyond their control. :-D

    ReplyDelete
  12. I struggle with that issue as well. Sometimes, it's hard to recognize in your own writing. Thus, the great thing about CPs!

    ReplyDelete

There was an error in this gadget