WHETHER YOU write fiction or nonfiction, novels or how-to guides, you are a writer. You put words on a page, one after the other, and you do so on a regular basis.
But why do you write? Is it an enjoyable hobby? A steady source of income? Do you have a message that people need to hear?
Do you write for you, or for them?
Writing for You
Writing for Them
Can You Do Both?
What do you think?
MORE OFTEN than not, it only takes one great character to tell a good story. The reader sees the world through the eyes of the chosen narrator, experiencing what they see, hear, think and do from them and them only. Sure, there's often a large cast list of characters who wander in and out as the plot requires. But there is only one steady point of view.
Fascinating, but I came here to read about multiple points of view. Get on with it.
Of course. (Mutter, mutter...)
Sometimes, though, a story can only be told well with more than one viewpoint. For example, we could write a thriller story that starts from the point of view of the victim. Then, at some point we could switch to the point of view of the offending character and continue from here.
There are several reasons a writer may consider doing this, one reason being to keep readers on their toes. It would be difficult to stay comfortable for too long, as just as one version of events is established, the writer can then turn the story on its head and provide a fresh, if somewhat conflicting point of view. This will leave all kinds of questions hanging in the mind of the reader, making the conclusion all the more satisfying once reached.
I've put together a basic list of do's and don'ts, which you can follow as a rough guide. Don't let others opinions on this subject put you off attempting to write this way yourself. Practice makes better!
DO/ Add value with each point of view -- One way to ensure this happens is to create two very different characters to give a voice to. What can they add to the story that no other character can? What do they alone know that no other character does? Their contribution must add to the story's overall value.
DON'T/ Give every member of your colourful cast a starring role -- You may be able to think of a few exceptions to the rule here, (ahem, G. R. R. Martin, I'm looking at you...) but I strongly advise you not to compare yourself to the pro's. Think about it. Not only will your plot be stretched thin trying to cover so many large roles, (thin enough to poke holes in?) but it will be ten times harder to create the sense of intimacy with your readers that you can achieve with one, two or even three protagonists.
DO/ Give each viewpoint character a unique voice and personality -- Ideally, a reader should be able to tell who's point of view they are seeing the world from within the first paragraph (or so...). The sooner the better. This avoids unnecessary confusion, especially when writing in first person style. Give each point of view their own quirks that shine through in your writing. Personality, language quirks, mannerisms, outlook on life... There is so much you can play with here. Have your characters own their page time.
DON'T/ Recap an old scene from a new perspective -- Okay, I just want to clarify something before we go any further. This can work when written in the right way and not over-used. But generally, this is not the idea of writing with multiple points of view. The idea is to use each different perspective to advance the plot in new and exciting ways. And if you really must use the same scene twice, make sure it reveals something new.
DO/ Show one point of view character through the eyes of another -- Not only does this provide further insight on the inner workings of our protagonist's mind, it also adds depth to their character. For example, Character A may be shy and insecure. We know this, as we've been inside their head. But Character B does not know this. They see an aggressive, unfriendly person who isn't interested in being friends of any kind. Is this true? No, of course not. But Character A's insecurities are often misunderstood and their crippling shyness, in this case, is taken as standoffish. Using multiple points of view in this way adds a delicious complexity to the overall plot.
DON'T/ Neglect one point of view in favour of others -- There's no hard and fast rule that states how much page time each of your characters should get, but it's important not to forget about anyone. You included each point of view for a reason and your readers will expect some level of consistency. If too much time passes without hearing from one character, then it will be difficult to form an emotional connection to them. In other words, they will be harder to care for. Your point of view rotation doesn't have to be equal, just smart.
I could go on and on about this huge topic, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. What are your experiences with multiple point of view?
FINISHING THE first draft of anything is a great feeling. Finishing the first draft of a novel feels like you've just climbed a mountain -- and survived to tell the tale. It's the best feeling ever.
But how exactly do you get there?
Well, one way to get through that massive task is to banish your inner editor and just get it down. In other words, give yourself permission to write a terrible first draft.
Okay, you probably saw that one coming. But stick with me and I'll show you why this works like a charm.
You can't edit a blank page -- The blank page, so white and intimidating. We've all been there. You stare at the screen for a bit, then type the first line. After reading it back, you delete it and replace it. Maybe then you get three more lines out, before deleting the first two...
Who can write this way? Perfectionism is crippling your story.
One way to combat this is to accept that you're going to make mistakes. Yes, a lot of what you write is probably going to suck. Yes, your descriptions may be lacking and that character you thought you'd love slightly overbearing. But guess what? The first draft of anything sucks.
Not convinced? How about a second opinion.
"I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shovelling sand into a box, so that later I can build castles. -- Shannon Hale"
How about now? That makes sense, doesn't it? In other words, you can't build a sandcastle as you go. You can try -- first I'll build a tower and the windows, then the door, then the second tower... -- but it doesn't work. Your 'castle' needs to be able to support itself and in order to do that, it needs a strong foundation.
Did I lose you with the sandcastle analogies? To summarise, your novel needs a strong foundation before you can shape it and make it pretty. First drafts can be turned into sand fortresses, blank pages cannot.
You can discover what does and doesn't work -- The mind is an amazing tool. If you've read the likes of Stephen King and George Martin, you'll know exactly what it's capable of. You become truly absorbed in the stories they weave, even grow to deeply care about the characters these stories revolve around.
But how did all that come from one single mind? (And why are you comparing me to these giants?)
The truth is, even the best writers need to put their novels through a second draft. In fact, it is more common for an accomplished writer to go through at least three redrafts of their manuscript before they can think about calling a novel finished. It's also not uncommon for a writer's draft count to reach double figures.
Think about the last book that really sucked you in. These amazing words didn't arrive on the page fully formed, perfectly phrased and ready for their readers' hungry eyes. The went through a creative process of trial and error, discovery and elimination.
Take Stephen King, for example. He's surely written enough books to fill his own bookstore at this point (now there's an idea...) His process still involves a standard of three drafts before he'll consider a manuscript finished.
You won't know if your ideas will fly until you throw them off that cliff. (Or... So to speak. Okay, no more analogies. I promise!)
Your unrestricted mind is a weird and wonderful place -- When writing the first draft of a novel, we tend to have high expectations. I know I did. When I first started writing Crimson Touch, I had this awful habit of polishing as went. I was so focused on producing a quality first draft that I was restricting my novel's natural growth, without even realising it.
An idea is a wonderful, fragile thing. One moment it's there and then, if you're not quick enough, it's gone (possibly forever.) If you're filtering what kind of ideas you get at this early stage, then your novel will fail to evolve unaided.
What I mean is that when you allow your mind to be open and impartial, at some point, you'll find that your characters will begin to breathe by themselves. They'll pull you in all sorts of unexpected directions. Your sidekick may show you his true colours and out-villain the guy you actually had planned for the role. Your plot will take interesting turns that you hadn't planned for. Your landscapes will come alive.
Your creation becomes real.
Don't get me wrong -- not every plot twist will be right for your story. Some characters will mislead you, and some will fail to live upto their full potential. Your sidekick's wannabe-villain ego may be bigger than his intended role, in which case, chop him down to size in the next draft.
But the first draft of your story is a process of discovery. And your unrestricted mind is a weird and wonderful place.
Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as fifty-three words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction.
(Click here to read more...)
Either way, I'm looking forward to getting to know you. Take a look and let me know what you think.
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YOU PROBABLY ALREADY have a good idea of what character development means for your story. Here's a definition, just so we're on the same page
Character Development -- the task of creating a character and building on them (working out appearance, history, mannerisms and so on,) OR the changes a character undergoes during the course of a story.
I'm referring to the second kind. So, where does one start with developing their characters, you might ask? Good question.
In order to be able to effectively develop your character, they need to be as human as you or I.
Before you begin to protest, I'm not suggesting that you stick to your own species. I love elves as much as anyone. (And vampires, and aliens...) What I mean is that your characters should be far from perfect. Give them flaws and weaknesses, fears and failures. Make them real. Once you have a perfectly flawed character, you're all set.
So, what now? Set for what?
Patience, young grasshopper. All will become clear.
Your character is going on a journey. Your story, or plot, is the road map. On their travels from A to B they may experience magical wonders, or mind-blowing atrocities. They may experience betrayal, love or fear. The people they meet may change their perspective or reveal a side of themselves they didn't know existed. I could go on. Chances are though, that they will experience something.
Why is this necessary for my story?
People change over the course of their life and so should your characters.
We are the sum of our experiences, both the good and the bad.
A one dimensional character will walk through a story unchanged, unaffected by what is going on around them or happening to them. They magically have what it takes to get through any situation and don't have to grow up, or learn any valuable lessons in order achieve their goal.
Is this believable? Of course not. None of us go through life this way. A two dimensional character however, is relatable. This is how we become emotionally invested in the characters we love.
Think of your favourite books. Where does your favourite character start, both physically and emotionally? Where do they finish? Are they different from when they started?
There are many different types of journey your characters can undertake. For example...
Zero to Hero -- for this journey our protagonist starts out small, but by the end of the story he becomes the hero he's always meant to be, allowing him to save the day. At the beginning, there doesn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary or spectacular about him. In fact, you won't find a more unlikely hero anywhere. Maybe that blonde beefcake who upstages our protagonist at every turn should have actually been made the hero of the piece.
But, every 'zero' has that something extra special locked away deep inside them and throughout the story, his character undertakes a radical transformation. From zero to hero, our protagonist's life will never be the same again.
Personal Growth -- here, our developing protagonist faces not just external difficulties, but internal opposition also. This can be anything from a crippling phobia, to a lack of self-confidence, to the inability to let go of the past and move on. Out protagonist goes through a personal journey, battling inner demons, a perceived weakness or whatever it is that is holding them back. Simultaneously, external opposition serves to challenge the protagonist and force them far beyond their comfort zone. This will usually push them to the point where they must conquer whatever internal issues that hold them back in order to restore order or save the day.
For this type of character development, the experiences they face on their journey push and change them, forcing them to confront their outstanding internal issues in order to deal with an even bigger external threat.
Unlike the previous type, our protagonists radical transformation is, if any, internalised. Generally, they are still the same character, just a shiny new version of themselves.
Tragic Downfall -- not all characters have to develop for the better. Some protagonists are more suited to their inevitable decline rather than ascension and, instead of becoming a better version of themselves, their actions lead them down a much darker path. Tragic heroes see the world in a different way and often, their perception of it is distorted by their own negative traits. Here, they may choose to somewhat redeem themselves towards the end, or accept their new selves for who they are and plunge into darkness. Either way, they have a rocky road ahead of them.
Character development is a huge topic. Having a basic grasp of it though, is important for any good story.
I'd love to hear about your characters. Who are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Let me know in the comments below.
Author of bite-sized stories, with debut novel Crimson Touch out 2019.