Sunday, September 23, 2007

More to POV than 1,2,3

In wrestling with a rewrite this week, I had to think long and hard about why my character behaves the way she does. Because I had to explain it to someone else, and I also think I'm going to write it all down for myself. I know it inside my head, but inevitably writing it out on paper helps to clarify and identify inconsistencies. I've heard many students explain their character actions by saying, "That's just what she's like, that's all!". When that is justification for why a character can be a snivelling wreck one minute and then launch into battle the next, I'm never convinced.

Why does a person hold everyone at arm's length? Why do they hate dogs? Why do they love their grandma but hate their mother? Why can't they drive a car? Why does the scent of roses make them sick? Why do they misbehave in class? Why, why, why? The answers to these questions always lie in their backstory, all the things that happened to them before your story started. The answers also lie within personality. Some people don't drive cars because they are committed greenies, some because they were too lazy to study for a licence and had Mum and Dad to drive them everywhere, some because they were in a bad car accident and are now too afraid to drive. How a person reacts to bad things also will determine future behaviour.

As a writer, concocting this person and trying to make them real, you have to know all of this. It ultimately influences point of view more than anything else. Simple POV is about whether you tell the story in 1st or 3rd person. Real POV is about how your point-of-view character sees the world, the particular attitude they have to themselves and the world around them, and how/why that attitude developed. How does a person become so lazy that they can't even be bothered to get a car licence? What has happened to make a person hate their mother? What makes one man a master at fixing small machines and another a poet?

So this is my task today - to fully explain to myself (first) who my character is at the beginning of my story and how she got that way. What has happened to her in the last 8 years or so to make her the way she is now? What happens in my story will change her too, as it will in any good story. Change and growth in our characters are two key things that will keep readers caring about them and wanting to know what happens next. It's in my head - now it needs to be on paper.

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