Writing Characters – Perspectives and POV #writing #amwriting

When you start writing a book, you have a number (okay a plethora) of things to consider. But one important consideration, is the number of character perspectives your book will have.

Perspectives and POV are often used interchangeably. For the purpose of this article:

Perspective = who (as in the character)

POV = how (style of showing the character)

What are the options when it comes to perspectives ?

We can write from a single persons perspective, two peoples, or many. Here are the main options:

  • Single – 1 protagonist
  • Double – combination of 2 protagonists (romantic)
  • Double – 1 protagonist v 1 antagonist
  • Double – combination of 2 protagonists e.g. friends or colleagues or family members (platonic)
  • Triple – 2 protagonists (usually working together), and 1 antagonist
  • Anything more than 3 – The cast of thousands…enough said

I use the term protagonist / antagonist loosely here because I personally love blurry lines between the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys, and books certainly don’t need to have a stereotypical representative of either type. But generally, there is one character you root for more than the others, and the reader does need to feel some level of warmth or compassion toward them, and be able to identify with them.

How many perspectives is right?

It’s very much a matter of personal taste, but some pros v cons:

  • Single is simple, but it can be constricting because it has such a narrow focus on events.
  • Movies and TV shows often focus on multiple perspective and we are often presented with details of ‘stuff’ that is going on outside the MC’s (main character) field of view or knowledge. This hidden knowledge that we (the reader or viewer) knows about, but our MC doesn’t, often drives story tension. It provokes questions such as… What will they do when they realise? How will they react?
  • With single perspective, the tension is all in real time. You get the events (and shocks) at the same time as the character does, and so this might arguably submerge the reader to a greater extent.
  • Multiple perspectives, in any combination, allow greater freedom for the writer to build the world and add dimension. Possibly at the cost of depth for your MC, since the more character perspectives you have, the less time you can spend in any single person’s head.

The antagonist perspective? 

  • No book needs an antagonist, but it does need a source of conflict, which could be a person, but might equally be a disease, a war, a natural disaster, or even a financial or emotional concern.
  • If you do have a main antagonist in the story it can be nice to get inside their head and find out what their motivation is, and all antagonists should have a powerful motivation. Of course, there are plenty of ways you can reveal this information without giving them book realestate in terms of their own perspective, but it can add an interesting dimension, and it’s something to consider.

What are the styles for writing the character POV?

The Point of view is how we show that characters perspective.

  • First person – I walked along the path.
  • Third person – She walked along the path.
  • Close third person (Internal dialog for third person) – Damn it, I don’t have my umbrella!
  • Third person cinematic – Draws the reader in from a distance i.e. describe the room or scene.
  • Narrator / Omniscient – Knows everything. (unusual)

Whether you write in the first or third person, and no matter how many perspectives your novel may have, it’s essential to see all the character’s feelings. First person and close third person use internal thoughts to jump right behind the eyes of the character.

One of my favourite writing styles is using a scene transition from third person cinematic to close third person. I love the way that it spirals in, closer and closer, until you are sitting in the character’s skin.

There’s a great write up here on character POV [3rd person point-of-view].

Selecting a POV.

  • Most people can cope with third person (most commonly used style).
  • Some people are put off by first person (second most commonly used style).
  • First person is generally used for a single protagonist, and occasionally for two perspectives. I can’t think of any books that I have read from first person POV that use more than two perspectives (but happy for examples if you have read one!)

My writing style. I use a number of perspectives (more than 3), and I couldn’t write any other way. Movies and TV rarely focus on a single person, and I enjoy the flexibility of this style when writing myself (And If Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and George RR Martin can get away with it, as far as I am concerned so can I) But it’s definitely not for everyone. Many books do have more than one perspective. Two is certainly not unusual. Three or more is less common. I write in third person POV, but I use both cinematic and close 3rd person to zoom in and out.

I would love to hear what your preferred perspectives and POV for writing and reading is! And why you like it.

Castles, Rats and Writing influences #amwriting #scifi #fantasy

I have always been a castle fan. Maybe it’s growing up in the UK where you can stumble across castles and their ruins just about everywhere. Or maybe it’s my sister’s fault for taking me out walking to explore them at an impressionable age. Either way, I love castles and everything about them.

I think my early love of castles and dragons and all things mystical drove my initial interest in fantasy fiction. Later, I headed in the direction of sci-fi, but I do still love both genres, and in particular books that cross the genre boundary.

So when it came to choosing a genre for my own book a sci-fi / fantasy was my immediate choice.

In my early teens I started reading a lot of Harry Harrison. Not exactly the obvious choice for a teenage girl! My brother (ten years older) introduced me to the Stainless Steel Rat series first. (The Stainless Steel Rat is an inter-galactic crook turned crook-catcher). And then later to the Death World series. I loved both series!

If you have read any of these you will know that Harry loves his worlds where the technological meets the primitive, and in most of his sci-fi books he explores this to some extent.The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted

So, if I was to put an influence on my writing it would be this rather odd combination of Hobbits and intergalactic crooks! More importantly, it would be these worlds within worlds.

My book is neither the tongue-in-cheek style that Harry Harrison uses, nor the flouncy, over-descriptive style of Tolkien, but hopefully something more mainstream.

In terms of characters, I like my characters to be at least slightly realistic, baring in mind this is a story and we do need to do something more interesting with our characters than send them for a happy walk in the park. However, I hate extreme character changes that just do not make any sense, such as the heroine who suddenly turns from a fey teenage nerd into a ninja. I like my people to be fundamentally ‘something’ and to be dragged kicking and screaming into ‘something’ else only after a lot of failure and trauma.

Character change is an amazing part of a story, but I also like them to remain grounded. Yes they change, but they also have certain mannerisms and beliefs that never change throughout the story.

For example, the Stainless Steel Rat’s love interest is a psychopathic crook and killer – she changes, but it’s very tenuious and you are always slightly nervous that she may at any moment regress. For me, the parts of the character that change are as interesting as the parts that don’t. When I start a story I know exactly what aspect of my character’s personality will change and what won’t, and I stick to this.

I am also a fan of using many perspectives, this later influence came from reading authors like Stephen King and Michael Crichton. Not all their books, but at least some of those I have read, use many perspectives. I have also read a lot of fantasy books, such as the Game of Thrones and the Wheel of Time series, which typically use many POV’s,  and so I find it near impossible to write from one, or even just two, character points-of-view. I write like I am watching a movie, and just as a movie can move between scenes and people, so does my story.