Narrative Voice in Point of View (POV)

Point of view is a heckofa difficult issue for writers, novice and expert.

1st person:

The first project I really threw my weight behind was 1st-person-perspective. And am I glad it was. When writing narration, I didn’t have to worry about inadvertantly adding individualization as long as it was the lead’s color. What do I mean?

In telling the story of Goldilocks, it’s wrong to write,

“And then the dumb b**** just climbs straight into a bear’s bed after eating its food. Geez, what an idiot.”

This fairy tail narrator is adding his own views. It can take away from the pure story  (sometimes). However, if the story is told from the Woodsman’s point of view, it makes sense for the narration to sound exasperated.

And yes, I know the Woodsman is from a different story.

3rd Person Limited Omniscience (One Character):

Now you’re outside the head of the main character, but your narrative voice is still influenced by her. Say your lead is named Josephine and she’s a typical american midwestern teenager.

Josephine was so angry she couldn’t help but slam her locker shut. And there was Tara on the other side of the little door, smiling that perfect, s***-eating grin. But she was wearing that gorgeous green empress-cut top Jo loved loved so much.

Did you see how, even though the narrator wasn’t Josephine herself, it colored the prose? For example, all empress-cut tops are ugly, no matter who they’re on. But Josephine likes them, and therefore it’s “gorgeous.”

Also notice that Josephine is “angry,” but Tara is wearing a s***-eating grin. If Tara was the protagonist, it would be written differently.

“Tara wore her friendliest smile and the green top she knew Josephine loved. It might not be enough today, though. Josephine slammed her locker door, and she scowled with her whole body.”

aStatements like “she was angry” can only be written if you’re in that character’s head. Otherwise, they scowl. We can infer their mood from body language.

3rd Person Limited Omniscience (With Multiple Lead Characters):

Ugh. The most popular example of what I’m talking about here is George R. R. Martin. Every chapter begins with a character’s name so we know where we are and who we’re supposed to be paying attention to.

This is pretty common with, say, two characters. I see it all the time in thrillers (1 goodguy, 1 badguy) or romances (1 guy, 1 girl – in most cases) It’s a little harder to write because your voice changes from POV to POV. One character may know more about what’s really going on.

Some mistakes to avoid here: Don’t introduce a second voice halfway through your story. There’s nothing more jarring to a reader than suddenly entering the head of a new character when you’ve attached yourself to another for so long. I remember reading a book where the main character died unexpectedly, leaving us to follow around his protege for the rest of the story. It was meant to be a twist but was just kind of irritating.

Remember the video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty? After following the beloved character Snake in the prologue, you started a new level with Snake in a mask. Then, BAM! he took off the mask and you spent the rest of the game following around a wannabe Snake named Raiden. Fans were upset.

If you add more characters, you are forced to divest your narration of almost all voice. Like George R. R. Martin’s beloved clusterfuck complex tale of millions of characters generally being miserable assholes complex. If you end one chapter in the voice of a mother holding her dying child and begin another chapter in the head of a torturer, your audience gets whiplash. It can be done, but is for an advanced, talented writer like Mr. Martin.

3rd Person Total Omniscience:

This one may be the hardest. It’s hard for the reader to connect with any one person’s view, and therefore harder to get invested in the story.

Read This: Author Patricia C. Wrede

This post will probably be the first in a series maybe.

When talking about a beloved author, it’s not uncommon to chastise others for not having read that author’s whole bibliography. I won’t do that. I know there are too many books out there for you to have read all of them.

But really missing out if you haven’t.

Patricia C. Wrede is, by grand margins, one of my favorite authors of all time. It began with my mother reading me Dealing with Dragons. It took classic castles and dragon and enchanted forest books and made them wonderful and hilarious.

I LOVE her characters. The Raven Ring is a study in making you fall in love with characters within a short span of time.

Wrede does something else with her stories that seems so lacking sometimes. Her books are so damn fun. I could pin down the whys and hows right here… but that’s actually what this blog is often about. So, just know that her stories created the joy in me.

Exactly the way aspiring writers like us want to.

The Mary Sue

A Mary Sue character, for those unfamiliar, is an idealized character in a story. It’s often a stand-in for who the author wishes himself/herself to to be. And importantly, real consequences don’t really apply to them.

CONSEQUENCES

Writers and critics alike tend to look down upon the Mary Sue, and for good reasons. The MS is all about wish fulfillment. Who doesn’t want to imagine themselves as The One, that person that’s special? The unique fella who discovers he’s actually a lost prince, or has a secret superpower?

Sue. Mary Sue.

Sue. Mary Sue.

Hell, I’m no different.

Any day now I expect an attractive young person to approach me and say, “This Starbucks was actually built as a test to see who could idle their time in the most ineffective manner possible. You’ve passed that test, and are therefore the Last Starfighter And Supreme Makeout Artist.”

So is wish fulfillment inherently bad? Well, no, not when it’s done right. For example, Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived. “The Boy Who Lived”… they practically nickname him “The Mary Sue.” But they’re wonderful, beloved books.

Contrarily, why does the ancient, beautiful vampire desire the bland Mary Sue? Just ’cause. It’s inexplicable and there’s no ‘cost,’ for lack of a better word.

Why is Harry Potter different? Because his parents died. And magic. And it’s as much a curse as a blessing. And REASONS. Hell, Harry even asks “Why me?” and gets unpleasant answers all the time.

Picture: Neo

Picture: Neo

Harry’s still a Mary Sue, but a darned good one in a darned good series.

RELATABILITY

The other complaint is that the character isn’t relatable. I have less of a problem with this, mostly for reasons you can find here and here. Often, people who say they want “relatable” really mean they want to read reflections of their own flaws and the conflicts they face. Pain, more often than not.

Personally, I’d rather read about the Mary Sue. But moving on…

OUT OF CONTROL CHALLENGES

There’s another problem with the Mary Sue. One for the author, rather than the audience. The problem of out-of-control ramping goals.

With each successive… success, the writer has to find a new challenge for our walking deus ex machina. “Well, he saved the city by discovering he could fly at the end of the last book. What power does he need to suddenly have at the end of this book to make it fun?” And the challenge has to be bigger and bigger with every story.

Example: I LOVE the Mass Effect games. The story is about the very first human to join an elite space police-force.

Next up: Balancing the checkbook!

Next up: Balancing the checkbook!

In the first game you have to save the citadel, the galatic hub of civilations. By the last game, you’re tasked with saving the entire galaxy.

Now there’s talk of a sequel.

About what, exactly? Saving the galaxy again? The universe? You blew your load a little early, Bioware.

Personally, I love me a good Mary Sue story. But unless you’ve considered the consequences, your story is going to be considered fluff by some people.

Give your protagonist consequences, some relatable characteristics, and if you’re planning on continuing the adventure, don’t write yourself in a corner.

 

Make Your Hero a Bastard

This isn’t so much a post about improving your writing as much as something to think about. It’s about your good guy and how he fights.

The instinct for many of us is to put our hero in the white hat. He prefers a stand-up fight. He’s fair, giving the antagonist a chance. That’s what makes him the hero and it’s what the audience loves about him, right?

Turns out, not so much.

It may be obvious to some, but audiences today in particular like the antihero. Hence the popularity of characters like Artemis Fowl, the Dragon in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, semi-reluctant-hero Wolverine, and any former-cop-who-plays-too-loose-with-the-rules.

Funny thing is, we love when our heroes fight dirty.

Author Lee Child often has his character Jack Reacher describe himself in simple terms. He’s big. Really big. Like six-five and built like a truck. Not the smartest guy, but very well trained as an investigator and fighter. And big.

Uh, close enough?

Uh, close enough?

He runs into a lot of badguys. And when he does, he doesn’t give them a fair fight. If he knows a fight is going to happen before the other guy does, he ends it. It’s pretty awesome.

There’s nothing wrong with below-the-belt blows when the guy getting tagged is a pedophile terrorist woman-abusing Nazi.

When the badguy tosses sand in our heroine’s eyes, it’s a dirty trick. And it makes it better when the heroine wins by remembering how sensei made her train in a blindfold.

But when she tosses sand in the badguy’s eyes and eviscerates the antagonist right in the middle of his pompous ‘I-have-you-now’ speech?

Oooo…. that just kicks ass.