Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Intimate Storytelling - Part I Character Viewpoint

One thing that first person offers that third doesn’t is an intimacy between the POV character and the reader. In first person, reader can get inside the skin of the main character who is the narrator and and storyteller, but third person can provide a close familiarity between the POV character and the reader by writing in deep POV which also means avoiding author intrusion.

When writers think of author intrusion, most notice it when it is blatant.

The fog lowered over the bay and people in their houses looked out with a sense of loneliness. Some felt fear.

Though the writing is fine, ask yourself who is saying this? How could I look out a window and know that other people were looking at the fog on the bay? How would I know they felt loneliness? Fear? This is author intrusion. It is the old style of writing that we still see in literary fiction, but if you want to sell your novels that reach a wide audience, intimate storytelling is the best way to go.

The first step to create the intimacy is to stay in the POV character throughout the scene. This means that the story is told totally through that character’s eyes and senses. He cannot see what is going on in the next room or behind the door. Comments or information that jerk the reader from the story can happen when the author describes what’s happening in the next room or makes a statement such as: If Brad knew what was behind the closed door, he would run. Or Brad thought he was safe, but later in the day, he would learn the truth. Notice how both of these comments are not coming from Brad but from a God-like narrator who knows all and sees all. This type of writing does not work in popular fiction.

Storytelling intimacy comes by making the POV character real. His reactions fit him so his emotions will follow his personality and character. He may not respond as you would to a situation so make his emotional response true to his nature. Is he a quiet man. He will probably keep his emotions in check. If you’re in his head, he still won’t allow himself to react strongly and what he experiences maybe more a struggle to keep his emotions in check.

Author instruction is also seen when the author allows the character to know something that he couldn’t know yet or never will know. For example, what do you know that’s happening in your home right now? All you know for sure is what your senses tell you. You can only see within the room you are seated. You can’t see behind you unless you guess that no one is there or you might hear no sound which is another of your senses. You might assume your spouse or roommate is preparing a meal if the scent of food drifts into the room. Assumption or a guess is all you can share with the reader unless you can see, feel, taste, touch or smell–and even then what food is being prepared and who is preparing it is only a speculation.

Staying inside the character also requires the author to see the world through that character’s perspective. People perceive using past experience and knowledge. When you create your POV character, you will be wise to know everything about that character’s past—their family, siblings, beliefs, values, discipline style, religious upbringing—anything that will cause the character to look at the world differently than another character. What experiences has this character had? How might that impact his reaction? Would the person’s employment affect his word choice? All of these things must be considered to stay within the character and not slip into your own language style, word choice or values. Each character must stem from his root—his background.

How the character describes the setting, how he views the room, how he views others, all reflects his past. Keep this in mind as you create characters for intimate storytelling.

Forcing story dialogue so you can present backstory or historical information is another way to jerk the reader from the story. If this information needs to be shared with the reader, do it in a natural way. Find a reason that this information might wend its way into the dialogue. Often dialogue sounds silted when the author forces two people to discuss a topic that doesn’t seem to be needed other than provide background information. If two people know each other well, why would the POV character retell the person things the other character would already know. . .unless it is to reveal a secret? These things slip easily into fiction when the author isn’t careful. Even using introspection to provide information about the history of a location can come across as convoluted unless a legitimate reason for the character’s thoughts can be devised.


Martha Ramirez said...

Great post, Gail! As always:)

LaJoyce Shrom said...

Excellent information. Thanks.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Thanks so much. I'm glad you find the information helpful.

Keep writing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Gail,
Thank you for the wonderful posts. Gleaning much but I'm still challenged by backstory and frontstory. When is there too much of one and not enough of the other? I've rewritten entire chapters to achieve balance. The other dilemma is the hidden antagonist. I've revealed the cohort but not quite ready to name the bad guy just yet. I've used voice,physical attributes, mannerisms but this becomes awkward after a while. Should I continue handling the antagonist this way until conclusion? Apologies for so many questions but your blog is the most efficient and expedient. Sincere thanks. Mary B.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Mary B - Check more of my posts on use of backstory. You need to keep that to a minimum and use foreshadowing (kind of hinting) techniques rather than outright spelling out backstory. First it is passive and slows the forward thrust of your novel plus it's boring and has little meaning until the readers care about your characters. Some writers believe in not including backstory before the first 50 pages of a novel. I know I cover this in my posts.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so very much for your prompt response. I will locate relevant post(s) and review...
Meantime, still writing toward success.
All best,
Mary B.