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How do you make it clear that the POV char, and not you, believe something?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Electric Bone Flute, Sep 21, 2020.

  1. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Dreamer

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    There is an unspoken, but just, assumption that a given position held by a viewpoint character are held by the author if the given position is not a direct consequence of the setting or story or is obviously absurd. This is even the case of villain protagonists; it is simply that there are more positions that are "direct consequences of the setting or story." I've seen a fantasy story where the narrator holds that the planet is possibly flat and that it is a Good Thing to nearly drown industrialists, and it is obvious from context that the author doesn't think the earth is flat but does wish that England would be better with less pollution. But what if he didn't think drowning industrialists is a Good Thing? What if he merely thought that that particular character, because of the traits he didn't like that he put onto the character, deserved a good near drowning? Or maybe the author didn't think the industrialist nearly drowning was a good thing at all, and I just misread the intention of the industrialist's humiliation.
    In general, it is obvious when a POV viewpoint is a viewpoint of the author. But when it's not, what's the least hamfisted way to fix that so that you, the author, don't look like a fool?
     
    ShadeZ likes this.
  2. Vaporo

    Vaporo Inkling

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    Show other characters who have opposing perspectives. Have another character makes some solid arguments in favor of industrialism, possibly arguments for which your main character has no good response. Even if they don't change your viewpoint character's beliefs, by providing multiple POVs you thrown the ball into the reader's court to let them decide who's justified or not.

    I wouldn't worry about it too much.
     
    Insolent Lad likes this.
  3. Lynea

    Lynea Troubadour

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    You might want to consider packaging a character's beliefs in a piece of dialogue. That's what I do for the most part. That way the reader can't really question it.
     
  4. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    The unreliable narrator is one of my favs. We get around it by having every single one of our many narrators unreliable, often with conflicting opinions. It's still possible to pick up on some of our personal beliefs, but it's by no means easy.
     
    Malik likes this.
  5. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Why would you want to? You're the author. You aren't the book or the character and it's probably best to try and stay out of it. Your characters should have the freedom to believe and do whatever they want without being subject to some sort of criticism / denial of their views by the author.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  6. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Dreamer

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    Maybe I don't want to. But maybe other authors do. It wouldn't do to get mistaken for a sincere flat-earther while trying to make some other point, now would it?
     
  7. Leonardo Pisano

    Leonardo Pisano Scribe

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    If you crawl into the skin of your viewpoint character and show its behaviour, speech, traits, manners etc then the reader will assume the thoughts are the character's, not yours. The whole idea is based on the fictional dream: once the author is visible you're in the danger zone of losing your reader.
     
  8. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Dreamer

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    In other, words, git gud?
     
    Malik likes this.
  9. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    That's the point of this entire writing game. Read more. Write more. Git gud.
     
    Malik likes this.
  10. joshua mcdermott

    joshua mcdermott Minstrel

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    I am not so sure I agree - there are definitely some Fantasy/Sci fi that I had some trouble determining if it was the character that was justifying certain actions or the author trying to justify actions through the character.

    I good author can turn it on you, make a 'Hero' do something terrible and it's up to you to judge that action - but it's still left open that the author is not necessarily endorsing such action - but having you make the choice. But sometimes authors are not so deft and I am left thinking (for example one book comes to mind) "this guy is justifying rape! - and it's not the character, but the author doing that!" So I don't read that author anymore.
     
  11. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    When someone posts a racist joke and is criticized for being racist, their retort is often an afronted "relax. it's a joke". Likewise, some authors refuse to be held accountable for the messages in their stories because "It's a story". The idea is that messages delivered in this form shan't be debated.

    But as readers, we are aware that the story is told to us by the author, and that his words are shaped by his moral compass. And we know from experience that if someone has some really nasty opinions, he will often try to distance himself from them. So if an author make a character express a nasty viewpoint, the reader has no way of knowing if it is just a clever way for him to say it without really saying it.

    If a reader is left wondering whether something is the authors belief or not, the author has failed to provide proper context. The result is fluffy, unclear writing. For me, it's a fundamental truth that the reader is always right; it's not the readers responsibility to read the novel the way the author intended. Rather, it's the authors responsibility to write clearly.

    Without going into details, let me just say that I have some themes of rape in my draft. While they are the views of my main character, it was me who put them there. I'm unsure exactly how to deliver it right. Possibly I could add a sexual harrasment scene early on, so the reader has me categorized as someone who at least gets that this stuff is pretty bad. Or another kind of buildup to give it context.
     
  12. joshua mcdermott

    joshua mcdermott Minstrel

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    There is a quote by Chekhov that goes something like: "If someone is stealing your horse, you don't need me to tell you it's wrong." (I don't have the quote on me and its in Russian.. but you get the general idea).

    This was his response to criticism of both his books and his plays that he would not express a direct moral compass to the characters actions, but rather just presented people in situations and the reader/audience should be capable of interpreting it. For example, some of his characters are if not outright terrible, at least self serving - but they don't get a "comeuppance" like in a shakespeare comedy or some such. They just go on living life as they already did (just as miserable as everyone else)

    But he did have a view- he just expected the audience/reader to put themselves int eh situation and then judge it from that and not form him, as a '3rd' party. So he says: Someone is stealing YOUR horse... how does that feel? not only is he saying this to the reader, but also it may be how he, as the writer, also worked.

    So: Put yourself in the place of the person being wronged, and ask yourself- how does that feel. Do you need a 3rd person to tell you it was wrong? how do you feel about the character doing these things? Chekhov did this by presenting many POVs- through words and actions that revealed a complex world - and many world views.

    In the book i reference above the MC is basically the whole world view that is presented - we never hear the victim's voice. That can be a huge problem.
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    What is the evidence in support of this? I have never assumed that, and I'm not sure the majority of readers do.
     
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  14. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi E,

    What's wrong with a sincere flat earther? Yes you and I and many others may think that's an outlandish position to hold. But as a fictional author you're not writing about what you believe. You're writing what your character believes. And to sit there and write in things that invalidate your character's beliefs based on your own beliefs, is to rob your character of his independence. His reality as a character to your readers. You don't need to justify his position or refute it. It's his belief. Not yours.

    And maybe some readers will assume that your character's position is a thinly veiled cover for your own beliefs. But so what? Most of the time they'd be wrong. Look at Heinlein. He wrote Stranger in a Strange Land and Starship Troopers. Two more completely different worlds and stories and characters could not exist. So which if either was he in truth? I'll let you look it up - the truth is actually a third option - rugged individualist with some seriously odd views on sexual liberty. But what does it matter? Those two works are both brilliant and if he'd tried to put in commentary or what have you to separate his character from himself in some way, would either of those works be as good as they are?

    I say let your characters shine for who they are, and leave your readers to make up their own minds about you - it doesn't matter.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  15. joshua mcdermott

    joshua mcdermott Minstrel

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    Your examples are sort of proving the opposite point: Heinlein had a bunch of trouble over Starship Troopers - deserved or not.
     
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  16. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    And yet he's one of the greats - probably in part because he wasn't afraid to have his works / characters challenge orthodoxy and he didn't care that much if things blew back at him. So getting back to the OP the question becomes, do you undermine your characters for fear of courting controversy? Or do you let them shine?

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  17. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I too would challenge the notion that the assumption is a given, but I am not so naïve as to think it does not ever happen. Some authors earn this assumption, as their work heavily lends itself to the suspicion.

    I find myself of mixed minds on this topic. I am inclined to say, 'so what if it is?' It all comes from inside of us somewhere, so if one wants to assume me capable of having such thoughts as I have written down, well...clearly I do. And Art, when it is hitting at its best purposes, is something that effects its audience. But I find I cannot say whether it is right or wrong to have overt messages, or veiled ones, or even intentional or unintentional ones. I don't think there is a right answer to that. I think the practice of the art itself should inform the author as to what is best for the story being told.

    I also find myself wanting to say that there is an immaturity which can arise both from author and audience alike in ascribing things and intentions without an investigation of if it is warranted. Certainly, every author has written characters who do not whole-heartedly subscribe to the reasoning and values an author make actually hold. Sometimes the story just does not lend itself to really being a vehicle for displaying a direct match of values. I personally work very hard at creating characters which inform me as to what their values are, and to write them in a way that does them justice. While it all sprang from the wellspring of my mind somewhere, I am sure I can argue with many of them differently. If some reader was to want to attach the attitudes of my character to me personally, well....if its true, than I guess you found me out. If its not true...well, its sad they think so little of me, but the mistake is theirs and not mine. I don't see spending a lot of time on what others assume.

    An artist, just as one who appreciates art, ought to be on a journey, and using their art to discover things. A story written is just something at a moment in time. If it reveals something true, then more power to it. If it does not, then lets not make it the end of a journey. Lets just keep discovering all the truths of man and mysticism however they are revealed.

    Honestly, I don't know if my current main character has an opinion of if the world is round or flat, I am not sure anyone in the story would know. It would make little difference if they did think the world was flat, but if they did, I could see them saying so. If someone wants to take that to mean that I also think the world is flat...well...if it really important to you, I suppose you could ask me. I promise not to keep secret if I do.
     
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  18. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    There seems to be a modern assumption—or maybe it's always been around—that all poetry is 'personal poetry.' This is something I have to deal with rather frequently as a poet. Readers assume I am writing about myself when, in fact, a poem (at least my poems) is every bit as much a piece of fiction as a novel. It is written not by 'me' but by someone I have invented. I haven't run into this problem nearly so frequently in my prose fiction but I am very much aware of the pitfalls. The reader doesn't recognize that there is a 'storyteller' between me and the writing. I do attempt to make that storyteller more obvious, at least at times. And I do allow viewpoints to be argued by characters, so it does not seem I espouse one or another. If the story is in first (or close third) I have my protagonist thinking about the important questions, not simply acting without deliberation. I keep them undecided, uncertain, trying to make sense rather than impose their views on anyone. Whether all that works, I don't know, but I sometimes find myself feeling quite sympathetic toward the views of a character I have created without agreeing with them at all. :)
     
  19. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    There's no way to get around this. You can write your POV character as clearly and distinctly as any author who has ever lived, you can lecture and tour and write blog posts about what you believe and why you wrote that character that particular way, and there will still be some functionally illiterate asshammer one-starring your book because they believe YOU believe what your character believes, no matter what any other character in your book says, or what you yourself say. Just write what you write, and roll with it.
     
  20. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Yeah, I’m with Malik on this. But I’m also a person who never assumes the writer holds the views of any character because, well, I don’t give a shit what the author believes, unless they’re preaching. If I see a writer preaching, I’m gone.

     
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