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One-tone characters and matters of perspective

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Coldboots, Nov 2, 2015.

  1. Coldboots

    Coldboots Scribe

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    I recently decided to revisit an old story I had written a long time ago, rewriting it from the beginning in my current style. I decided the hook at the beginning would leave the reader in confusion as to who is who and what is what, so decided to open with a character building scene before the driving action of the novel that establishes the story.

    Anyway, that aside, the MC encounters a character that treats her poorly. My problem is wondering how to make a detestful, sadistic, perverse, and antagonistic character seem more than one-dimensional. Is it even necessary, given the POV is focused on the main character? I'm afraid I'm being too sophomoric about the opening, and tempted to restructure it entirely.

    How do you think matters of character perspective affect the character development of ancillary characters such as this? How do you think it should be handled?
     
  2. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Be careful to not go too hardcore into their negative traits. There's a point where most people will consider the character irredeemable.
     
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  3. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    If it's a one-off encounter, the MC may not have the opportunity to see more than one side of the character. Consider a waiter at a fancy restaurant--if she encounters a rude customer, she may not have an impression of him beyond "pushy and demanding."

    With that said, the dimensions of the character will affect what you can convincingly do with him. If he's just a tool (so to speak), then he won't feel appropriately representative for a moral or a message like "Look at how awful this person is being! Don't be like this person!" This would be easier to handle through how the more complicated MC is affected by him. How does she react to his behavior, and what does that say about her?
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
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  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I'm in agreement with Feo. Not all your characters need to have more than one dimension. The function, the importance of the character, and the type of story being told will dictate how much you need to flesh them out.

    Now, if you do need this character to have more dimension to them, just add a humanizing trait to them.

    Without knowing your story, here are a few things that come to mind.

    In the middle of the distasteful encounter, the antagonistic character has their phone ring. It's their mom, asking them when they're getting home with her medication. The antagonistic character's tone suddenly turns kind as they speak to their mother.

    In the middle of the encounter, a kitten walks up to the antagonistic character's leg and starts sniffing. The MC thinks they're going to kick the kitty, but instead they pick it up, and while still giving it to your MC, they pet the kitty kindly.

    There are tons of ways to approach this. Like I said it all depends on your needs.
     
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  5. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    This is a very interesting question that may not have an easy or singular answer.

    I'm a fan of the video game Half Life 1 and 2, and I have been spending a lot of time lately contemplating the reasons why it won 50 game of the year awards and how those specifics could be translated into a manuscript's potential success.

    One of the enigmatic and one-dimensional characters that Gordon Freeman encounters is a guy known as the G-Man.

    I think the G-Man is a perfect example of how to make an antagonist lack depth yet still come off as relevant and interesting.

    If you have 20 minutes to spend on creative development for your writing, go to YouTube and search for the 'treesicle review, with the title: Gordon Freeman (Half-Life): The Story You Never Knew.

    Even if you know nothing about the game or hate gaming in general, it is worth the time to watch and is very amusing and insightful.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
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  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I think the way to redeem a character who is acting like a prick is to give them a reasonable motive for doing so, one the reader can understand.

    That at least removes them from the category of cliche.
     
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  7. Coldboots

    Coldboots Scribe

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    Thanks for the input, it's all been useful and interesting. I have a question about perspective that I didn't really want to create a new thread for and is in part related to this one. It's similar enough in spirit to my original question not to start a new thread for.

    What are everyone's thoughts on shifting POV from one character to another, from chapter to chapter or within chapters? Obviously this does happen in certain popular novels and series (ASOIAF comes to mind). As well as classics that I've enjoyed in Don Quixote and Les Miserables.

    An instance where this didn't work for me is in a novel called Shogun. It bugged the hell out of me. Someone recommended me to read it (when I was having the obligatory samurai/ninja phase of post-adolescence), and I didn't find the main characters sympathetic at all. I couldn't care even when horrible things were happening to them. Anyway, there came a point in the book when the POV was shifting within the chapter from paragraph to paragraph, and it was incredibly jarring. I believe the author wanted to show how things were coming to a head and becoming more dramatic, but it just felt jumbled and disorganized to me. It turned me off and I didn't finish the novel. I thought there must've been something wrong with me, as this is considered a classic. I didn't think the POV was handled neatly in that novel. Maybe my mental state was bad at the time.

    Anyway, despite my feelings toward it, I was thinking I could use alternate POVs in one of my WIP, to aid the perspective of the reader. I generally do not write in this style or shifting POV so I can make my main character as well-rounded as possible. Yet, I think I'd enjoy exploring different POVs in this particular work.

    What do you think are the things to watch out for in shifting POVs, other than what I mentioned?
     
  8. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    So regarding POV issues, here are the top offenders to me:

    1. When the shifts occur because "it's someone else's turn" rather than because it's necessary to the story. I understand a writer not wanting to use two PsOV and go too long with one of the characters without doing the other, but when that becomes the sole purpose of the change, I think it doesn't work. The new POV has to have a tangible reason for being the POV through which we're seeing the story. They have to be doing something, and they have to be affected by the situation, whatever it is.

    2. When the characters are unbalanced. Whether a writer chooses to show a MC and an antagonist, two MCs working together or in opposition to each other, or two characters who have absolutely no contact with each other but their actions affect one another, I think one of the most important things is to keep them balanced. Not to say that they each need the same amount of face time, or that they have to be equally important to the story, even, but they have to have comparable reasons for existing as POV characters if they're going to be consistent PsOV. For instance, I use a character as a POV and he's only in one scene, and he's never the POV again throughout the story. I did that because he witnesses an event that no one else does. He meets one of the antagonists and that scene sets the rest of the story in motion. I only did it because no one else could bear witness to the event, and it was necessary to show it rather than have characters talk about it. I think the more balanced the PsOV can be, the better.

    3. Two distinct characters without two distinct voices. If your one MC is a baroness, and the other is a dairy maid, I'd expect each POV to be identifiable without names being mentioned. That's accomplished not only by word choice, but more importantly by what the characters think and observe. If your characters are intended to be contrasting (maybe as a romantic couple, or as partners who don't see eye to eye about their quest), it's all that much more important that they be separate entities with their own motivations/ goals/ and ways of communicating.

    So there's my feelings on the most important things about writing multiple PsOV. I typically write multiples in deep third person because I like to create the intimacy of first person POV, but occasionally I do a sort of far away shot, by going almost omniscient with a narrator for short passages, and I know that's not typical, to switch narration like that, but sometimes I find a good reason to do that. Other times, I do other unorthodox stuff, like use multiple PsOV in a single chapter. In fact, my WiP is riddled with that, since each chapter is a day, and sometimes I use a single POV for the whole day, and other times I use three people in a single chapter. I guess the more you play with it, the easier it becomes to make those kinds of decisions. The thing is, consider ahead of time what each POV character's contribution to POV will be, and that'll help you plan your chapters accordingly. I think too often the pattern can screw writers up, like if they are trying to alternate every chapter with the other POV, and there comes a point where that just doesn't work right. BY planning up front, it'll save precious time later.

    Hope that helps.
     
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  9. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

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    You can have as many POV as you need to tell the story, just not all in the same scene.

    A single scene is comprised of setting + characters + time. When one element changes, the scene has changed.

    It is best if you stay within the perspective of only one character during a scene rather than bouncing back and forth between the private perspective of first one character then a second then back to the first. THIS is “head hopping” because you are hopping from head to head to head.

    Exception: most editors/readers will allow one switch during a single scene as long as you stay within that second perspective to the end of the scene. If you return to the first perspective you have head hopped.

    Which character do you choose to lead a scene? Choose the perspective of the character who has the most to lose from the actions of that scene. Give the reader the highest level of tension every scene can give. Let us share in the losing side.
     
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  10. Mara

    Mara New Member

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    I can't say that I've read Don Quixote or Les Mis (I've seen the movies; that's about it) or Shogun, but I did try reading ASOIAF. Personally, I did not enjoy the vast number of perspectives. Some of them were necessary, because they're main characters, like Dany and Jon Snow and Arya and Tyrion. But as the series progressed, more and more character PoVs were added to the story, and it became nearly impossible to keep them all in track.

    My own WiP does have changing point of views (three, to be exact). Now, as the author of the book, I obviously can't say that I know it works, not without bias. But I think it does, because it's what my book needed. I've got two main protagonists, and I gave each of them their own chapters in the story. The antagonist, I also gave a point of view chapters, but I did it in third person and I gave him a fewer number of chapters. I wouldn't have given him any chapters at all, except there were certain actions he took that I needed to tell the readers about, and my two main characters (obviously) couldn't know about it. Giving him chapters was my best option for keeping my readers informed while simultaneously keeping my protagonists oblivious.

    I think that if your story needs more than one character viewpoint, then that's what you need to give it. You don't have to give both characters equal amounts of chapters.

    As for what to watch out for, the biggest thing is to make sure your potential readers know that a change in perspective is happening. After reading Legend (by Marie Lu; it's sci-fi but I think it still works), I decided to mimic Lu in a certain regard: the color of the text in each chapter depends entirely on who's narrating it. Which can be very useful when you have two first-person PoVs, as both Lu and I now have. For example. Any time my MC 1 is narrating, I make the text blue. Any time MC 2 is narrating, I make the text orange(ish). And when the antagonist is narrating, I leave the text black. Also, labeling the point of view for each chapter is useful as well. Example: Chapter 1 - {insert character name}.

    I can't claim to be an expert, but that's just my take on things.
     
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  11. danr62

    danr62 Sage

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    My biggest pet peeve with PoV is head hopping. I find it very difficult to read a book when a PoV shift happens without a scene break indicator. I've seen books with shifting PoV in the middle of a paragraph, and this is very disorienting to me.
     
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  12. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Yes, exactly. Use a scene break indicator. Most agents ask that it be a single asterisk centered, or three centered, or three justified left. If this is near the beginning of your writing journey, I wouldn't worry overmuch about popular formatting, but if you can try to use the commonly accepted methods of indicating certain things to readers, it helps when you trade with critters.

    I think the asterisk is enough, by the way. I don't recommend titles with a character's name, or changing anything about the font or text at all. I can see why Martin does use a character name, because his cast is super huge, but if you only have two characters, the risk of confusion is low. Since the novel I mentioned earlier, with 4 main POV characters is in Deep Third, I can mention their names at the beginning of their paragraphs, which helps the reader make that transition. Not to say I begin with their name: "Yvette opened the door..." Most often, I do something like, "Snow flurries filled wheel ruts in the road outside the brothel's window. Yvette pulled her drapes closed and turned back to..." So yeah, it takes a moment to hear the name, but the location gives away who I'm talking about. Now, if you do that in someone's head, it's even more fun: "Back-stabbing, treacherous priest. Carlo was going to get what was coming to him, and Yvette was happy to give it to him. She slipped a dagger into its sheath, against her ribs..." See? Isn't it fun?

    What POV are you using? First Person or Third Person?
     
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  13. Mara

    Mara New Member

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    My novel has two first person PoVs. I'm not sure if I made that clear, before, but does that change your opinion on the font color? I'm not really sure yet who gets to decide the format of the actual books, whether it's the publisher or the author, and if my future publisher suggests we go about it a different way, naturally I'd listen to them. But with my protagonists both having their own first person PoVs, I feel like using the two different colors helps the reader remember who is actually talking. I could be wrong. What's your opinion?
     
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  14. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I'd advise against using font colors to differentiate between characters. It comes off as gimmicky. The only book I've heard of that used colors for anything was House of Leaves, and that one is straight-up surreal. It used way more than just colors to get its plot across.
     
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  15. Coldboots

    Coldboots Scribe

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    Sounds good, all. Thanks for the insight, once again.

    Speaking for myself: If I'm going to be using one character's perspective, as I like to, I tend to be more comfortable in first person. It lends itself to a more casual style. I just have more fun with it and tend to make fewer mistakes in first person narration. I write leaner when in first person. I've written in third person quite a lot over the years (probably even more than first person) but I'm not great at it.

    As for reading Multi-POVs, as much as I enjoyed Martin's work (Yet, only reading as far as Feast for Crows.), I found myself wishing for the story to shift back to the characters that were interesting to me at the time. He's a writer I look up to in fantasy lit, although I don't plan to follow that series again until it's finished.

    About the other books I mentioned (apart from Shogun which I hated): as much as I liked Les Miserables, it is full of info dump at certain points. Yet, that didn't detract from my enjoyment. The character building in it was well done, in my opinion, some very sympathetic characters. Don Quixote was just a good comedy adventure. Few books make me laugh out loud like that one did.
     
  16. Mara

    Mara New Member

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    Hmm. I hadn't realized it made it look gimmicky. Thanks Ireth! I'll take that into consideration. :)
     
  17. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    *nod* I think you might have leeway with different font formats, like the way Terry Pratchett's Death speaks in all caps or small caps, but color is a step too far, IMO. You'd have to discuss it with your agent/editor/publisher anyway.
     
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I'd also recommend not using different colors.

    Robin Hobb's latest series in her Farseer world also uses two 1st-person POV characters, and you can check it out maybe to see how she does it.

    The simplest way to describe her very clever, yet subtle, transitions: The POVs are relegated to a whole chapter–i.e., she doesn't switch between 1st-person POV within a chapter–and she begins each chapter by letting us know rather quickly the location/milieu or some key character trait or mental focus, so that we know we've moved from one character to the other. This works especially easily when the two POV characters are separated geographically; but even when they are not, we are left in no doubt about who is narrating.

    (I'd recommend reading the first two trilogies before jumping into this trilogy, however.)
     
  19. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Head hopping is a real risky venture. Two first person POV's is also tough.

    The best attempt to take on the challenge of two first person POVs I have ever read is Robert Sawyer's Mindscan, a top notch SF book that was masterful in handling what in the case to that story seemed to be an insurmountable POV problem. I highly recommend you give it a read (and not just because I did some research and editing on it :) )

    I also find Lee Child does a nice job of head hopping while keeping things clear.
     
  20. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    @ Mara- I wasn't specifically talking about your situation, but I did notice you said you had two FPOV characters. I wouldn't use colors, personally, because I think it looks unprofessional. I was talking more about fonts, because I used to enjoy using different fonts for letters or songs, but people told me it looked unprofessional, and now I have to agree. I've seen people switch fonts for different characters, and like colors, I think it's just a distraction.

    I guess that goes back to my time as a recruiter, when I used to read resumes, and I just wanted a simple, clear font. I love Times New Roman, and that's convenient because most agents I've queried asked for it specifically. They also set rules for other things, like scene breaks, so if a writer is gearing up to submit to an agent in the future, it never hurts to get acquainted with submission formats (Times New Roman 10 or 12 pt. font, double-spaced, chapter number then five blank lines, single centered asterisk scene breaks, no extra space before or after paragraphs, tab indent, header with TITLE/ AUTHOR in the upper right or left, page number wherever they say to put it, etc.) Some agents are very specific and others are less, but most of the things the less specific people want are what the more specific ones want, too, so I just try to keep everything formatted for those most particular agents, and figure I can't go wrong then with the lax ones :) If you want to get an idea of what your manuscript should look like, check out three or four agents and see what thy say for manuscript formatting guidelines. Basically, anything not on that list is something that will hurt your manuscript in their eyes at least. Don't give them a reason to reject a manuscript out of hand without reading it.

    Best wishes.
     
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