Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Is This Character the Turkey or the Cranberry Sauce?

When you read the words “Thanksgiving dinner,” what’s the first thing you think of?

Assuming you like your family and the day does not involve silly spats or longstanding feuds then your answer most likely is “turkey.”

Now, picture your Thanksgiving Day platter. What’s on it besides a giant pile of roasted bird? Mashed potatoes, maybe, with or without gravy. Stuffing, of course. Cranberries (gel, sauce, or whole). Green beans. Corn. Sweet potato casserole. Bread and butter.

Hungry, now? Yeah, sorry about that. Me, too. Doing your best to ignore the grumbling in your stomach, read on and I promise this will all make sense soon. 

There is a trend today in fantasy whereby the point of view (POV) shifts between characters, most often at chapter breaks. Chapter 1 is from Bob’s POV, Chapter 2 is from Betty’s, Chapter 3 is Susie’s, and by Chapter 4 we might get back around to Bob again.

Some people don’t like books like that, preferring instead a single POV from beginning to end. I am not one of those people. I enjoy getting into different characters’ heads, seeing and experiencing things as they do. It’s why I write novels that have shifting POV.

Now, to do this successfully, one must consider a couple things:

Ensure that your main protagonists own the book.

In other words, in a 50-chapter book, don’t have only 10 from your primary character(s) POV.

Keep the breaks between your main protagonists short.

Don’t have Chapters 1 and 2 with Bob’s POV then not circle back to him again until chapter 10. The reader will either lose connection with the character or have to work to get back into the character’s mindset.

Some characters should never have a POV chapter.

Why, you ask? For some characters, it just does not work. I wish I had a bit of sage wisdom on how to tell when a character is not a good fit, but I don’t.

It’s that third point that prompted this post.

I’m in the midst of editing book three in the Children of the White Lions series, and by midst, I mean I just started. I’m around the 10% mark.

While planning out the book, I thought that I wanted to write a few chapters from the POV of a character I introduced in Prophecy. I had really come to enjoy writing scenes in which that character participated and wanted to stretch his legs a little. So, when outlining, I identified which scenes would belong to him like I do with all the characters in advance.

I started writing the first draft and eventually got to his first chapter. I was excited to start, leapt right in and…promptly struggled through the whole dang thing. I just could not get a feel for him now that I was in his head. Once I finished the chapter, I did two things. First, I went to the top of it and put the following bullet point:

  • Change POV to [different character]

Then, I went back and revised my outline, reassigning that character’s POV to other characters.

I guess my point is this: some characters make excellent side dishes, adding some variety to the meal, a change of pace to the star of the platter. But they aren’t the turkey and no matter what you do, they will never be the turkey. So, let them do what they do best—compliment the main dish—and enjoy the meal as a whole.

That’s it.

I want a sandwich now.