#FirstDraft60 Day 7 — Who Are Your Characters and What Is Your POV?
Now that all of your systems are (should be) set up, it’s time to start digging into the nitty-gritty of information you’ll need to know in order to be able to marathon-write a first draft. And this week, it’s all about the characters.
Schedule for Days 7–11:
Day 7 (today): Identifying your characters (main and secondary), and determining your POV and viewpoint characters.
Day 8: Getting Your Characters into S.H.A.P.E.
Day 9: Character Casting
Day 10: Determining Your Main Characters’ Goals, Motivations, and Conflicts
Day 11: Writing Out the Complete Backstories of Your Main Characters
Now, for those of you who’ve been around the blog for a while, you’ll recognize several of these topics. If you want to work ahead, or if you’ve already done your character casting or GMC or SHAPE, spend your FirstDraft60 time this week working on backstories or getting a head start on your synopsis/outline. But if you’re still in the process of figuring everything out, working thorough the activities/assignments this week should really help with figuring out not just your characters but generate new ideas for your story.
Identifying Your Main (Viewpoint) and Secondary Characters
The first question to ask yourself when it comes to determining your Viewpoint characters is: Whose story am I telling? In a romance novel, this is easy—it’s the story of the hero and the heroine as they fall in love with each other. In a detective/P.I. novel, it’s probably best to go with a single viewpoint—the viewpoint of the one solving the crime. However, even though these are usually the case, you can’t always force your stories to fit into that mold.
Next, which characters have important information to reveal to the reader that cannot be done without getting inside their heads? This is a tricky question—because when we’re first starting out writing, there may seem to be lots of characters who have important things to reveal to the reader, even if it’s just for one short paragraph. But as we read more, study more, and write more, we’ll get a better feel for what really is important and what isn’t. Typically, if it’s only one scene’s worth of information to be revealed, it’s probably not that important in the grand scheme of things—or it can most likely be revealed in another manner without dipping into that character’s POV for just one scene. If you’re not sure, make a list of the characters in your story and try dividing them up into three categories: walk-ons (may not even have a speaking role, may or may not need to be named, might have one or two lines of dialogue, but never appear again); secondary characters (are along for pretty much the whole journey, are somehow connected to the development of the story—but not important enough to have a viewpoint); and viewpoint, or main, characters (those whose story you’re telling). If you’re coming up with too many main characters ask the next question . . .
Which characters’ internal journeys affect the direction, conflict, climax, and resolution of the story? If you’re giving a character a viewpoint just to reveal information to the reader, they may not actually be a viewpoint character, they may be a secondary character. If you still end up with multiple viewpoint characters, ask . . .
Do all viewpoint characters’ story arcs tie in to the main plot of the novel? Does each viewpoint character’s storyline somehow intersect with and/or affect or influence the main plot of the story? Do the characters’ lives intersect with each other? Does each viewpoint character’s storyline wrap up at the end and tie in to the ending? If you have multiple viewpoint storylines going on, and they don’t tie in with each other by the end of the novel, what you have are two plots—two stories that should be separated from each other.
How often does a character’s viewpoint appear? If you have a viewpoint character who has only a few scenes scattered throughout a 350-page novel, it may be time to consider relegating that character to a secondary role and finding a way to incorporate what’s revealed in his/her scenes to one of the major characters—UNLESS there is a very compelling reason to only have a few, such as it’s the villain’s POV or something like that which serves to up the ante and increase the conflict and/or suspense.
Finally, which character has the most to gain/lose in each scene? Who will be the most embarrassed by what’s about to happen? Who has a secret agenda? Whose heart is going to be racing? Who’s going to be ducking around the corner out of sight and overhear something he/she shouldn’t? That will help you choose the correct viewpoint character for each scene. But it isn’t foolproof. If a scene feels flat to you, try it from another major character’s viewpoint and see if it changes things.
Assignment 1: Who are the characters that will have a viewpoint in your story (e.g., your “main” characters)? Who are some of your major secondary characters—those who are important but don’t get their own viewpoints?
Picking Your POV
“Point of View” or POV is quite often the term used to identify which characters’ heads the reader is allowed into in a story. However, we’re using it in the more technical, grammatical definition today.
In order to set your story up to get ready to write it, there are three parts of POV you must decide upon:
- Person: First (I, me, my), Second (you, your, yours), Third (he, she, his, hers, they, theirs).
- Omniscience: Omniscient (using a narrator, even if it’s an invisible/god-like narrator), Limited (camping out in just one viewpoint character’s head per scene, the narrative is in the character’s voice, not a “narrator’s”), Objective (more of a journalistic style—“just the facts, ma’am”—not seen in fiction often).
- Tense: Present (action is happening in the here-and-now), Past/Active (verbs are past tense, but because this is the most common form of storytelling, it still seems to be immediate action), Past/Passive (usually a form of the “be” verb plus a gerund—word ending in -ing—or a form of the “have” verb + past-tense verb).
You can read more about these, and the vast array of combinations thereof here.
Must you know what POV you’re going to use for your story before you start writing? It’s a good idea to have a grasp of what’s accepted/expected in your genre—and the example I always give here is that in romance, the accepted and expected (by readers) POV is 3rd Person, Limited, Past/Active with the heroine and the hero being viewpoint characters. But since this is a first draft and you’ll have ample time to revise after you complete this draft, if you want to play with POV to see what works best for your story, feel free to experiment.
Assignment 2: What POV will you be writing your story in? Is there anything you need to study/learn about this POV before you start writing?
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