If we imagine other characters in our story seeing the protagonist through a keyhole view, what would they say or write? If the story is written with a single point of view, the thoughts of the other characters can’t be used or we’d be head hopping. Their judgements can be revealed in dialog, directly in words or tone of voice, or in a letter/email the protagonist reads, etc.
The other characters have a limited view based on their interactions with the protagonist and their observations of his or her actions and emotions. How accurate is their character judgement? Is the bias partly the protagonist’s fault for not allowing others to get to know her or him and by hiding the true self?
In my multidimensional novel, Norman in the Painting, the protagonist, Jill, has a long time friend named Evelyn who owns an antique store. Jill freaked when Norman appeared out of the painting at the back of her shop. She wanted Evelyn to see the phenomenon, but Norman had disappeared again. Since then, Evelyn’s tone of voice sounds placating as if Jill is mentally fragile regardless of the topic Jill initiates. Ed, the knife sharpener at Evelyn’s, often gives Jill a look of total confusion and annoyance. He has seen her fainting, shouting, arguing, and causing chaos which Evelyn says he doesn’t like. Jill wants to have conversations with him but he ignores her attempts. The antagonist plays on Jill’s fears to control her but as she grows in the character arc, the limited assumption about Jill will prove wrong.
How do your other characters view the protagonist in your story?
In my writing class, I presented an exercise to analyze a story that had won third prize in a university contest. The author had an unusual writing style that the students found confusing, as did I in the first read. It took me three reads to understand the possible goals the author had for the piece.
An active discussion followed their frustrated sighs, head shaking, temple rubbing, blank stares, and furrowed eyebrows. Several interpretations from metaphor, mystery, murder, and psychological imbalance of the POVC added to the possible meaning of the story.
I appreciated the creative attempts at resolution for a story most of them disliked. But, I repeated, the story won third prize in a contest. On the drive home, twinges of guilt nipped at my heart since I’m very fond of everyone in my class. Then I received an email from Emily, one of the writer attorneys in the group and the twinges turned to confidence that to stretch everyone’s writing muscle was a good thing. Here’s what she said:
“I found the discussion today very satisfying. It was deeper than most and really made us work hard and exercise our brains. I felt like the way I feel after a good workout or how I used to feel after a good run. Hated the story, loved the workout.”
Thank you, Emily.
A New Year brings thoughts of improvement, creating resolutions, determination to stick with them. What about your characters? What are their goals? Major? Minor? Make a note of them and check back in three months, six months, or just before your novel goes to the publisher. Did the goals change? How many were accomplished?
The clearer you, the writer, are about those goals, the more real the story will be for the reader.
Monica Wood offers us a writing tip:
“If your main character is eluding you, have her write a letter to the editor.” What is on her or his mind?
Monica Wood in The Pocket Muse, gives examples of sentences with dangling modifiers that show amusing results.
“Mary admired the dress I bought for her in a department store with puffed sleeves.” The store had puffed sleeves?
“Sidetracked by the phone call, the stew boiled over and Ella blamed her chatty mother.” The phone call sidetracked the stew?
People in my writing classes, here’s some more homework. Rewrite the above examples without the dangling modifiers. Hand them in on November 26th and 27th.