How an offhand remark about point of view set me to thinking: The Authors Collection
January 19, 2014
On Saturday I attended a writing work shop.
As usual, the event triggered thoughts in my mind about the writing craft.
The one that stuck with me the most was an offhand remark one of the presenters made about point of view.
The topic was “story” led by husband and wife team Caryl and Ron McAdoo. The McAdoos have paid heir dues in the writing world, and Caryl’s book Vow Unbroken, a Christian historical romance, will be released by Howard Books the first week in March 2014.
Ron and Caryl first talked about their experience in critique groups in the early days of their writing journey and discussed showing versus telling.
“We got that pretty quick,” Ron said.
But, Ron went on to say, the hardest part of the learning curve for them was “getting” point of view.
He added. “Once you get it, you’ve got it.”
It was at this point in the presentation that Ron made this offhand remark.
“Have you ever been talking to someone when they go on and on about a person you don’t know? Boring,” he said.
Ever since Ron said that, his words have played in my head.
The point he was making was that until a reader knows a character what the character does is unimportant, irrelevant.
Ron’s remark has made me re-think my approach to developing characters.
The author’s challenge is to take a group of characters that are strangers to a reader and build an emotional tie to them.
How often have we heard the report of a person injured in a car wreck. If we don’t know the injured party we may have a reaction of sorrow based on fundamental human compassion. But compare that reaction to the one we have if the news concerns a friend or a family member. Now the tragedy is not hypothetical. We care about it, race to the hospital, get on the phone to let others in our sphere of love know about it.
Unless the reader knows the characters from a prior book in a series, however, every character she meets in a book is a stranger, a person about whom she has no reason yet to care.
The author, on the other hand, has lived with those characters for months or years, knows them inside out, understands why their death or injury should matter.
His job is to make those characters matter to the reader.
He can’t do that by dropping characters into a story from outer space. Rather he must build the relationship to the reader, and do it in a hurry.
That’s why every word in a book matters, and must further the goal of introducing yet another reason why the reader would care for and about a character who until only a few moments before was a rank stranger.