Put Yourself in Your Main Character’s Shoes
Alright, today’s tip is going to encompass an entire article rather than breaking something into three or four parts. We’re covering fiction writing tips today that will help you master one of the more difficult skills a fiction author will face: Point-of-view.
When I found out point-of-view existed back in November 2017 (thank you, Jerry Jenkins!) I found my writing during the first drafts of Northern Knights was omniscient.
At times, omniscient point-of-view works and the classic novels are good at displaying such work.
However, times have changed and today point-of-view must be limited, as if the reader (and the author) is the main character, seeing the work from their eyes.
Why has this become?
We live in an age where authors are facing more than just competition from other authors. We’re facing competition from iPads, iPhones, TV, movies, the latest video game, Netflix binge-watching, and whatever else these mad tech scientists are concocting.
It isn’t a day where books rule the world which was prevalent in the early to mid-twentieth century.
But, there’s hope and if you’re having a tough time mastering point-of-view, you found such hope.
Through the Eyes of the Main
There are exceptions to this rule but most works will be seen through the eyes of a main character, typically the main character.
You know those five senses they taught you about?
Yep, the main character and only the main character can see, feel, hear, taste, and smell things. No one else can.
You can imply they can, such as something insane happens and Lira’s eyes widened. But we’re still in Cain’s point-of-view. For this, you can’t say Lira was shocked (show, don’t tell), but you should say this:
Lira’s eyes widened and she stumbled backward as Ferguson tore between her and Cain.
“What just happened?” Lira said, gazing where Ferguson bolted off.
Kid’s on freaking crack. Cain crossed his arms. “I don’t know, but he’s flying high on something.”
Note a few things here. You’re seeing Lira’s expression and Ferguson bolting away with his arms flailing through Cain’s eyes.
But, note something else. I didn’t have to say Cain saw or even state Cain thought. We know Cain’s thinking when I state ‘Kid’s on freaking crack’ after Ferguson bolted off. We can say Lira looked, or in this case gazed because Cain, and therefore the reader can see Lira turning her head and looking in a certain direction.
Don’t Say They Saw, Thought, or Felt
Like I mentioned above, it’s not necessary to state Cain saw, thought, felt, or anything related. Instead, let’s so it so the reader can experience it.
Cain whipped around. “What the hell was what, Lira?”
The reader realizes Cain’s perturbed.
Or, this example:
Cain snickered. “It sure as hell sounded like a dream starring Yours Truly.”
The reader knows Cain’s amused.
What about text outside a quote.
Oh, Gaia in hell, does she always freak out like this?
We’re seeing Cain’s thoughts, but again, being in his point-of-view, we don’t have to say Cain thought. We can just say what he thought.
Also, we can’t say what the other characters are thinking. For instance, we can’t state Lira was annoyed with Cain. We show this like this:
“Oh, ow, son of a bitch, Lira, what the hell did you throw at me?”
Lira raised her eyebrows. “I told you not to get smart with me.”
I think the reader knows Cain annoyed Lira enough for her to throw a piece of metal into his face by showing her actions.
For instance, if a character raises their voice at the main and are shaking with a vein pulsing, it shows they’re angry.
If the author just says the other character is angry, the reader feels nothing. By showing it, the reader will feel everything the main character is feeling. Man, that piece of metal to the head hurt! I felt that one!
Not only did I provide examples that never stated Cain saw this or felt the piece of metal. Cain’s reaction to Lira flinging a piece of metal into his face shows the reader Cain’s reaction.
The Reader Knows what the Main Knows
Jerry Jenkins states that ideally, there should be one point-of-view per book, but always one per scene and preferably one per chapter.
Now, Jenkins certainly deviated from this at times and sometimes it’s necessary.
For instance, I’m drafting Book Four in the Lord of Columbia Series while editing Books Two and Three.
Book Four does require two points-of-view due to the plot’s complexity and distance. Jenkins practiced this in his Left Behind Series, which took place at the global level.
If there’s information the reader needs from two points-of-view, this can be done but remember to limit point-of-view to one per scene or ideally, one per chapter.
Also, when changing point-of-view let the reader know with a typographical dingbat. For instance, when in Cain’s point-of-view in Book Four, I would place a few asterisks above the scene to indicate change in point-of-view.
It’s also wise to use a character’s full name so I would state Cain Riscattare in the first line instead of Cain.
This will let the reader know of the point-of-view switch so they can experience the story from Cain’s eyes, in this example.
And, my final tip is to avoid head-hopping. This might be rampant in your work if you struggle with point-of-view but it will get easier as time goes on.
Head-hopping is when an author goes from one point-of-view to another in the same scene.
For instance, if I were to take the scene with Ferguson again, as mentioned earlier and stated the following:
Cain gazed where Ferguson bolted off.
Now, we’re no longer in Cain’s limited point-of-view.
If I were to go on to state this:
Lira stumbled backward. Someone needs to help the poor kid. “What just happened?”
We just went from being in Cain’s point-of-view earlier in the scene (in the actual text) to Lira’s point-of-view without telling the reader otherwise.
This leads to a confused reader.
So, save yourself some harsh critics and practice this exercise by stating what’s in front of you. For instance, here’s where I am at this moment in time:
Sitting in the library, Todd typed another blog onto his laptop. It was a busy day here on a late-Wednesday afternoon. Every table was packed with patrons and the librarians scurried all over the place helping those searching for books. Another patron entered and swept in front of Todd’s table, parking himself at the far end near the window.
Once again, we never stated I looked or anything. But, we saw the whole thing from my point-of-view.
Let’s add more pizzazz.
Todd squirted fruit-punch flavored drink mix into his water bottle and took a swig.
Again, readers know what fruit punch tastes like. The goal, by mentioning the fruit punch flavored mix is to get the reader to taste the punch.
Someone nearby was streaming a live music video while two others conversed about their day behind Todd.
You know I’m hearing something but I never had to state that I heard anything.
Hmm, was someone wearing cologne? It wasn’t Cosmo Kramer’s beach cologne, but it was something tropical. Perhaps it was time to book another trip to the beach or to see family in Fort Myers, Florida?
We’re getting the smells.
The table consisted of a rugged texture, a stark contrast from the smooth-ended keyboard.
Finally, the sense of touch, without saying anyone felt.
It might take a bit of sentence structuring and word playing, but once your product is finished you’ll see first-hand how much better your work reads when point-of-view is mastered.
Thanks a bunch for coming across My Freedom Flame, and please follow my blog for more information regarding fiction writing tips. Thanks again and please come back soon.