Category Archives: POV

Do You Wanna Know What Love Is? Do You Want Me To Show You?

Some like it hot. Others just plain don’t like it, hot or cold. I could either be talking about oatmeal or love. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out a month’s worth of posts about oatmeal, so we opted for love.

But not just any old love. Complicated love. Confusing love. Forbidden love. Exhausting love. Unique love. Carnie love. Maybe not carnie love, but maybe someone should start talking about it, gosh darn it, because love is love! And while we have our individual experiences, we share one thing: we’ve all been touched by it. How we’ve been touched by it is a whole ‘nuther conversation.

But we’re about to have that conversation. How can you make love between two characters unique? Should you or should you not marry your cat? How do you reach outside your own experience to create unique, surprising love between characters?  How can you get that guy to stop stalking you? We hope to answer most of these questions this month.

You can look forward to posts from all of your favorite bloggers, along with special guest posts by author Lisa Mangum, her talented filmmaker husband Tracy Mangum, Cthulhu convert and author Stephan McLeroy, aspiring author and illustrator Victoria Morris, and editor/hair god Joshua Essoe. Join us as we celebrate love and relentlessly pound the crap out of it this month!

When Being Likable Isn’t Enough

I’m one of those people that read for the character. Give me someone I can cheer for or fall in love with and I’ll follow their journey to the end. However there is one trait that will make me throw the book across the room and use it for skeet. Passive POV characters. By that I mean characters that aren’t proactive. They don’t act, they react.

The literati call them anti-heroes, some people call them anti-protagonists, I’ve even heard them called Bella Swan. But a passive character by any other name would become as skeet, or something like that. There are personal reasons for my dislike that I won’t go into but the simple explanation is that I prefer characters that actively pursue their goal(s).

I realize that there are quite a few classics and bestsellers that contain anti-heroes and were well recieved. Some even became national bestsellers. That’s okay. I have no intention of being like the film critics that panned Star Wars. Like I said, it’s a personal dislike. As much as I hate to admit it, there are ways to include passive POVs and make it work to your advantage or at the very least keep readers like me engaged in the story.

1) This is more of an advantage than a tip but I feel that it’s important enough to list first. Since most novels center around an active character, simply writing from a passive POV will make your work stand out from the pack. No one will be able to accuse you of picking low hanging fruit. Though, be forewarned that standing out doesn’t always give you an advantage. If the plot is weak or the setting lackluster or the pacing too slow, the reader may still find the story skeet worthy.

2) Make the setting and/or plot so interesting that the reader doesn’t notice or care that the viewpoint character is passive. I know it’s a bit of a cheat but it really does work. If you haven’t read Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, go read it. It’s really well written and perhaps the best modern example of a well written passive main character. It’s definitely a work worth studying. I couldn’t finish the book because of passivity but the fascinating setting and gripping conflict saved it from being thrown across the room. I know, it sounds weird recommending a book that I never finished. Passive POVs annoy me that much. The setting and conflict kept me reading much longer than I would have otherwise so it does work.

3) A turning point. If you bring your passive character to a point where they have no choice but to become proactive, that can give readers a reason to reconsider pitching. However, the timing on this is very tricky because every reader is going to have a different throwing point. I would advise placing it earlier rather than later, but again, that’s subjective.

4) Kill them! Yes, I’m a little blood thirsty but this really can work. For example, if their passive nature is the cause of their death it can be the inciting incident that a more proactive POV character needs to step up and change the world. It also gives readers like me a wonderful feeling of satisfaction.

5) Make their passive nature an act or ploy in order to manipulate the other characters. The Scarlet Pimpernel books by Baroness Orczy are great examples of this. In public, Percy was a useless fop that didn’t give one whit about politics, social injustice, or anything else that didn’t come from a good tailor. In private, he was the mastermind behind the rescue of hundreds of innocent aristocrats during the French Revolution. The ploy of passivity kept him from falling under suspicion and allowed him to gain valuable intelligence. Plus, because the reader knows it’s an act, it makes the passive behavior more tolerable.

6) Pass the torch. In some ways this is a variation of rule 4. But if you loathe to kill your darlings you can have them retreat to the shadows in cowardice and charge a more active character to take up the cause.


If you know of other ways to make this work or have a reading suggestion where any or all of these techniques were used well, feel free to post them in the comments.

Git Er Dun: Using the Vernacular

One potentially powerful and useful tool to have in your toolbox is the ability to write in a certain vernacular that makes your characters memorable. Stylistic voicing has been successfully used by some great authors. Let’s take a look at those, and why they were successful.


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

One of the most memorable characters I can think of is Holden Caulfield. The Catcher in the Rye is a staple for coming-of-age readers. It’s my favorite book, in fact. Why? Why did this book resonate with me so much? No, it’s not because I’m

Well, are you?

a sociopath, as many critical readers think of Holden. I loved the book because it was real.

We understand that this is the first time Holden has ever truly spoken his mind, consequences be damned. And we get a front row seat! His raw vernacular often includes calling people “phonies” and using “goddamn” as a consistent adjective. This usage of stylistic voicing achieved a certain authenticity. Whether Holden was right or wrong about the other characters being phonies, we never question for a minute that Holden is completely convinced that they are.


Room by Emma Donoghue

The book Room is told by a 5-year-old boy, Jack, whose main education is the television. Why? Because he is a captive, along with his mother, locked in a shed for years. Jack’s stylistic voicing is so convincing, so well constructed, that the reader is completely enveloped into Jack’s world, where he has only known the Room. He has never been outside. He hasn’t received any sort of education, apart from the one his mother tries to give him, which makes his sentence construction short and plain. He only describes what he sees, not knowing exactly what certain things mean. But you, the reader, know exactly what it means. And it makes your stomach churn and your heart ache.

You may want to pick up Room to see an excellent example of emotional transport with a stylistic narrative voice. It should also be noted that some readers simply could not get past the stylistic voicing. That is one of the risks you take when choosing a stylistic narration, but the rewards can be BIG. Room won Emma Donoghue over ten prestigious awards for her effort and risk.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Perhaps the most well-known example of using stylistic voice is Huck Finn. It was, in fact, the very first novel published to use American vernacular, or more specifically, regional dialect (an example:“Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you’s gwyne to git well agin.”). Huck is described as a pariah, son of the town drunk, and the other children wish they dared to be like him.  That’s one hellova introduction. If Samuel Clemens decided to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in third person, I venture to say everyone would hate Huck.  A bratty little kid, running around causing havoc. What Twain did so brilliantly was deciding to tell the story from Huck’s perspective, showing us the charm and charisma Huck has to offer, so we can’t help but love the little shit. Using stylistic voicing, Twain made us relate to an otherwise potentially annoying character.


You may have noticed that I chose all first-person novels, as well as young narrators. Can you think of any examples of stylistic voice using adults, told in third person? Was it as effective as a first-person stylistic voice?

If you’re on the edge about whether or not to write a character’s unique voicing, take heart. Mark Twain had never seen it before, but did it anyway. Emma Donoghue received some unkind reviews of Room because of her style choice, and probably cries about it in front of her wall full of awards. Just kidding. She doesn’t. And Holden Caulfield wouldn’t be one of the most notorious voices in literature if Salinger hadn’t let him. Tell your character’s story in the most authentic way possible, even if that includes letting him or her speak for him/herself.


Who’s holding the camera? Choosing the Point of View Character

I like to write tight third person point of view.  Briefly, that means that the story is seen “through the eyes” of one or more characters.  The descriptions of events, the value placed on those events, the decision making process, and the interpretation of actions and gestures is all coloured by that particular person’s experience.  Readers see how this character thinks and analyzes.

One of the most fun things to do with tight third person is to drop hints in the narrative that the point of view character might be misinterpreting events, misunderstanding other characters, selectively perceiving some factors while overlooking others, or missing some of what’s going on.  Different people can experience the same event in very different ways depending on their histories, values and beliefs.  Writing in tight third person challenges readers to question the point of view character’s interpretation.

What character the writer chooses to “hold the camera” can change the entire story.

Two examples stand out to me.  The first is when editorial feedback convinced me to change the point of view character; the second is when I chose not to, despite my beta reader’s advice.

fossil lake 2 coverLater this year I have a short horror story called “Red Ochre” appearing in Fossil Lake 2:  The Refossiling.  In the initial draft, the story was told from the point of view of a white male student named Perry.  As the story went on, clues in the narrative indicated that Perry’s fascination with, and actions toward, his friend Meesha were twisted and dangerous, even though Perry’s narration showed that he considered his behaviour to be normal and unremarkable.  I liked the idea that readers, like Meesha, might be taken in by Perry’s charm at the beginning of the story.  The scare factor was to come in when readers realized that Perry had deceived them as well as her.

I gave the story to a beta reader, and he told me that in his opinion, the story was a failure.

Initially, I thought he’d missed the “creepy” cues given by Perry throughout the narrative.  No, he said.  His problem was that Meesha, a Native American student, appeared as an enigmatic, romanticized object of infatuation rather than as a person in her own right.

That wasn’t what I’d wanted the story to do at all.  I tried to rewrite it, but given that Perry didn’t really know much about Meesha as a person, nor did he care to know, I couldn’t fix that problem while telling the story from Perry’s point of view.

I scrapped that draft and started again from the top, using Meesha as the point of view character.

Perry’s object of fascination became a fully developed human being, with her own reasons for disregarding the “creepy” cues Perry gives off as the story progresses.  Better yet, I realized that the stakes were higher for Meesha, and the story would be more intense because of it.  Perry has only his life to lose.  Meesha has her trust in her friend, her understanding of the world around her, and ultimately something even greater than her life on the line:  she is risking both her identity and her soul.

Changing the point of view character made “Red Ochre” a much stronger and ultimately more unsettling horror story, and I’m very pleased with the results.

When-the-Hero-Comes-Home-2-coverThe other example is from the first story I ever sold:  “Blood Runs Thicker” in the e-book edition of When the Hero Comes Home 2.

In this story, a woman becomes a reluctant war hero.  When her childhood best friend attends her homecoming, he realizes that she has been maneuvered into playing this role, even though she did what she did for her own reasons, and without succeeding at her intended goals.

My beta reader for my first draft told me that she didn’t think that the stakes in the story were high enough, and perhaps I should reconsider telling the story from the hero’s point of view, instead of from her friend’s.  After all, she was the one forced into this situation against her will.

I began re-drafting and two thousand words in, I realized it would never work–but more importantly, why not.  The core of the story was not about war.  The core of the story was about how much a person would sacrifice for a loved one.  The focus of my narrative was not the hero’s actions in combat, but that her friend was willing to sacrifice the future he’d planned for himself in order to protect her.  He was the active character, and he was the one with something left to lose:  she had already lost everything that mattered to her.

I re-wrote the initial story, emphasizing how much the point of view character stood to lose if he acted to protect the war hero.  I focused the narrative on the point of view character’s internal conflict, emotions, and doubts.  During my rewrite, I kept foremost in mind that the core of the story was about sacrifice.

The story sold.  You can check it out for yourself here.

In this case, trying to tell the story from someone else’s point of view helped me understand the theme of the story.  I used this knowledge to give the story a tight focus on the crucial concepts and tell a better tale.

If your story’s not working, consider how the plot might look from another character’s point of view.  The lenses through which each character filters the events can make all the difference.