Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Storymaker Conference Report - POV

I think, for me, the most insightful thing I learned came the day before the conference at the Publication Primer--and it came about because of something I'd noticed after I sent in my first chapter of The Swap for review by my group. It had to do with point of view. My instructor was Clint Johnson.

We need to be very careful when we're writing MG or YA that we don't try to view our mc as an adult would. We really need to be IN our MG or YA character's head and see how their adolescent view of the world impacts what we show and how we portray their thoughts.

He gave an example of showing a character sitting at a table in the room where we were gathered. If a woman entered the room and the character at the table noticed she had on red stiletto heels and even what brand of shoe they were, what would that tell us about the character? That she's a woman (or a gay guy into shoes). If the character looked at the woman's chest first, we could assume the character is a guy.

Clint then suggested we consider that the character was a woman who'd given birth to a baby a few weeks ago and was suffering from severe postpartum depression. He asked how differently she might see the room we were in compared to someone who was just happy to be there and whose life was good at that moment.

When we describe what our characters see, it should reflect their life experiences, their current emotional state. What in a busy room draws their attention is important. In fact, it's a great way to show their emotional state without telling the reader what it is.

Clint asked me why my character in the chapter that was being critiqued was acting the way she is. He suggested that if the reason I gave was all there was to her motivation, then she was two dimensional. It really gave me pause. I think I may need to give a little more thought to the internal motivations and finally break down and do up a character bible for each one.

What kind of information do you put together on your characters? Where do you keep it?

36 comments:

  1. This is really interesting, Donna, I'll need to bear in mind the "mood" of the character when I'm writing them. Thanks! :)

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  2. Such great points. Sometimes my MG characters sound too old. I would have loved to have gone to this conference.

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  3. Clint is such a great instructor! He always makes me want to rip up my work and start over, in a good way!

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  4. Wow. I think I'm going to reread this post a few times and let that sink in. It's a great way to get deeper into the character and give insights to their feelings, thoughts, past experiences and makes them more real. I need to work on this more.

    Sounds like you learned a lot, as usual. :)

    Melanie

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  5. Ooh, this is great! Sounds like an awesome class :)

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  6. Sounds like a very insightful class, I just keep all of my character stuff in my head.

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  7. Great information. I always create a character file but it takes lots of consideration while writing to delve this deep into each character. Wonderful post. ; )

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  8. Okay. That is it. Next year I'm doing the primer for sure!!!

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  9. Great point on showing emotions through what they pick out in a room. Clint is awesome. I'm glad you got to be in his group! That guy really knows his stuff. He's been an invaluable mentor for me.

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  10. Such good points. What we notice says a lot about who we are.

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  11. That's some great advice! The important thing is always to remember to see things through a characters eyes, never your own.

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  12. Stellar advice, Donna. Wow. There's so much to remember! I feel like a juggler flipping a raw egg, a lit candle, a running chainsaw, a sword, and a teddy bear...;o)

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  13. I agree that it's very important t get into each character's head and see things from their perspective, particularly a young character. I'm writing a story with a young boy and I have to keep going through to be sure I'm using words at his language level and noticing the things he would, as well as omitting things he wouldn't notice.

    For this project, I'm using an exercise book. For larger products, I use plain paper, bound in book form, so I can not only write about the character, but have pictures that represent them and where they live.

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  14. Oops...that should be larger projects.

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  15. Thanks for sharing what you learned. I hadn't thought of how describing what they see should reflect what they feel. Great stuff.

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  16. Thanks for sharing what you learned. I hadn't thought of how describing what they see should reflect what they feel. Great stuff.

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  17. It's true that what we observe in the world says a lot about us. I especially notice this in judgmental people. They are constantly noticing flaws in others that I don't. Their observations lend a lot to their character. We should remember to duplicate this in writing, but I find some characters are easier to do that with than others.

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  18. Great advice. Perspective can be tough when writing middle grade. That's awesome you walked away with some tips.

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  19. I think this is superb advice. I totally immerse myself into my character and speak from their experiences. I kind of have to do it that way since I use multiple POVs. I need to make them each distinct.

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  20. Excellent food for thought here!

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  21. I'm always thinking about my characters' inner motivations when I write a scene. Or at least I try to. I'm not just talking about the pov character. This will effect how each of character responds to the given situation. Yes, my brain is quite cluttered. ;)

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  22. The examples you gave for how would you know who--are great. Inner motivation, emotion and age perspective are good tools for revision.

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  23. What an interesting exercise! Thanks for sharing, Donna. :D

    I keep everything on my characters. Notes are saved on my computer, and then printed out for my binder. :)

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  24. Thanks for the reminder. I have to admit there are some POVs I nail and some that are weak. I'm particularly bad at 3rd limited in characters I don't relate to. Then it just becomes a big mess

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  25. Ah crap! Another element to add to my writing! LOL. I love it. This was very insightful, Donna. Thanks for this! :D

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  26. Good point. I think POV is one of the hardest things to do.

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  27. It all rests in my head. The layers of my people are slowly added in as I write.

    My first draft is simple action and dialogue. After writing that person for a while I'll know their action/response to almost anything.

    IT's then a matter of writing all that "in the moment" stuff without bogging the reader down.

    Well said, AND I'm bummed I didn't make it this year.

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  28. Great post, Donna! This is excellent advice for any fiction writing but especially for YA, I believe. I've been yanked out of stories many times because the young person simply wasn't thinking, acting or speaking the way someone of that age would normally.

    Over the years I've learned the value of keeping a detailed document about each character, including physical traits (hate when I give someone blue eyes and then make them green a few chapters later LOL), emotional quirks, background, motivation, etc. It makes life so much easier when I have everything in one place for each character and can easily refer to the info when I need to.

    --Susan

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  29. Great insights about POV. I always find it's crucial to omit certain things too, i.e. what a character doesn't notice matters just as much as what they do notice.

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  30. I'm so glad you went to StoryMakers and shared your insights. I'm going to try to keep that in mind as I work on some edits.

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  31. I think this is the single most important thing to consider to make credible characters. Everything needs to filter through them and their minds, not the author's. Glad you had a good time and learned lots!

    Angela

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  32. Oh great advice. Sometimes it is hard to see things the way are characters do, but when we pull it off, the book just shines. Thanks for sharing.

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  33. Unfortunately I keep everything in my head or in the manuscript. I do have a few sticky notes to remind of stuff but then I get frustrated and throw the sticky notes out. I think this is very important and I'll think about it on the next revision. Thanks Donna.

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  34. Excellent point. I'm going to now look at what my character's see.

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  35. More good writing advice...should I ever endeavor.

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