Thursday, March 8, 2012

Point of View - Part Two

In last week's post I covered the three basic points of view used in fiction and touched on how to choose whose POV a scene should be in. I also asked the question: is a film camera an objective observer?

The quick answer: No! The camera is never impartial.

How often have you been moved to tears by a movie? Or been so gripped by a TV show you didn't want to leave the room?

That's because the camera managed to draw you in emotionally, by manipulating your POV.

The camera might not be able to get into a character's thoughts in the same way that written words can, but POV is so much more than hearing a character's thoughts.

As I said last week, the POV in a scene also has a lot to do with who we're empathising most with in that given moment. And this the film camera definitely does.

The film-makers manipulate the stories and images so that their viewers takes sides. They do this by making you care about some characters more than others.

Here’s an example. Naturally, it’s a tie-in to The Vampire Diaries [Come on – you knew this was coming!]. Watch this scene, and tell me whose POV you think it's in.

All three of the main characters in this scene are regulars, and we care for all of them in different ways. But in this scene, it's fairly obvious that we're encouraged to 'side' with Caroline. She's the first character the camera lingers on, and we watch the dance floor from her perspective. And of all the characters in this excerpt, I bet you cared more for her than anyone else, even if you don't watch the show and don't know any of the background.

Your characters don't always have to sympathetic, and they don't always have to be squeaky clean. But you absolutely have to make your readers care for them. This is your entire job as the the author, just as it's the director & writers' job on a TV show. If the audience doesn't care, you lose ratings [or can't sell your next book].

So how do we make readers care for our characters?

The scene above offers a few tips:

  • Sympathy vote: Though she might be rude to the other characters, Caroline still has a sense of humour. Your POV character is not going to be sweetness and light in every scene, and that's okay. But you need to make sure there are at least moments in every scene where the reader identifies or sympathises with that character. Two characters just shouting at each other throughout a scene is no fun for the reader, even if you're offering glimpses into their innermost thoughts.
  • Fore-shadowing: Before this scene, the film-makers had already hinted at an underlying tension between Caroline and Tyler. Up until this point it's been unacknowledged, but present enough to prepare the viewer for the confrontation that's brewing.
  • The little details: Add the little gestures that are so natural to real live people and which will not only bring your characters to life, but also hint at their inner emotions. For example, that moment when Caroline turns away and hides her face behind her hair. No words. No drama. No conflict. Just a tiny gesture that says so much about her emotional state, and her vulnerability. And vulnerability is always good.
But there is still one more factor in how to get the reader not just to sympathise with, but to empathise with your main characters. And I'll discuss that factor next week.

Do you have any other tips on how to make readers care about your characters? Please share them with us in the comments.

I wanted to play out of this post with the resolution to the previous scene, but since Blogger isn't playing nice, check back here in half an hour and I'll upload it in a separate post.

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