Character Point Of View

A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at a library to a group of folks who are working on breaking into the writing biz (and a few folks who just loitered in the back while I spoke).  The Q&A part of the talk wandered onto the subject of character points of view.

One of the folks in the audience  –a person who had read my first two novels, Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song—asked how I get inside the heads of the villainous characters.  My novels (they’re books 1 and 2 of a trilogy that will wrap with Bad Moon Rising in May ’08) include a number of bad guys.  One is a psychotic serial killer and gangster named Karl Ruger, known for savagely murdered a group of senior citizens.  Another one, Vic Wingate, is an abusive stepfather who savagely beats his fourteen-year old stepson. Then there is a nutso religious fanatic named Tow-Truck Eddie who believes that the voice in his head is God telling him to murder the local paperboy. And the last is an immortal monster. Each of them is a total creep in his own way, and each of them do some very, very bad things.

I, on the other hand, am not a creep and I don’t do very bad things.    So, how do I crawl inside the heads of bad guys?  That was the topic of conversation.

The answer is both simple and complex.  The simple answer is: that’s what writers do.  After all a writer doesn’t have to share lifestyle paths, political views, gender, or any other qualities with their characters.  J. K. Rowling isn’t an English schoolboy any more than Stephen King wasn’t a religiously oppressed teenage high school girl.

The more complex answer is based on what a writer deliberately does to improve his craft.  Shifting points of view is a great exercise for writers (just as it is for actors, artists, etc.).  It forces us to take a different psychological or emotional stance.  It helps us see through other eyes.

I have a writing exercise based on point of view (POV) that I use with my writing students.  Here’s an example of how it works:

I’ll describe something (since ‘tis the season, let’s pick a Christmas tree).  Then I’ll ask my students to describe that tree in 1-3 paragraphs.  Generally their descriptions will be based on their own takes on Christmas, and there’s a lot of variety there (a class with Christians, agnostics, Jews, etc. will yield substantially different results).

Then, every few minutes I tell them to start with a fresh sheet of paper and describe the Christmas tree as seen by:

·        A burglar breaking into the house on Christmas Eve.

·        A broken-hearted old woman sitting alone

·        A cop at a crime scene

·        A blind man who has just had successful surgery to restore his eyesight

·        A serial killer

·        A young man arriving at a house to pick up his date

·        A Hindu visiting a co-worker’s house for dinner

·        And so on…

With each new personality model the Christmas tree becomes a different thing because each of these characters could not possibly have the same reference points.  The writer then has to imagine their thoughts/reactions/opinions, either based on pure imagination or on information and/or experiences with persons who might fight (to some degree) the models provided.

If you’re a writer give it a try.  Feel free to post your version here in the comments section.  It’ll definitely be interesting.

-Jonathan Maberry

www.jonathanmaberry.com

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One Response to “Character Point Of View”

  1. Dr. Tom Bibey Says:

    It is easier for me. In a lifetime of work I’ve met all kinds of cool people and a lot of nuts, too. All I gotta do is tell about ’em in fiction. Visit me at drtombibey.wordpress.com.

    Thanks,
    Dr. B

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