Friday, January 11, 2008

More on OW-- character implications

More about the early scene that might establish the Ordinary World.

BTW, it doesn't have to be the first scene! Especially in a mystery or action thriller, you might first want to get the action moving-- have the butler discover that dead body :). But then think about the sleuth going home to that old ordinary world so we can see what's going to change for
her because she's involved in this mystery.

Think of the three aspects here that you're establishing as you sketch the Ordinary World:

The character of the protagonist.

The setting or world.

The situation that will create conflict somehow.

I'll deal with the character here.

The character (and I mean the protagonist-- at least one of them :) is on a journey, from somewhere to somewhere else... but not a geographical somewhere, rather a psychological or emotional or life somewhere. So, for example, the character might be moving from affiliation to
independence (or vice versa).

The beginning of the journey is usually going to be shown somehow in the beginning of the book. Popular fiction is the art of making the internal manifest externally, or at least that's what we should strive for-- to show important life journeys through the concreteness of life.

Okay, so... say the journey is from affiliation (over-affiliation maybe) to independence. How do the early scenes show the "start-point?"

One way to do that is to show the character in her ordinary world exhibiting that starting point somehow. After all, if it takes a book to chronicle this journey, then it's important, if only to her own life. And if that's her start point, it will show up in her life-- in the way she chooses to act, in the world she lives in, in how she lives in that world.

So let's start with a character who is "over-affiliated". What does she
do to affiliate? What does she do too much? How would someone with this
start point live?

Maybe she'd live in some smallish world (because it's hard to affiliate to a million people). If she lives in a large city, for example, her "world" might be her office-- she's the one who always remembers veryone's birthday and brings a cake. Or it might be her neighborhood, and she's the one who organizes the Neighborhood Watch program, and the meetings are at her apartment. Or she might live in a small town and she has a job like running the local gas station so she sees about everyone every day. Or she might be a teacher at a boarding school, after having gone to that boarding school as a student. I am planning a heroine, actually, who goes to college in a small dying town, and stays there even after the college goes out of business, and she's gotten so attached to the town she refuses to let it die, or to take her considerable talents
elsewhere, and she ends upthe mayor (when the story actually opens). She is affiliated with this town to an almost risky extent-- she could probably make more money elsewhere, and not be so tense and anxious. But she's stuck on this town. She thinks if she gives up on it, it will die.

So... think of where your protagonist starts out... what sort of psychological, emotional, or life embarkation point she's at-- what about her life or self the plot events are going to change. Now imagine that person, with that start point... what sort of life situation would she be

What's important is that it's got to SHOW. That is, the reader can figure it out if you show it. Let's say the heroine in the dying town is lobbying to get a new business to locate there. That's fine... but how do you show that she's TOO affiliated? (Not like she's crazy or anything, but maybe slightly over-loaded in the "yay, town!" element.) Maybe she's negotiating with this company CEO, and he laughs and says, "I've given you everything but the kitchen sink! I don't think anyone's gotten around me like you have! You know, I like your style. I think you should work for me. Maybe vice president? Company car? Stock options?"
And she is tempted because it's such a good prospect, and then she reluctantly says no. Then we know .... that this is a trait that is already causing CONFLICT.

You know what conflict is? It's the opportunity for growth. If you show that the protagonist is perfectly, honestly content in every particularly early on, the reader isn't going to see much opportunity for growth there. So usually you do one of two things-- either you come in and
snatch away perfect contentitude right away (a hurricane comes and flattens her little town :), or you show that she's just a tiny bit not so perfectly content, that there's this little chink in the wall of contentment, and that's... where she's going. Towards the fulfillment or change or growth that, were she to continue with contentment, she wouldn't get.

So my mayor heroine... where's the non-contentment? Maybe she works so hard and does so much, and yeah, everyone votes for her, but that's because no one else will take the job. She might be affiliated, but she's not so sure they're affiliated back. Maybe she feels unappreciated.
How do you show that? Well, maybe she arrives at her office, proud of some accomplishment, and there are three people waiting to complain about something, and not one of them mentions her accomplishment. And maybe when they leave she starts an email to her college roommate, trying not boastfully to tell SOMEONE at least that she accomplished something.

But... the point is to take that first scene and show where the protagonist starts out. It might be in the Ordinary World, or it might be a reaction to the Ordinary World (like on the bus leaving the small town :). But that first scene shows us something about who this person is, and how she's needing to change.

Just keep in mind-- to some extent, she has -chosen- this life, this world, this place in life. Of course a lot of life happens without our planning, but something about where we are is what we made it. But also, we come -out- of this world, this life. We don't just shape, we are
shaped. So you might want to ask "why"? Why is she here? How did she get here?

Like my mayor heroine grew up in New York City, and spent her childhood on subways and elevators, and never felt right, but the first moment she stepped off the bus into that mountain town and the bus station lady welcomed her with a big smile... she felt at home. And she gets a bit nervous and antsy when she leaves the mountains now.

So your first scene is going to reveal something about the protagonist. You're in control. What do you want to reveal? (And, I suppose, what do you want to conceal? :)


Susan Helene Gottfried said...


I wish you guys were my editor.

Or that whoever winds up with that job is as good as you guys.

(Why is my head full of Mr. Rogers singing, "Won't you be my editor?")

smoothseas said...

As a case in point:

Since I’ve been struggling with learning to write in deep POV, I recently reread Ruth Wind’s JULIET’S LAW.

In the prologue, Wind sets up the protagonist’s OW. The heroine, having recently lost her job, is lying on the couch, watching her favorite soaps, and is amusing herself by color coding an institutional-sized bag of M & M’s. She’s determined that they need to be eaten in this order, only. The brown ones first, just because there’s so many, followed by the yellow ones….

Then, in the first chapter, the heroine’s suddenly catapulted from the safety of her Hollywood condo, to the wilds of Colorado, to be with her sister, who’s going through a divorce.

It was only on the reread that I noticed the OW trick. Thanks to this blog, I’m at long, last beginning to assimilate some of the mechanics.

Linda in St. Petersburg, where it’s a balmy sub-tropical afternoon.

p.s. Can anyone suggest any other series authors who write in Deep POV. Wind/Samuels is a master, but I’m hunting for others. thx.