If you have a fairly small amount of information about a secondary character, it's fairly easy to extrapolate that and build a "solid enough" presentation. We know, for example, that Dr. Cannon is a doctor. From that, we were able to extrapolate:
Money is no contraint for her, because she makes several hundred thousand a year, and she is the daughter of another prominent surgeon.
And from that, Wes built a character wearing an expensively tailored, elegant suit and expensive but understated jewelry, all of which are appropriate to her socioeconomic status.
Gwen took her in a different direction:
She wears no jewelry, and her shoes are flat and suitable for walking. Her hair is dirty blonde and curly, pulled back in a quick bun. Tendrils are escaping from the front. She has blue eyes with slight darkening beneath them.
Where Wes was thinking about the status benefits of the job, Gwen was thinking about its demands. Flat shoes, efficient hair, and dark shadows under the eyes are some of the things a very busy doctor might be expected to have. This is also appropriate for the character, though the result is a different character.
Green Knight started by rejecting the request to describe the character's clothing, and ended up with a character who herself rejects fashion:
I can't describe Dr. Cannon's clothing - I don't have an idea of her character yet, and I don't know what I want to invoke.... Hm. I guess she took the easy way out and went to whereever women buy upmarket fashion and allowed a personal shopper to dress her. She liked the effect and bought the ensemble - her own wardrobe being out of date, and after six months in a dusty camp without running hot and cold water, she can't be bothered to invest the time it takes to keep up with fashion talk.
Again, by focusing on a slightly different aspect of the few known character details -- Dr. Cannon is not just any doctor, but one who donates her time to MSF -- we end up with a value system for this character that has tangible evidence in the way she dresses.
I also want to point out that Dave noticed a physical attribute unique to surgeons:
Her fingers are quick and clever, fitting for a surgeon.
When we started this series of exercises, I mentioned that there are no wrong answers to any of these questions. Now we start to see why. Each writer has a unique perspective -- voice -- which will lead you to create characters in different ways. Does this character play the same role in all version of the Johnny and Drago lunch meeting? Yes. Is the character identical across the board? No. Nor would we want her to be, because your unique voice (and the unique way that voice creates characters and other story elements) is part of what makes your story special and, ultimately, marketable.
So, your viewpoint -- your voice -- will influence your natural tendencies while building a character.
But here's where things get interesting.
Your other characters' viewpoints can also influence interpretation and extrapolation of secondary characters.
You're creating the secondary character, but that secondary character will be viewed through the prism of point of view. How that prism works depends in part on your pov choices. Who is the pov character in this scene? Johnny or Drago? How intimate is the pov -- do you choose a subjective, deep, intimate form of third person, or do you prefer an objective, external, narratorless omniscient?
During the "Paging Dr. Cannon" part of this exercise, some of you touched on how Dr. Cannon would view the students.
She's easy with Johnny, understands him. She can't help responding to his charm, which he turns on full blast; but she notices that he doesn't reveal much about himself.
~ Green Knight
Johnny seems eager, perhaps over eager, but he's charming enough. Drago seems nervous, which she can sympathize with, but he's also too pushy.
~ Jami G.
They looked worried and that’s exactly how she wanted them to feel.
So you're already primed to deal with the ways these characters see each other. Which leads us to our next exercise.
Take out a blank sheet of paper and divide it in half horizontally and vertically so that it is separated into four quarters. The left half side of the page is for Johnny, and the right is for Drago. The top half is for subjective (deep) pov, and the bottom is for objective (ominiscient) pov.
Here's your mission, should you choose to accept it. First, think about your version of Dr. Cannon, the character as you want her to be. Now, in the upper left quadrant, jot down the aspects of her character that Johnny would notice. These are things that are relevant to Johnny, things that he looks for when evaluating a person. Consider also the unique way he will react to these details, and jot that down too.
Now repeat this for Drago in the upper right quadrant. Are there details which both Johnny and Drago would notice, but would interpret differently?
Now we move to the lower part of the page. In the lower left quadrant, note the things that Johnny would NOT notice because they are NOT relevant to his personal worldview. Are any of these details important for the reader's understanding of the action?
Now repeat this for Drago, lower right quadrant. He'll ignore certain things, too, and these things might be different from the things Johnny ignores.
Sometimes it's difficult to choose the viewpoint character for a particular scene. By understanding how the unique character perspective can shade the interpretation of the scene -- or ways you would be limited by a given perspective -- the choice can be clearer.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Relevant Details and Viewpoint
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Yes, a huge question is who would be the POV character. I was debating that when I prepared my post, and I still don't have an answer. Each choice would take the story in a different direction. Cool.
Here's a temporary change of pics using one taken last weekend on a trip to the Medicine Bow region of Wyoming where the novel and TV series THE VIRGINIAN were set. The background shows the Red Sage Spa. No comment about the spa.
A very interesting post, and quite helpful as I am attempting to convey my understanding of my characters on paper. Since I know them so well, and can tell them apart the way a parent differentiates twins, I tend presume that my readers would to. Not such the case. In perking up my protagonists, the secondary folks need to be spruced up as well. Much in the way you describe above.
Thanks for the great post.
Great post Theresa. The way I worked it out from my example they both see the same thing (her very casual appearance) and interpret it totally differently because they are trying to find common ground with her to connect.) Unfortunately their world views cause them to make assumptions - and even when certain things, like the restaurant she chose, how she ordered, the way she spoke differently to each of them or, more telling, the lab coat she wore into the place, counter those specific assumptions - they still flounder trying to make the connection. Very fun.
And, Wes? Another cowboy hat? Am I sensing a theme? And, um, did you wear the red shirt to match the sign?;)
Dang, I hate it when I agree with Murphy. It makes me question my judgement. But I'm taking the same approach. The candidates see the same thing, but interpret it differently. So who would be the best POV character? I've picked mine.
And, Murphy, "no" to your next question. My western clothes are not compensation.............
Theresa: I'm trying to do these exercises. This one isn't any easier than the last. These posts have given me a lot to think about.
Wes, are you and Dave, picking on Murphy? You know you'll never win.:) I like the new picture. The color red suits you, I think.
'Picking on' has negative connotations to me - I prefer 'friendly teasing'. ;-)
Excuse me now while I go think about how Johnny and Drago would perceive Dr. Sophia (did anyone notice that Sophia came from the Greek word for wisdom?).
The most interesting thing that I found with this assignment was how the two characters each picked out something about Dr. Cannon's appearance/demeanor that would allow them to later rationalize why not getting the position would be a good thing. A "saving face" measure, as it were. Johnny would notice my Dr. Cannon's clothes (especially her shoes) and find them lacking, allowing him to rationalize that she wasn't as high a status as he was aiming for from a mentor anyway. Drago would notice her extra attention to that sleazy Johnny, allowing him to rationalize that she wasn't as intelligent as he was aiming for from a mentor anyway. :)
Jami G., I think that's taking the story into an interesting direction. And I don't think it's necessarily just sour grapes. It could, for instance, be a turning point for Johnny to realise that he could win the internship (or so thinks he) but that it's not what he wants. Or that he wouldn't be the right person for the post.
just wanted to say another 'thank you' for this article series. Plenty of ways of getting a stuck story moving there.
For viewpoint, I've always gone with 'who has the most interesting experience' and 'who has the most to lose'.
In this scene, I probably would not choose Johnny, unless I was telling Johnny's story outright - he's too self-centred to make a good PoV character, and it would tke a lot of skill to get important information past him to the reader without being annoying. I mean, you can have him as a who simply doesn't understand what's really going on, but I find that hard to pull off.
Drago would make a good Pov character because he's an outsider, and would view the rituals and assumptions of the environment differently; thus holding up a mirror to the reader.
I'd pick Dr. Cannon. She's the protagonist of the piece, the person who ultimately gets to act - the other two can try to influence her, but in the end, they're helpless to make anything happen. The other reason is that you have a wonderful way to set up a clash between whoever gets the post and the realities of it.
And if you're from the 'chase your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them' you could set up Dr. Cannon (not my Dr. Cannon. Another Dr. Cannon.) as a cold-hearted bitch who eats interns for breakfast - she's looking forward to ruining Johnny's career, and laps up his attention and lures him into a sense of security. She'll use his need for status and security as a weapon to ruin him...
... and nobody will believe him that he's being set up.
Ok. That could make me feel sympathy for Johnny. Come to think of it, Drago undermined his own chances on purpose once he saw the predatory glint in her eye...
Green Knight said: I probably would not choose Johnny, unless I was telling Johnny's story outright - he's too self-centred to make a good PoV character
Great point! Yes, I'd kind of reached the same conclusion with this exercise. Johnny wouldn't notice/value the depth of Dr. Cannon's passion for Doctors Without Borders. So, unless that wasn't an important point of the story - Or, unless having his eyes opened was the point of the story - the reader would miss out on a lot with Johnny as the POV character.
And I love your take on how to get the reader to feel sympathy for him. LOL!
Unlurking long enough to say how much I enjoy these exercises I've tried them all out even though I haven't posted any of my ideas.
From which POV would I show this scene? I'd be tempted to show it from all their POVs. Johnny is too self-absorbed to be a POV character, but isn't there a way to make him a more rounded character? He seems so one dimensional as he is right now. This is more than I wanted to say LOL.
Drago and Dr. Cannon are one dimensional too in a way. But the purpose of the exercises is for us to add the extra dimensions, each in our own way. That's how I see it.
The first thing my version of Johnny would notice about Dr.Cannon is her hands. He always notices a woman's hands first because hands - well kept ones - remind him of his mother, whom he adores.
Drago notices her face, specially her eyes first. Perhaps the life he lived made it important for him to figure out what people were thinking and planning based on their faces.
Dr.Cannon. I see her as being middle-aged with grey in her hair.
Well, that's enough, I think. I like developing characters, best thing about writing.
Wes said: Dang, I hate it when I agree with Murphy. It makes me question my judgement. But I'm taking the same approach.
Murphy says: Geez, you do this so frequently, you must hate yourself a lot. :D
JG, I like the idea about recriminations after the meeting while each count down the days until they hear who gets the position, but I don’t think that either guy would pick the Dr. apart. I mean, she could’ve had horns sharpened to deadly points poking out of the top of her head - she could’ve lit the candle in the center of the table by breathing fire through her nose and I’d bet both guys wouldn’t have noticed. They’re the ones competing for the job - if either one of them were going to pick anyone apart, it would be the other - not the Doctor. Even after the other was chosen they might think things like: she picked that bastard because of his sob story of a life – or she chose that slimball because he’s got money. But if either one of them turns on the Dr at this point? Well, then you have a bigger problem to deal with as a writer. You now have a character who has major authority issues - and one who is quick not to trust his own judgement. Didn’t he work hard to qualify for this opportunity? By him turning on dime going against the person he admired enough, at some point, to strive to get the opportunity for the interview, I think he’d come off as being petty and kind of stupid. Now, to see him venting over the guy who won out? I get that. The other? It would take some major convincing for me to see this as believable.
Just my .02
did anyone notice that Sophia came from the Greek word for wisdom?
Yes, but I feared that mentioning it might come across as sophomoric. ;)
Scarlett O'Hara is one of the most self-centered characters in literature (as is her prototype, Becky Sharp), and that doesn't keep folks from cheering for her. Think about how Mitchell and Thackeray handled those characters. They employed specific techniques.
I'm glad you're finding these exercises useful. My purpose is to give you specific ways to think about various aspects of character and scene. There may be more than one way to peel these potatoes, but it won't hurt you any to have additional peelers in the drawer.
I don't think either of the guys would consciously notice those "failings" of the Dr. No, I thought they were more subconscious things. I think a person can notice something subconsciously but dismiss it because it doesn't match what they want to think.
Think about a new couple dating... They ignore all those little things that will drive them crazy a few months down the road. :) Then after the breakup, they pull out all the things that they'd ignored and point to those things as reasons why the other person wasn't "the one".
So the guys would ignore those "negative" aspects as long as they wanted to see her in a positive light. But as soon as they wanted to see her in a negative light, they'd bring these things to their consciousness.
Okay, JG, in your example of a new couple dating? I get what you're saying because there are two individuals involved. But when there are three and two are of the same sex and competing for the attentions, approval and acceptance of the third individual - who happens to be the opposite sex? I still think that the unsuccessful applicant would be more inclined to blame the person of the same sex - with whom they were completing against for the position. Now, if this were two women and Dr. Cannon were a man - I would think you'd still have this dynamic going on - in my mind it's human nature and the only time we can remove that from the equation is when we remove our natural instincts - like let's say? The candidates were male and female and the Dr. was a man. That would be more interesting to me and I'd be paying close attention to the finer details of the Dr.'s motivations during the meeting because, you have the extra burden of dealing with the obvious difference between the two candidates right off the bat. In both their minds that obvious difference could be the only thing that makes or breaks one candidates success over other. Now we have other considerations to be tackled. Office politics, hiring ratios and budget constraints to deal with. Suppose the Dr. knows that this predominantly male program would garner more funding if they hired more women to participate? Or the university has already stipulated for the medical program that they needed a better balance between male/female internship ratios or maybe, it was calculated that this program would save 12% of their traveling accommodation budget if the male Dr. traveled with a male intern. Lots of thing to mull over then and make the meeting more interesting. But with two candidates of the same sex competing through the same interview? I’d find it hard to swallow either of them turning at any point on the person who hosted the interview because that person was smart enough to have chosen them as candidates in the first place. To give you an analogy of my own on this (I know you love my analogies:)) When the Miss Canada contestant goes through the whole beauty pageant show and winds up at the end of the night one of the two final contestants standing on stage (think Johnny and Drago because they beat a whole slew of equally competent med students out for this opportunity) and the MC reads the winner off the card and it’s Miss America, do you think Miss Canada thinks: I hate you Bob Barker? Nope, a flash of Miss America’s cleverly trimmed up bathing suit comes to mind. She recalls Miss America's overly done hair extensions and the built-in padded bra in all her outfits and begins to seethe...she places blame on that individual because this was the person she had to best. If she were going to later process the magnitude of her loss - I still don’t think she’d point the finger at old Bob - it would be at the pageant collectively. That's all I'm saying...
Murphy, I see that it could be much more interesting with opposite sex characters doing the interview. You bring up a good point about the spirit of competition and the drive to succeed. I do think what you're saying is that these instincts are subconscious things we bring to the interview before our personalities even get involved. In the subconscious and conscious things we do, I'd have to agree with JG, but now that you've brought it up this way I'll have to think about all this and look at my exercise again.:)
Did anyone have a clear winning candidate from their example interview?
Yeah, you're right, no one could possibly blame dear, sweet Bob. LOL! So I don't disagree with you at all. They would absolutely blame each other in this case - primarily. However, I still think there would be the extra dynamic of the rationalization about the Dr. as well.
Even in your own example, you pointed out that the contestant might eventually point the finger at the pageant collectively. So no matter how our two guys feel about the hiring process at large, they might paste the Dr.'s face on that collective experience.
Although, now that I think about this, I also see Johnny doing this "saving face" thing more than Drago. Maybe not even to himself, but to others. If he tells others that he thinks the hiring was "rigged" because that other guy had x, y, or z, he might come off sounding like sour grapes. So he might actually prefer to shrug unemotionally when someone consoles him about losing the position and then go into why he's not too upset about it (slipping in some subtle rip of the Dr.).
And you're 100% correct about the completely different dynamics if the two candidates were of opposite sex. Woo-hee! That'd be tricky scene - how many different directions could the you-know-what fly off from that fan. LOL!
In my attempts - yes, plural - at this particular assignment, I came up with three different answers as to whose point of view it should be in - and each answer fits a different story. Yeah, we're trying to drive off the characters here, but I keep getting the feeling that without a little notion of the plot direction, it's a very hard choice.
For example, in the version where I'd use Dr. C's POV, the story I'd want to tell would be one where she chooses Johnny (because she sees him as the challenge she wants to tackle), but through her extensive contacts finds a 'consolation prize' for Drago - one which puts Drago and Johnny in each other's faces repeatedly, with interesting results. I haven't tried to plot beyond that, yet, so I don't know how well it would work, but I think it has potential.
The plot ideas I have that would fit the other points of view are much vaguer and I don't feel as much enthusiasm for them. I think y'all have some good points about how the guys might see each other and Dr. C. I just can't seem to put them together into working scenes without a better notion of where the plot is going.
Gee, does this mean I'm less of a pantser than I thought? LOL
Dave, maybe you're more of a pantser than you thought? I find that very often staring at a scenario is useless. I can't do exercises because I cannot 'make up' people - I need to be able to meet them, and ride along with their experiences. And very often I need to get deeply into a story, and write it, rather than talk/think/write about it before I know what happened.
Also, I find that if I try to work things out rationally, I run into the ground sooner or later. I've learnt to stop rather than force stories into directions they don't want to go.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what I write, as long as it's a coherent story. There are no extra points for having known where the story will go.
Hmm - interesting idea, but I think I have a slightly different mental block, gk. I can create characters (subject to later adjustment) from a scenario. My difficulty is in conceiving a scene without having an overall plot for the story and some notion of how the scene fits into it. For me, choices like POV aren't just based on the characters - they're based on what I want to accomplish. The scenario as Theresa has presented it is only half there for me. I think I need a plan, which seems like less pantser to me. Maybe I'm over-complicating things, though.
I understand what you're talking about. That's why I didn't try to figure out which character I'd use for the scene's POV, as each choice would take the story in completely different directions.
I think I'm an interesting mix of pantser and plotter. I have the big picture plot for the overall story and the "point A" and "point B" for each scene. But my characters often completely surprise me about how they get from point A to point B. :)
But in this case, we know the point A, but not the point B, so I can't decide who to let hold the reins. :)
I had a long post describing the good Dr. but it got lost somewhere between typing and hitting the submit button. But I'm going to ignore that and press on.
I'd probably choose Johnny as the POV character here. Since he's more surfacey, he'd notice all the details of dress and body language. He'd also be expecting things to go his way, so it would be fun to be with him while he realizes that Drago is serious competition and what he does about it.
Although it isn't part of the assignment, I actually have Dr. Cannon picking *neither* gentleman. She is too far along in her career to do the kind of work both of these men represent. Drago is too hot, too passionate; he needs some time practicing medicine before he understands how to focus his passions. She would've taken him on 10 years ago, but now... Johnny needs to be taken down several pegs, and she could do it, almost enjoys imagining doing so, but elects not to. You see, she was out of the country during the early application process, so had other people do the vetting. At this point in her career, she wants someone who's ready to go, not someone who makes her exhausted just imagining working with them.
You might be right; no, you probabily are right, that Murphy is always gonna get the last and best shot in on me, but I can't abandon the field and let her think she won.
but I can't abandon the field and let her think she won.
Murphy says: Poor baby. Would you like a little cheese with that whine? :D
Murph, I think he's abandoned the field. lol!
OK, for you, Babs. You're off my Christmas card list.
Oh, don't cut me off. I'll be crushed. lol! ;)
I'm not sure if you wanted us to respond on the blog, but here's one. If you don't want specific scenarios, please delete mine.
Johnny attempts to establish rapport with Dr. Cannon with flattery and establishing socio-economic connections they have. He compliments her on her taste in clothes and tells her that his parents, both physicians, send their regards. Subconsciously he is counting on the halo affect being effective in that people often hire people similar to themselves. He is somewhat unsettled when she orders in Italian, but compliments her on her selection. When she states that part of the internship will be spent in refugee camps in a war-torn region Johnny has moments of self-doubt. He briefly reflects on his failure to make the high school football team because he had an adversity to pain and physical combat. But he quickly regains his composure when he looks at Drago and reassures himself he is more socially skilled dealing with the upper crust like Dr. Cannon, and he that he will be the candidate selected. He doesn’t take seriously a seemingly unimportant question asked by Dr. Cannon about his experiences with the bottom of society. He responds with a flip comment that he thinks she’ll find amusing.
Drago is intense and does little to establish rapport with Dr. Cannon other than to tell her in Italian that the cheese his mother had made would have gone well with the meal she ordered. He adds that while Italian is not the primary language of the refugees in the camps, many understand it and speak it to some degree. Drago is anxious and feels that he has a lot to loose in the situation because if he cannot obtain the internship he cannot continue his medical studies and he cannot return to aid his people. Drago feels lost and excluded while Johnny and Dr. Cannon talk about mutual acquaintances and the long line of physicians in their families. She asks him if he could treat enemies of his people. He worries that he takes too long stuggling with the question before he answers that suffering is universal and all people deserve medical care.
His conversation is polished, but Dr. Cannon has doubts about his ability to live in primitive, dangerous situations and about his passion for serving the dispossessed. She is slightly offended when Johnny ogles a passing waitress. Johnny’s major mistake is that he totally misses that the internship she established is to eclipse the reputation of her father, also a surgeon.
Drago also misses the deeper motivation of Dr. Cannon in making sure she selects a candidate who will not harm her personal project and thus lose some of the psychic rewards of surpassing her father in one area of medicine. Drago’s intensity caused by needing the financial assistance and obsession with helping his people in their homeland puts off Dr. Cannon because she is concerned that he is single-minded and might lack the political skills for dealing with governments, NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), and financial donors. However his answer about suffering being universal resonates with her without his noticing.
Wow, Wes, that was really well done with a lot of "meat". Seriously, good job. :)
Now you've gone and done it. You got the Feds on your tails.....er, case.
Un 'fucking' believable! What happened? Did you reject one of their empoyee's MS?
The FTC thing popped up this week. It may be an attempt to test what the government can do to control the Internet. You can see what Theresa and Alicia think of it. Literary agent Janet Reid (the Query Shark lady) had some pithy comments about it on her blog: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2009/10/bought-and-paid-for-yessirreee-bubba.html
A person on one of the email lists I subscribe to had some additional thoughts about it: http://jenniferanielsen.blogspot.com/2009/10/new-ftc-rules-for-bloggers.html
I'll bet our creditors in the People's Republic of China are proud of the FTC.
the FTC thing makes perfect sense because Internet advertising is a lucrative market, and some bloggers have built trusted brands and rather large platforms. If, say, BoingBoing or /. rave on about a certain product, you bet I'd want to know whether it really was that good or whether they got paid for it.
It's unfortunate that theoretically, small-time bloggers who get the occasional review copy will fall into the same net, but a 'review copy' should cover this.
This is legislation that will allow to stop medical journals publishing sponsored 'articles' endorsing medications whose merits are the lining of the company's pockets. And I'm all in favour of that.
GK, every encroachment on liberty is made for a Good Reason - the PRC's Internet restrictions can all be justified on that basis, too. The problem with the regulation as written is that it's too broad and unfocused, and could be used for purposes other than the intent that you state. On top of that, it's easily subverted by having the bloggers be nationals of other countries using offshore servers, which means that ultimately it's useless against the real targets and can only be used for witch hunts.
Interesting observations, GK and Dave. I was totally unaware of these issues and actions. I imagine it will have a chilling effect on some blogs. I follow one on home distilling of spirits, which is illegal unless one has the proper premits from ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). BTW, there is a store in a little town in Colorado that sells guns, cigarettes, and booze. Of course it's name is Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. I need to get one of their ATF tee shirts.
I would say it had more of a heating effect on me. Obviously.
I understand why the FTC is trying to go after internet flim-flam artists. But when they lump literary analysis and criticism in with "Lose ten pounds in ten minutes!" claims, they're off track. The First Amendment distinguishes between commercial speech and the private and public statements of ordinary people. No reason in the world the world the FTC can't do the same.
And, frankly, there's more pay-for-play on the print side of the review column. So why should they be exempt? It just doesn't make sense.
By the way, I wrote that sidebar thing. Not Alicia. She was off looking at hills or horses or some such. She's completely innocent in this one.
Wes, I'm with Murphy on your subjective/objective exercise! Great job. However, I'm taking it all back if you take Babs off your Christmas list!
I would love to have a "write off" with Murphy and Jami's characters. :) I hear the dueling of two writers who are passionate in their craft and both have good points.
I love your sidebar! You go girl! Or is that "Y'all go now, ya hear." now that I'm down in Texas?
Good to be back reading and learning.
Oh and one more thing, WES, Murphy always wins.
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