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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Whose Story is This Anyway?

Courtesy of svilen001
One of the most interesting things about being human, is that we see the world, not necessarily as it is, but through the lenses of our own perceptions.

When we write a story, our characters do the same.

The most compelling characters are those that act as a conduit to pull the reader out of their world and into the world we've created in our story.

So how do you decide whose story you're going to tell? Imagine how different A Christmas Carol would be if it had been framed around Marley or the ghosts of Christmas instead of Scrooge.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I learned early on was to chose the POV of the character who had the most to lose when writing a scene. I agree with this 100%, since a well-rounded character will have their own perceptions and act as the focal point of understanding to their own world.

But doing this only tells us how to write it, not who to write about.

So how do you decide who the main character will be and whose point of view you'll frame the story around?

Figure Out What You Want to Say

Stories, in general, have a kernel of truth at their core. A perception, a thought, a question, a statement. Some are written purely for entertainment, but others--my very favorite--are saying something through Story.

Whether or not you intend to speak through Story, Story will speak for itself, so it's a good idea to decide what it's going to say. Will it be the journey of a man to a miser back to a man again? The regrets of a selfish man who had precious little humanity inside him when he was alive? The story of three Christmas spirits as they work to transform people and remind them what it means to be human?

Those choices are all really different facets of one story, but which facet will you choose to focus on?

Decide Whose Story You Want to Tell

Once you've figured out what you want to say, you're going to need a voice to speak throughout the story. The character who connects the reader to the book in their hand.

For me, even though this is the second logical step, this is the first step for anything I write. The character is sometimes a whisper at the back of my head, but most of the time he or she says something that stops me in my tracks. It's usually just a single sentence, but a provocative one that instantly grabs my attention.

For my upcoming release, my main character looked at me matter-of-factly and said, "Death has bright green eyes and a wide smile."

There was so much Story in that single line (that also went on to become my opening line) that I had to chase down the words and take them apart to see exactly what that phrase meant.

So guess whose story got told?

If you know what you want to say, then make sure you pick the voice best equipped to say it. If not, my preference is to always go with the most vibrant, dynamic, and lively character that pops out of the ether and demands their story be told. O:) If one of those types of characters isn't coming after you, don't be afraid to just sit back and listen. The right voice to tell the story isn't always the loudest.

Get Into That Character's Head, Heart, and Shoes

In order to effectively tell the story, you're going to have to slip out of your perceptions and sometimes go outside of your own experiences. Because you aren't telling the story as yourself--unless you're writing NF or a memoir, in which case, disregard this--you're telling it as someone who lives outside of the world you've carefully crafted out of your own perceptions, beliefs, and experience.

You have to learn to be able to see the world as your character does. Live it. Breathe it. Experience it--as he/she does. Otherwise, it will just be you behind the curtain.

Sometimes this can be achieved through research, but most of the time, it's just as simple as sitting back and allowing your character to speak. Learning how to listen so you can hear their voice and weave it through the story. Finding ways to see the world through a different set of eyes. Letting go of yourself so your character can get on with the telling of the Story.

Because that's what Story is all about. Story allows us to shed our own skins and try on someone else's for a time.

How do you decide whose story to tell when you sit down at write?

Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. She is the author of The Fairy Godmother Dilemma series (CatspellFirespellApplespell, and Frogspell), and Slippers of Pearl, and can be found on her blog. She can also be found on Wattpad.


Xan said...

Great article! POV is critical to good story telling. Without the right character lens a great premise can fall flat.

My POV character usually chirps in my ear before I even have the story idea worked out. Character first, then plot for me. It takes a some story boarding and writing exercises to find their voice.

dandelionfleur said...

Great advice!

fOIS In The City said...

Perhaps, the character that speaks the loudest? Or maybe the one who whispers sweet nothings in my ear?

Never know for sure and that makes each day a joy ... thanks for the reminder :)