When we're using a point-of-view character we know what they know. We see what they see. We hear what they hear.
But what a character notices will depend on what kind of person they are.
As a result, what a character pays attention to will give us a wealth of information about them. For instance, what sounds irritate her, what scents tantalize? When she walks through a park what will she notice first, the beautiful scenery (is she a photographer?) or the children running around (does she desperately want kids?).
As Kami McArthur writes in David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Tightening Your Focus:
When you’re writing a tale, it almost always turns out better if you get deep into the head of your protagonist and tell the story from that person’s point of view.But how do we get inside a characters head? Kami has a few pointers.
1. Determine your characters dominant sense
I've heard that each of us has a dominant sense that they use when learning. For example it's said this is how it breaks down:
25-30% visualHow does your character learn? Through seeing? Hearing? Touch?
25-30% mixed modalities
If they are a visual learner then when you use this character's point of view the visual properties of the environment should dominate. If auditory then the auditory properties, and so on. (Apparently some folks learn most by smell. Who knew?!)
This also provides yet another way to differentiate characters.
Kami gives a terrific example:
... I had a companion who remembered people’s cars. If someone had a red 72 Chevy, he’d see the car in a parking lot and say, “Hey, there’s John Thomas!” Then I would look up, and John was nowhere to be seen. I recall vividly one day how he began naming off people and saying, “There’s John, and the Metzgers, and the Sally Day, and . . .” I looked up eagerly, and there wasn’t a single person on the street. He named a dozen people just by looking at their cars.
2. A characters profession will affect what they notice
For instance, Kami writes:
As a corrections officer, I always made note of unlocked gates or doors left open when I was driving through town. I’d watch strangers to see how they moved, where they put their hands. I’d be careful when walking into restaurants, making sure to place my back to a wall and give myself a clear field of view to see who had enter.
3. Your character will have certain criteria for judging others
Your character may not be self-aware enough to know they have criteria, but we all do, even when we try not to. Does your character focus on:
what a person does for a living,
how much money they make,
what kind of car they drive,
who they know,
whether they're good at their job,
whether someone is environmentally conscious, and so on.
A young woman may judge a new girl by her designer labels, or her hair, rather than her friendliness and her smile. A young man may only be interested in befriending another boy if he thinks that the boy would be an asset to the football team. A third person may avoid people who are wealthy, while a fourth might gravitate toward people who have a strong sense of humor.
4. What specific knowledge does your character have?
What can your character do well? What are they an expert in? Kami gives the example of a young parent.
These are the kinds of things a young parent would be able to tell you:
- Where the baby is
- How many diapers they have and where they are
- When the baby wakes, when they sleep, when they want to play
- What they liked to eat
The same sort of thing applies to a chef, or a hunter, or a police person. They would each pay attention to different things, notice different things, so if you described the same scene from four different perspectives you would learn something different each time.
I've only skimmed the wealth of information in Kami McArthur's article, I encourage all of you to head over to David Farland's site and read it.
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I don't usually dedicate my blog posts to anyone, but I'm dedicating this one to the people of Boston. My heart goes out to them and to the families and friends of those injured or dead. They have become a brilliant example for all of us on how to handle a crisis.
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