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Thursday, March 17, 2011

What a Writer Knows

Let's talk about what the author knows versus what the characters know versus what the reader needs to know.

There's a bunch of limitations an author has to work with when telling a story. One of these is Point Of View (POV). When we write a scene in a character's head, we can't make the time-out sign and step forward and explain things to the reader. If you're doing it right and deep enough in the character's head, you'll be seeing everything from his slant. It's supposed to be that way.

The character's viewpoint might not match reality. It might not match another character's opinion. It might aggravate the reader. But it's that character's idea of reality and you're stuck with it as an author no matter how much you wish otherwise.

One of the hits I took in a review for my first book was that the villain was portrayed as a monster and there weren't any redeeming qualities shown for him. There wasn't a choice about how the villain was portrayed. There were four POV characters in this book and all of them thought of the villain as an evil killer. None of them were going to stop and say: Well, maybe he slaughtered all my friends, but I bet he loves small animals. Um, no. People don't think that way and it's a cheat if the writer does something like that.

Be prepared to take the hits when you write. This isn't the only one I've collected because of POV, but you can't compromise on who your characters are and what they think. And you can't step outside the story and say to the reader, well, of course you and I know the heroine was abused, but she doesn't think she was.

This topic came to mind because of Tuesday's post about world building and that my characters don't know information that I need to have.

For me to write this story in this future world (Not J9), I need to understand the events that formed the world and what the characters are living with now. What caused the change is in the past and neither the hero nor the heroine know what happened to the world before they were born. In all honesty, they don't care with what was, they only care about surviving what is. Not necessarily an easy thing to do.

So if the characters don't know and don't care, that means the reader might have some unanswered questions. Maybe I should apologize in advance for this. But for me, my first responsibility is to the characters and I have to respect how they think and what they believe. Maybe for this story I should add a page to my website explaining why the world is the way it is. :-)