Point of View: What Does Your Character Know?

by Jami Gold on June 4, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Signpost with text: Confused about POV?

Yesterday, I happened upon a blog post about head-hopping and the confusion we can feel when told our writing suffers from this problem. It doesn’t help when half the information out there about head-hopping is confusing as well, not to mention contradictory.

Some call head-hopping the worst ever, others defend it because the big authors can get away with it, and still others say there’s no such thing. Sometimes the feedback is outright wrong, as some confuse head-hopping with multiple point-of-view (POV) or don’t understand the difference that our POV style can make.

Several years ago, I wrote about the different POV styles and head-hopping, but I’ve learned a lot since then, so I figured it was time to revisit the subject. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share tips that won’t add to the confusion. *smile*

POV Types: From 1st to 3rd

Most of us are probably familiar with the different POV types, levels, whatever we want to call them:

  • 1st Person: Uses I or me for the POV character. Emotions, thoughts, and perceptions shared with the reader are limited to what this character knows.
  • 2nd Person: Uses you for the POV character. (Note: The POV character being you is different from addressing the reader as “you,” which is merely breaking the fourth wall in a “dear reader” way.) Uncommon in fiction, but when used, the thoughts, emotions, and perceptions shared with the reader would be limited to what this character knows.
  • 3rd Person: Uses he or she for the characters. The emotions, thoughts, and perceptions shared with the reader depend on the type of 3rd person POV style used. (See Note #2 below.)

Note #1: Multiple POV Characters are Possible in One Story

Any one of those types could have multiple POV characters over the course of the story. I’ve seen stories with multiple 1st person POVs, where the POV character is named in the chapter title to make it clear who “I” is.

There are so few 2nd person stories that I haven’t seen one with multiple POVs, but it’s theoretically possible. Many readers might find it confusing, however, as 2nd person is often confusing for readers as is, much less with the complexity of multiple POV characters.

We’re probably all familiar with stories that follow multiple POV characters around in 3rd person writing, each scene or chapter focusing on a different POV character. I’ve even some stories that combine multiple POV types, such as the main character’s POV scenes in 3rd person and the villain’s POV scenes in 1st person to hide their identity.

Just because we have multiple POV characters does not mean we’re writing in omniscient or head-hopping. There are several ways to change the “ownership” of the story from one POV character to another and avoid problems.

Note #2: 3rd Person POV Encompasses Many Styles

The confusion about POV often lies in the many different approaches to 3rd person POVs. All these styles use the he/she 3rd person POV words, so it can be hard to tell which style applies to our writing—or to an example held up to “prove” that something is or isn’t allowed.

Yet it’s important to understand these differences because techniques that are acceptable in styles at one end of the range are less acceptable at the other end of the range.

Think of a range along a line, and what changes from one end of the line to the other is how close the reader’s “camera” is to the main characters. Within a story or scene, it’s possible to shift the writing along this line in certain ways, but it’s important to not confuse the reader, as that will take them out of the story.

At one end, we’re meant to feel very near to the characters—experiencing their story from the inside, as if we were them. At the other end, we’re meant to feel removed, like an audience member watching a story play out on the stage of the story’s pages.

Going from near to far, we can define the main points on the line:

  • Deep 3rd Person:
    Written at the same depth as well-done 1st person POV, just with different pronouns. Because the “camera” is deep inside the character’s head, hearing their thoughts and feeling their emotions, the writing cannot share perceptions that the POV character isn’t aware of. It is 100% subjective, focused from the inside of the POV character.
    This style has become the new default for many genres, as it gives readers the immediacy of a “close up.”
    In this style, we…:

    • Avoid all filtering words (saw, heard, thought, knew, wondered, etc.).
    • Use showing most of the time to let the reader experience the story along with the POV character.
    • Include the POV character’s visceral reactions to make the reader feel as though they’re sharing the character’s body.
    • Use the character’s voice for all sentences, and share only their perceptions. (Would the POV character notice the chair’s fabric or know the name of that flower? Would they think about xyz at this point in time? If not, don’t include it.)
    • Italicize the character’s internal thoughts only when changing to I/me and present tense.
      I hate this. She kicked the rock across the driveway. If only Roger hadn’t been such an idiot.
      That last sentence could be her direct thoughts but wouldn’t need to be italicized because the tense and POV don’t change. In deep POV, most sentences would be near-direct thoughts (using their voice), so italics aren’t appropriate unless needed.
    • Thought tags such as “he thought” or “she wondered” should not be used for internal thoughts. They add distance, which undermines the goal of this style.
  • Limited 3rd Person:
    Sometimes called “close,” “subjective,” or even just “normal” 3rd person, this style is still deep enough that the writing can’t share perceptions the POV character isn’t aware of. “Limited” means that the writing is limited to this one POV character’s experience for this scene.
    However, some sentences (such as for action or descriptive narrative) might not be strictly in the character’s voice, more telling might be thrown in to provide context to the reader’s understanding, some filtering words might add distance, etc.
    A character’s internal thoughts might be italicized even when still in 3rd person and past tense, or they might be tagged with “he thought,” similar to dialogue.
  • Omniscient 3rd Person:
    This style can share perceptions beyond the POV character’s knowledge. Other than certain genres (childrens’, middle grade, some fantasy, etc.), omniscient is less popular than it was during the time of the “classics.”
    This style can include lots of telling and a narrator character, but it would include few (if any) deep emotions, thoughts, or visceral reaction of any character. If subjective thoughts, emotions, or visceral reactions were included, the sentence would use filter words or add distance in some way. In other words, the reader’s “camera” is outside of the main character.
    The writing would be in either the author’s voice or a narrator’s voice. Insights into characters would be shared objectively (or subjectively from the author/narrator’s opinion).

There are several variations between those of course, but those are the main styles to understand for my point here.

Note #3: Sliding from One Style to Another Is Possible If…

We’ve probably all read stories that have most paragraphs in deep POV and then they throw in a telling phrase for a bit of backstory context. Other stories even go from a subjective POV to add in an objective sentence to increase reader tension. (If he only realized what was to happen next, he might have made a different choice.)

When a story makes a slide from deep to shallower in a way that improves the reader’s experience, there’s nothing wrong with this technique. However, too many of these shifts in depth are the result of authors who don’t know how to share information any other way, or they simply don’t think about what would be best for the reader.

As with all aspects of writing, we should make our choices deliberately. If we’re adding distance between the reader and the story, we should have a good reason.

Understanding Feedback about POV

Let’s take a look at some common issues we might receive in feedback from critique partners, beta readers, contest judges, and editors, and how this understanding of POV can help.

Is This Really Head-Hopping?

Many people use this term incorrectly, referring to issues with multiple POVs or out-of POV phrases. To understand the correct meaning, let’s go back to the “camera” idea.

Head-hopping is when the camera hops from inside one character’s head (meaning that it has access to their thoughts, feelings, perceptions, etc. without filter words) to inside another character’s head without using an appropriate transition.

Unless our POV character is a mind-reader, the writing can’t simultaneously share their emotions and know how another character feels. In other words, the camera can’t be inside two characters at the same time without potentially confusing the reader and creating distance. Those dangers are the reason to avoid head-hopping, not just because it’s a rule. *smile*

The use of filter words for omniscient keeps the camera outside: Sally knew Roger was lying. The filter word “knew” adds distance, so if the next sentence is a filtered insight about Roger, we’re not hopping from inside one head to inside another.

However, unless we’re trying to write in omniscient, we should avoid filter words in most cases, and we would need to transition from one character’s POV to another.

What Does Out-of-POV Mean?

The actual feedback for out-of-POV will call out the issue by many names. Some will call it head-hopping, some will say it feels too “told,” some will question how a character knows something.

The vast majority of POV problems comes down to this out-of-POV issue. The easiest way I’ve found to identify and fix the problem is a two-fold question:

Can the POV character know this?
And if so, is it clear to the reader how they know it?

If we keep these questions in mind, it doesn’t matter if we understand head-hopping or the different types of POV styles. These questions get to the heart of all POV issues.

From this perspective, head-hopping is a result of us not keeping the POV character clear to the reader by using transitions (or filter words in the case of omniscient) or by us sharing information the POV character can’t know. If we fix those, we fix the head-hopping.

But out-of-POV issues are also tricky because they can hide in innocent looking sentences:

Sally took deep, calming breaths as Roger loaded the rifle to get ready for the next set of zombies.

In omniscient, this sentence would be fine. There’s no obvious “inside” camera work here. That lack of inside camera work also means this technically isn’t head-hopping.

However, if it’s meant to be 3rd person limited or deep, there is a problem with an out-of-POV phrase (that’s also telling and not showing). Sally can see Roger load the rifle, but how can she know his motivation of “to get ready” for the zombies? Maybe he’s getting ready to kill her for all she knows. *grin*

Obviously, no matter the POV style, most readers would skim over that phrase and think the motivation clear enough if they’ve seen the characters just survive one wave of zombies and they’re regrouping now. But an editor skilled at catching these issues would flag this for out-of-POV. (Marcy Kennedy is genius at finding them.)

Even if we don’t think these slips are a big deal, they’re also often telling issues as well. So if we’re trying to use a deep POV, these are a double whammy of problems and should be avoided.

How to Fix Out-of-POV Issues:

So we’ve established that Sally can’t know Roger’s motivation (unless she can read his mind—I write paranormal, so that possibility exists *smile*). That’s a failure on the first question above, but what if we shared evidence to explain how she could know it? That is, what if we provide an answer to the second question?

That second question is the key to the two easy ways to fix this problem. Both require us to show the evidence for Sally and/or the reader to reach the right conclusion:

  1. Show How the POV Character Reaches Their Conclusion:
    Sally took deep, calming breaths as Roger loaded the rifle to get ready for the next set of zombies. His gaze repeatedly flicked to the barricaded door. No sign of them yet.
    With that extra information, the reader understands that Sally’s not reading Roger’s mind about his plan, but rather she’s making an educated guess based on actions she can see and interpret (and the reader would likely agree with her guess).
  2. Cut the Conclusion and Show Just the Evidence:
    Sally took deep, calming breaths as Roger loaded the rifle. His gaze repeatedly flicked to the barricaded door. No sign of them yet.
    This leaves the motivation of why he’s loading the rifle in the subtext, but if all the clues are there, readers will pick up on it. This is usually the technique I use to fix these issues because telling and showing is a form of repetition, and I write in deep POV most of the time, so I avoid telling unless I have a reason to include it.

Resources for Learning More about POV

Want Feedback on Potential POV Issues?

Because these issues are so tricky to find and because many are confused about whether these problems exist in their work—or about whether the feedback from others is valid—I want to try something different…

If you’ve received feedback about a line in your story being head-hopping, out-of-POV, or suffering from a POV problem (or you’re worried about a potential problem), feel free to paste your example (up to a paragraph or two) in the comments. We can all take a look through the comments and compare notes.

Maybe we’ll learn that the feedback was wrong or mistaken. Maybe we’ll learn more about how to fix the problem. Or maybe we’ll get better about finding these issues in our work. No matter what, hopefully we can all reach a better understanding of this confusing issue. *smile*

Do you find head-hopping and the different kinds of POV confusing? Do you have any questions about the concepts covered here? Do you have any additional tips or insights for others? Have you ever been told that you’ve head-hopped in your writing? Or that you’ve included out-of-POV information? (If you wish, share your example below for feedback.)

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21 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Glynis Jolly June 4, 2015 at 3:50 pm

My novel is mostly in 1st person although I have a few scenes where the POV is more like a fly on the wall showing what is happening in the situation. Is this limited 3rd person?

Reply

Jami Gold June 4, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Hi Glynis,

If the POV character’s thoughts, emotions, etc. are always worded with I, me or my (not just the occasional emphasized line), it’s a 1st person POV. Example time… (And excuse the cheesy example–my brain is fried. LOL!)

  • 1st Person: He took my hand and placed it on his chest. My heart pounded in rhythm with his, spreading warmth through my limbs. The air in the room stilled, as if the world itself held its breath. I wished the moment would never end.
  • Deep 3rd Person: He took her hand and placed it on his chest. Her heart pounded in rhythm with his, spreading warmth through her limbs. The air in the room stilled, as if the world itself held its breath. She wished the moment would never end.

In both cases, the reader gets the deeper experience of visceral and internal reactions (pounding heart, warmth in limbs) and internal thoughts. Although these both use “wished”–which can be a filter word–in some situations, the word can emphasize the importance of the wishing emotion and not the content of the wish itself. Only the pronouns are different.

The line about the air isn’t necessarily in any specific voice or POV, so it could be seen as an objective, fly-on-the-wall statement. However, the lines around it add the context that keep the section in the same 1st or deep 3rd POV.

In other words, not every sentence has to be grounded to the POV character (such as stating “the air around us stilled”) to make the overall story a 1st person or a deep 3rd person. Action and descriptions will often be less voicey because we’re just trying to get across the basic facts. The context of the lines around the less-deep sentences, the overall scene, and the whole story–along with the pronouns used and the amount and type of depth included–determine what we call the story’s overall POV.

The point is more about how to make sure that we’re not accidentally adding distance with unintended filter words or telling or including out-of-POV phrases–not that every sentence would have to be deep 1st or 3rd person to count. Does that help? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung June 5, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Oh very interesting post! Especially as I write in omniscient, and one reason why I write in that style is because it’s the norm style in my genre (Chinese martial arts stories.) And when something’s the norm, no reader used to that genre will look twice at it, lol.

It’s great that you explained the head hopping issue. I thought it was just because readers would feel dizzy from zooming from inside one character’s head into another, and I can feel dizzy too, but I see now that it’s more about being unclear on whose thoughts we are now hearing. (Switching heads without using transitions, haha.)

Since I value clarity very highly in my stories, I almost always use filter words (he thought) before a character’s thoughts, because I want the reader to absolutely know whose internal thoughts these are.

Yet sometimes I put the character’s thoughts in directly without any filter words, lol, to confuse the reader intentionally so they don’t know if it was the narrator saying that or the character thinking that, haha! But that’s just me being a poltergeist of a writer, lol. (Like Peeves! :D) During the editing though, I’ll pay attention to these parts where I evilly confuse the readers on purpose, lol! And decide whether this confusion is really necessary or will lead to some good effects, or if it’s simply me being mean and immature. XD And edit accordingly.

It is sometimes very hard to resist teasing your readers, though. I’ve seen a literary commentator remark on this famous Chinese story, where the sentence was something like ” ‘…..’ he said, looking at her, tears shining.” Okay I don’t think it quite works in English, haha, but in Chinese, this kind of sentence construction makes it ambiguous whether the tears shining were the guy’s or the girl’s. And whose eyes the tears were shining in, makes a somewhat different interpretation of these two characters’ (the hero and heroine) feelings at that moment. This happens to be one of my favorite stories ever, and I didn’t even notice this ambiguity until this literary commentator pointed it out, lol, so ambiguity isn’t always bad or damaging to a story.

But it is annoying when I’m confused about who’s saying which line of dialogue. (A problem even a lot of traditionally published, even bestselling authors have.) That’s another topic, however.

Back to the omniscient POV, a friend of mine who also uses omniscient (he writes sci fi/ fantasy) suggests that what turns people off most about omniscient, is when they aren’t sure who is thinking what. So as long as it’s made clear somehow, it should be all right. I like the filter words very much for this reason. But if there are no filter words, I think it would be best if the thought of character X appears shortly after we last see character X’s name, AND that there are no other character’s names (or pronouns representing them) between the last time we see character X’s name and X’s thought. I still prefer using filter words to be completely clear, though.

Also, what I find helpful is that in general, we should keep the different characters’ thoughts in different paragraphs. If we see Amy’s thoughts in paragraph one, then we should see Candy’s thoughts in paragraph two, not still in paragraph one. This is not absolutely necessary if it’s very clear who’s saying what when, but it gives your brain some time to prepare for the change in character’s head, haha. If it’s all in the same paragraph, your brain automatically assumes it’s all thoughts from the same character, and does a double take when it finds out there’s another character’s thoughts in the same paragraph. Not only is the brain (often unpleasantly) caught by surprise; it CAN feel dizzying to zoom through two heads in the same paragraph, I.e. it’s too fast, haha.

There are of course, exceptions where more than one characters’ thoughts revealed in the same paragraph does not feel dizzying. One example I’ve seen, is the type where you see multiple (at least three) characters react differently to the same event. But each head dive is very short and not very “deep”. Something like, when a shark appears and these kids are all in a boat, “Betty is excited for her first battle and picks up her sword, Ben is petrified, James wishes he stayed at home, and Sharon simply thinks that the shark would be a fascinating creature to study.”

Okay that was a silly example, haha, but you see what I mean by really quick and rather shallow dips into multiple characters’ heads that don’t feel too dizzying, at least to me.

Yet sometimes, even starting a new paragraph to introduce a different character’s thoughts can still make me feel a little dizzy or disoriented. Well, I can’t think of any general suggestions on how to take care of that, as what could be done to fix this problem, depends on what thoughts are presented. Hmm one way that would make it feel less vertiginous would be to link the first character’s thought to another’s. For instance:

Paragraph one:
“Character A’s thoughts….and he thinks that X is Y.”

Paragraph Two
“Character B also thinks that X is Y, in fact…”

LOLL sorry I made it look so algebraic, but I hope you see what I mean by linking character thoughts. XD

Another thing I want to say about the omniscient POV style I’m using and the style I see in my genre’s novels, is that USUALLY but not always, there is one main POV character in a given scene. Often we will see bits of other characters’ thoughts in the same scene, but the vast majority of the scene will be seen in the main POV character or the narrator’s perspective.

The thoughts revealed from other characters in the same scene tend to be relatively shallow POV, so maybe something short, like one sentence describing how this guy feels about what the hero (the main POV character) just said to him. But I have seen somewhere in these novels where a dip into a non-main POV character’s head goes deeper, I.e. it may expand into a whole paragraph (or even longer!) Whether the reader feels any vertigo in this situation, really depends on the situation, as usual.

One instance where I, as a reader, would welcome a scene where there are deep dips into more than one characters’ heads in the same scene (e.g. a whole paragraph for each character’s thoughts), would be when the author wants to compare and contrast each character’s psychological and emotional reaction, or interpretation, of the same event or stimulus. It can be really funny when two characters see completely different things (different interpretations or opinions or worldviews), yet believe that the other character thinks the same way as they do. And later if they tell each other what they thought, they would be so astonished to hear that the other person had such a different interpretation to it from theirs, haha.

Not only can these compare and contrast moments create humorous effects, these moments can also alert the reader to how subjective something is. So the author is hinting to the reader to not completely believe what one character thinks, because they may be wrong, or different people can see and evaluate the same thing differently. It makes readers aware of how bias and personal beliefs can sway judgment.

An example is, when meeting a stranger for the first time, Anne thinks she’s X, but Clara thinks she’s Y, where X and Y are completely different, e.g. X is a negative impression and Y a positive impression. When we see these two different impressions, we readers are made aware that “how this stranger is as a person” is not such a simple question as one would expect, and it depends on your personal biases and preferences (and pet peeves, lol!)

It also makes judgment of this stranger’s character more difficult for the reader, haha (should we agree with Anne, Clara, or neither of them?); and it’s fun when the readers are not sure what to make of a character, lol. I often have mixed or confused feelings about a character–I don’t know whether I should like him or hate him, or whether he deserves sympathy or not, etc. It is both frustrating AND fun when I have such ambivalent feelings towards a character! XD

P.S. After rereading your older post on transitions, I realized that I was talking about the paragraph break and baton pass methods for switching POVs in the same scene for omniscient, haha. Though I don’t think your post was on the omniscient POV, but was for stories that have POV changes in general.

Reply

Jami Gold June 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Hi Serena,

Great comment! I am by no means an expert on omniscient, so I appreciate you sharing your tips for how to “do omniscient right” (i.e., how to not confuse the reader so much that they put down the book–LOL!).

I love your advice, so I’m going to summarize your tips to help other visitors. 🙂

  • If you don’t use filter words to identify which character is thinking or feeling something, ensure that character is the last one named (and they should have been named recently, like in the previous paragraph). This is the same rule we use for dialogue in all POVs, so this makes sense for omniscient thoughts and feelings as well.
  • Unless the thoughts or feelings shared are extremely short and shallow (Jack thought X, and Jane thought Y), the thoughts and feelings of different characters should appear in different paragraphs. Again, this is the same rule we follow for dialogue in all POVs. We switch paragraphs when we switch speakers.
  • Sometimes a paragraph break isn’t enough of a transistion, so a baton pass transition might be needed to guide the reader from one character to another.
  • Comparing and contrasting how characters view the same situation differently is often used to point out the subjectivity of the situation (or to not trust one character’s perception and bias), to keep readers uncertain about a character, or for humor.
  • Even in omniscient, one character might “own” the scene (i.e., the camera following them through events) and the prose might delve deeper into their thoughts and feelings than into the other characters.

And to answer your curiosity, Serena, yes, the English language also suffers from misplaced modifiers and “squinting” modifiers. (“Squinting” because they make you squint as you’re trying to figure out who or what they apply to. 😉 ) Your “tears shining” example would probably be a squinting modifier.

They’re so hard for us to catch, as authors, because we know what we meant. LOL! It takes a well-trained editor to find them, and even so, if the editor figures they know what we meant, they wouldn’t catch it either. Thanks again for the great comment and for sharing your insights!

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Serena Yung June 5, 2015 at 10:14 pm

LOL! I’m glad you liked my “tips”. XD Well, I’ve written over 1 million words of my omniscient POV story now, so I should be ashamed of myself if I didn’t learn ANYTHING about the omniscient after all that. XDD

HAHA that the editor wouldn’t catch the squinting modifier either if they also understood it. I didn’t think of that!

Oh similar to the squinting modifier problem, sometimes the sentence mentions a “he”, but there are two or more possible guys this “he” could be; yet unfortunately the text doesn’t specify and leaves you confused. The reader in general assumes that your “he” refers to the last male mentioned in your story, but not all readers make this assumption, and this assumption may be wrong! It could be referring to the second last male mentioned. I find this problem even in traditionally published books, and I’m only made hyper aware of it because one of my English lit TAs pointed this out to us!

So, I would rather be a little less elegant in my prose and keep mentioning the actual name of the guy instead of using a long string of “he”s. It might be okay to keep using “he” if the context makes it very obvious who “he” is, BUT if readers make the wrong assumption when they first read the “he”, and then realize a second later when they read the rest of the sentence that they guessed the wrong “he”, the reader might frown or even be taken out of the story. :O And thus, I’d rather that the reader never make any wrong guesses and get put off, and happily keep reading. Others may disagree, though. I’m just someone who values clarity above most other things in my writing, haha.

Reply

Jami Gold June 5, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Hi Serena,

Oh yes! Good point, and I meant to mention that in my comment above. LOL!

  • Just like how dialogue is assumed to be from the last named character if not otherwise indicated, the same goes for pronouns. If we have two males in a scene, any “he” would be assumed to refer to the last one specified.

Like you, I think it’s better to be a touch clunky but clear in those situations. Confusion will take readers out of the story far more than an extra clarifying word or two. 🙂 Thanks for that addition!

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Serena Yung June 6, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Oh and I forgot to mention, I meant this for “she”s and “it”s too, just in case anyone’s reading it and thinks I’m being sexist/ species-ist. XDD

There was something I else I wanted to say, but I forgot. 🙁

Btw, for Kindle ebooks, do you know how to make them have real page numbers? You know how there are usually only “location numbers”, yet for some books, there are “page numbers” too? I wonder if they can make page numbers for Indie ebooks as well.

Reply

Jami Gold June 6, 2015 at 11:59 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! at species-ist. 🙂

Hmm, no, that’s a good question about Kindle page numbers. You’re talking about in the file itself, and not just on the sales page, right? (I’ve heard having a print version connected to the Kindle version can add the exact pages on the sales page, but that hasn’t happened for my Treasured Claim pages yet.) Thanks for stopping by–wish I had an answer for you! 🙂

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Serena Yung June 7, 2015 at 9:00 pm

HAHA yeah species-ist. XD

Oh interesting! Hopefully making a kindle ebook from my CreateSpace print book would help, lol. It would certainly be nice for the readers too, not just for the authors.

Reply

Serena Yung June 7, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Oh sorry I realized I skipped your question, haha. Yeah I mean that when you click “Go to” on your Kindle, apart from “Location”, the “Pages” function is active too and you can type in the page number. Also, at the bottom of your Kindle, you see both the location number and the page number.

This is very unrelated, but I realize that even though I’m writing a happy ending romantic comedy, with many happy and even ideal couples, I also have a ridiculously large number of unrequited love couples. So it’s kind of tragic that the person will never return their love, EVER, and that the unrequited lover will never be able to or even want to love anyone else. (Save two exceptions who manage to find someone else!) In fact, many are friendzoned (or worse)…

So I don’t write tragedy, but I realize that I do have love tragedies within my comedy. A comedy only means that the protagonists are guaranteed a happy ending; it doesn’t guarantee anything for non-protagonist characters. D: But similarly, a tragedy only means the protagonists are guaranteed a tragic ending; non-protagonists are free to have happy endings in contrast! D:

But most of those unrequited love stories within my happy romantic comedy story, aren’t THAT tragic. At least for most of these stories, no one dies or marries anyone else or anything. Interestingly, most of the unrequited love interests don’t ever get into a relationship with anyone; so this could be a comfort to the unrequited lovers—you’ll never get them, but at least no one else gets them either, lol. Plus, you know how unrequited love can lead to destroyed friendships? Well at least most of my unrequited love couples stay good/close friends; the non-reciprocated love is very sad and distressing for them, yet their friendship remains intact and strong.

Hurray happiness within sadness! ^_^” Joy/ relief within tragedy!

(It’s true that I said “most” unrequited love couples. So yeah some are really tragic–involving death, the beloved getting together with someone else or was already with someone else, or a combination of the above.)

Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 12:17 am

Hi Serena,

Yes, that said, I don’t have “real” page numbers on my Kindle version of Treasured Claim yet, despite it being linked to the print version, so who knows. LOL!

Sophie June 7, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Point of view is not fun at all… I thought I’d mostly gotten rid of head-hopping, but it looks like I have a long way to go… See, I tend to write in Limited 3rd Person, but I still notice moments of head-hopping (“Wait, when was I in her head?”) on rereading stuff. I guess POV is another weak point for me. OH well. It’s something to work on.

Like, in one of my fanfics I’m writing, the focus is on the canon character (he’s called Kira. Yes, I know) but I sometimes catch myself later having jumped into Yumi’s (the potential love interest) head. Gah.

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Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 12:16 am

Hi Sophie,

I’m guilty of making POV slips as well, so this takes practice and a keen eye to pick them out. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold June 9, 2015 at 12:29 am

Hi Serena,

Interesting! I don’t think I’ve seen a Kindle book like that, so I have no idea. LOL!

You know, it’s funny that you mention the idea of how a happy ending refers only to the protagonist. I saw a slam against a book recently for making a disabled character a plot device–that they were there only to inspire the protagonist to do something. And while I understand the point (too many disabled characters exist only for what they can do for other characters), the same could be said for any non-protagonist character. The harping mother-in-law, the pushy friend, the mentor, etc.–they’re all there only to trigger something for the protagonist’s story…because it’s the protagonist’s story. 😀

So I guess this goes back to POV in that we can make sure our secondary characters feel more well-rounded than mere cardboard cutouts, but until and unless we’re writing their stories (as many romance series do), they are only there to serve the protagonist’s story. So our protagonist’s POV takes precedence in most cases. 🙂 (Hmm, I sort of got the conversation back on topic there–LOL!) Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung June 9, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Yeah! I have a Kindle keyboard and Kindle paperwhite, and they both have functions where you can jump to (go to) a specific location or page number. You can’t go to the latter if they don’t put in page numbers, though. 🙁

Oh my! I believe I told you about this before, but I see that there are two general ways to view characters. One way is to see them as mere functions in the story. The other way is to see them as actual people and individuals. Clearly I do the latter much more than I do the former, if I even do the former at all, haha. Actually I was shocked when I first read that the disabled person only exists to make the protagonist do something. >< What a cruel thing to say! Isn't it bad enough for the disabled person to be disabled? But those people have to say that this person is a mere tool too!! Argh.

Yeah if those people insist on seeing all characters as mere tools for the plot and story, yeah, everything's a tool. 🙁 But I personally see them all as individual people, whether they are well developed or not. If they are flat, it doesn't mean that they're flat; it only means that the author didn't have enough time to develop them, or they didn't need to be developed that much for the story, i.e. the author only showed some parts of this character, not others. It's like if someone meets me for the first and only time, and I had my goofy side on, I would be a flat character to them because I am merely a goofy and lighthearted person; but of course I actually have other sides other than that one, yet their not seeing those sides doesn't mean I don't have them. OTL

Yeah it often breaks my heart when some readers see characters as mere functions rather than as people, sigh. Whereas I'm the opposite and fall in love with characters all the time, haha. Even if a character is seemingly the most cliche kind of character ever, I don't care, I am still in love with him because he is just SO cool and has such a hot personality. 😀 (Sometimes when he becomes more 3D and "realistic", I actually become LESS in love with him because he isn't so ideal anymore, haha! I know most people despise perfect characters, but I love them! I look up to them and emulate them! LOL)

(I myself might also be the most cliched person ever, your typical psych, science, philosophy, art and writing loving person–the typical intellectual and artistic/literary type who doesn't like physical activity, haha. Of course I have other quirks, like my love for the Transformers, but I pretty much still fit into the "intellectual and artistic/literary type who doesn't like physical activity" stereotype, haha! I've seen these "intellectual and artistic/literary person who dislikes physical exertion" types of characters in MANY stories, especially in the literary classics, lol. Serena is such a cliched character. XD)

But apart from that, yeah when Hamlet is the protagonist, we focus on Hamlet, not on the grave digger. If the grave digger is the protagonist, Hamlet takes a back seat, haha. (This is actually an example I've heard of, so I didn't come up with this cool example myself, haha.)

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Jami Gold June 11, 2015 at 5:02 pm

Hi Serena,

Interesting! I see both perspectives, but I definitely start off with the whole-person idea. My characters are like actual people to me, but during revision, I also see how they fit into the story. The attitude of only seeing them as tools frustrates me though, especially as that perspective is often used to describe characters who belong to marginalized groups–which as you said, just minimizes them even more and dismisses the characters themselves.

I mean, I make all my characters as full and well-rounded as I can, and if someone chooses to focus on a diverse character to talk about how they’re only a plot device–and yet they don’t do that for any of the other secondary characters, who were created and interact in all the same ways–I think that says something about their narrow vision. :/ In the real world, diversity is everywhere, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to showing diversity only when they’re the main character just so we don’t get “dinged.” *sigh*

LOL! Yes, exactly! That Hamlet example is perfect. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung June 11, 2015 at 9:32 pm

Yeah it’s terrible if people twist their original story just to satisfy certain social criteria. :O There’s also that problem where many readers assume that the narrator and characters’ attitudes equal the author’s attitude. I’m pretty sure Nabokov does not agree with Humbert Humbert from Lolita’s worldview! But even in less obvious cases, it’s dangerous to assume that the narrator and characters’ beliefs represent what the author believes. 🙁

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Jami Gold June 11, 2015 at 10:19 pm

Hi Serena,

Very true. Plenty of my characters have attitudes I don’t agree with, and sometimes I include those attitudes specifically to shine a light on how wrong they are, but I’m sure someone could twist my intentions if they so wished. 🙁

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