1. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    First Chapter POV Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Thornesque, Nov 1, 2013.

    I wasn't sure exactly where this belonged, but this should do...

    I'm writing in the third person, and in the first chapter, I start by setting up a particular scene. Something major has just happened (a three-way murder) and the character is observing the scene around them. Then, the scene goes on to have a group of characters discussing the situation, but my character doesn't involve himself in this conversation - he just listens. Yet, in all this time, I make no actual reference to the character, himself.

    Is this okay? To have a large excerpt of words in the first chapter where it would be unclear to the reader who the POV character is, not only because you don't name them, but because we don't even recognize them, at all? Or should I draw my character into it, by mentioning vaguely that he's listening? (I can't involve him in the conversation, as he's not interested in conversing with the minor characters involved, nor is he welcome to by them.)

    Advice appreciated.
     
  2. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Uhhh...your first chapter is the scene.

    The kiss of death, I'm afraid. That's a report, not a story—an info-dump. Yes, it can be done, and given that I haven't read the story, perhaps your opening is brilliant. But if you're explaining, and being a talking head, that's inherently dispassionate, and readers come to form an emotional attachment with the protagonist. It may help to read this by David Mamet.

    You definitely need to read the letter Mamet wrote because while he write it about a TV program it applies to fiction fot the page as well. After you have, and have a better idea of why another approach is necessary, read this article for a way to make the reader feel more involved, and this for a better understanding of the elements of that scene you're writing..
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The answer to every "can it be done" question is "yes." The only question is whether you have done it well, and that can only be evaluated by having someone read it.
     
  4. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    You are not bound by any rules to stick to a single focal character. From how you describe it, your narration only moves to focus on a single character when he himself de-focuses from a certain situation (dialogue he listens to). Are you planning to remain very close to him in later text?

    Don't ask for permission, especially not on internet forums :) The concept is quite okey - but there are a million ways to actualize it, and some of them may not be "okey"...

    Hm, if there is no need for the character to "get involved" there's no need to force him. But the question might be: if he's not interested in conversing with them, why is he interested in their conversation? There's something in there, methinks. If he is forced to listen to them- what forces him? If he wants to listen to them- what information interests him? Does he take sides? How does this conversation moves him later on? While I don't agree with some of JayG's concepts, there is much to learn about motivation and dynamics of a scene/character from his links. You don't need to drop a somewhat unorthodox concept for a more casual one - but you can modify the flow of the scene by asking yourself about motivation/goals/whys and hows.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I am getting used to @JayG's tendency to state his opinions in absolute terms. :D But, based on the OP, I agree with him here. I wouldn't necessarily characterize it as an info-dump, but it definitely sounds like a case of filtering to me.
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    From the book, Fiction Writing for Unpublished Yet Stubborn Writers by I. N. Ternet:

    Always start your manuscript with your protagonist narrating an interesting conflict.
    Always name your protagonist right from the start.

    That said, I'm sure this is okay and can work. Why don't you write it out the way you see it and post it to the Workshop? :)
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I will address another issue. You as the writer may know all of these characters, but will the reader? They will simply be names and titles, maybe with a bit of description all reporting their opinion or observation so that the unnamed character (POV) can 'report' it to the reader.

    The problem may end up being that the reader doesn't know who is saying what...keeping names/people straight. The reader has no clue who is reliable or not, what agenda might taint their observation and what they're willing to share, and much more.

    Can it work? Yes. But it will be very difficult to achieve.
     
  8. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    The point here was that I'm setting it up. As opposed to, say, throwing the reader into the pit of the action. I could just as easily go through the entire scene in which the men die, but I feel that that's putting too much emphasis on them, which I don't want to do. They try to get away, and they die, thus displaying the ruthlessness of the situation that the POV character is in. This is their soul purpose. Thus why I skip the deaths, and, instead, "set up," the scene.

    I really wasn't intending to "explain," a lot. It's what the character is seeing, and it takes up about two paragraphs. What he's seeing; why it's there. I don't go on to any sort of "flashback," or memory of what happened. The men tried to get out. Now, they're dead. Though put, I like to think, a little more eloquently than that.

    I apologize if this comes across as defensive, or as though I'm dismissing your argument, as that's not what I intend to do at all. I appreciate the reply and do intend to read your sources. But, I felt like what I was trying to say may have been slightly skewed (not to the point of making your argument invalid), and I felt it necessary to further explain myself.
     
  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    If I state an opinion you'll know it. I'm giving you the view you would get if you talked to a publisher or a teacher at a commercial fiction course. If you like I can quote page and title. I'm also giving you what I noticed and experienced as part of the process of publication, however limited that might have been.

    Opinion is worthless unless you can point to it having worked in the real world, or have made it work yourself.

    Not being argumentative, but I am not guessing.
     
  10. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    That's where the story is, because there's where the emotional response is. When you simply relate the immutable there's no uncertainty. And that's a problem because a reader feeds on uncertainty. Without it we have no POV, just data. And data informs, it doesn't entertain. I could spend ten pages giving you a detailed description of a terrorist attack on a shopping mall, as happened recently, and no matter how well I wrote it it would be a report. No more. But tell of that same event through the eyes of someone experiencing it, and show only the small part of it that character experiences; make me know what they see and how they react—their fears, their hopes; make me know their terror as they know it so I can place myself in their place. Then you have a story.

    It doesn't matter. Unless he's reacting, as he sees, it's not him. It's you telling the reader what he can see. In your life you don't just pan your head like a camera and see things. You focus on one thing at a time, and react to it, in spite of a field of view that encompasses thousands of things you might focus on. And how you react to that probably results in what you next pay attention to. For example, the door bell rings. Your character puts his book down and wonders who it might be. Depending on his situation, and estimate of who's there, he might run for a pistol, head out the back door, sit quietly till they leave, or answer the door. But whatever he does, it results in his next decision-point. Motivation/response/motivation/response... from waking to sleep is how we live. If your protagonist doesn't match that we cannot be in his POV, we're in yours. This article can help explain.
     
  11. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Thornesque
    So you want to have two paragraphs describing where and why the character is, from a limited point of view. I can't really see this as being too much. @JayG while there should be a healthy amount of action and reaction in any scene, to create dynamics and move the story from point A to point B, going a fast pace act-react-act-react-boom-bam-left-right without slowing down, speeding up, moving the focus from character to object to weather to character, and without letting the reader actually read as oposed to flying through pages and pages without ever turning back - you just get a very shallow prose. Ask yourself a question on your structure: Does this paragraph pose a question? Does it relate to a next paragraph, or something three or thirty pages later? Or is it there just to push the reader to move further? To manipulate the reader into zooming through a book?

    There is a distinction between telling a story and "entertaining" - a story is not just an empty sequence of dynamic scenes (macro-modeled to resemble 3 to 5 part dramatic structure). Those are bones - you need flesh. Giving your character something to react to is as important as having him act. He jumps - over what? He kicks - whom? He screams - at what? And how he sees, feels, hears objects around him, elements of setting, and other characters - "how" fleshes out the character himself. So the reader can decipher the "why" of his reactions and actions. It is not "essential" for a sequence of events. It is however neccessary for a story.

    Or, to put it differently, from reader's point of view - long-term relationship versus hiring a prostitute. Do you give your reader something to invest in, something to think about, to decipher, to relate to on a meaningful level, to read - or does he just pay you 10$ for a bj.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @JayG, I respect strong opinions when well supported, and I have not doubted for a moment that you were stating opinions based on experience. When I said that you state your opinions in absolute terms, I meant that you tend to state the fruits of your experience as if they were universally and exclusively the case, and where you and I have disagreed it's been because I see evidence of varying experiences. I will say, though, that even when I disagree with you, I find your posts interesting and thought-provoking.
     
  13. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I'm not giving opinions. I'm giving you the advice you would get in any commercial fiction course and in the vast majority of the books on writing. I agree with them because in my own experience they've worked with me. That's what I mean, not that the techniques I suggest are mine. I've not accomplished enough on my own to tell people how best to maximize the chance of publication. So if I state an opinion I'll identify it as such.

    We spend twelve years of our lives, in school, learning the techniques and compositional skills of nonfiction writing. They are absolute, and were developed over many years. If you deviate and make up replacements to suit yourself you get a failing grade in school and fired on the job, because those compositional skills are the learned part of nonfiction writing. They complement the skills of the reader and cater to their needs and expectations, because for communication to take place reader and writer need to be working the same side of the street.

    The compositional skills of writing fiction for the printed word are every bit as absolute, and necessary, as those for nonfiction. Write your story using the nonfiction techniques of the schoolkid and you won't be published. Period, end of story, because the work will read like a report, or a chronicle of events, when the reader is seeking an emotional not a fact based page.

    It might be nice if good writing in the field of fiction is something that mysteriously comes to us by the will of a beneficent deity. But it doesn't, as evidenced by a 99.9+ rejection rate. Quite simply, the way 99.9% of the people who want to to write for publication create their stories is flawed. And that is an absolute, one demonstrated every day in the offices of publishers and agents.

    If you've not read it—and especially if stories about wizards is your thing, read, Storm Front, the first volume of The Dresden Files, Jim Bucher's long running series. Even a read of the sample shows that the man creates living scenes, filled with emotional content that draws you in. He's a really skilled writer. Added to that he creates a plot that fits together with precision.

    It's really easy to say, "Damn, the man has talent," and envy him because talent is the reason he's a success. But he attended Oklahoma University's legendary commercial fiction courses, where he studied absolutes. Its the same school where Dwight Swain and Jack Bickham taught. Butcher learned the various techniques a fiction writer requires, and how to apply them to best effect, from teachers who weren't dealing in opinion. They were teaching Skills. And, he was selling his work before he graduated, which was impressive. Did he have an aptitude for writing? Hell yes. I wish I had a fraction of his talent. That talent is why he took what was given ran with it, and sold so early. But had he not trained that talent by acquiring the tools of the pro, and then practiced them to perfection, he would be applying that talent to the nonfiction techniques we all learned and cannot make work for fiction, and probably be just another pre-published writer.

    I'm not trying to start an argument. Lord knows I start enough of them, though. But you have no idea of how frustrating it is to carefully explain some absolutely basic point of writing, only to have people (not pointing at you here) who haven't taken any meaningful steps to give their talent wings, say, "That's not what I do, and my ignorance is just as meaningful as your knowledge, And you're a big doo-doo-head."
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The problem in any such rule discussion is that for most, if not all, of the so-called rules, you can find examples of successful works (including works by first-time authors) on the bookshelves that don't follow them. The "rules" are worth knowing, but it isn't imperative that they be followed, and an author that knows what she is doing can and should set them aside whenever she feels like doing so.
     
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  15. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    @EdFromNY @JayG
    You both give great advice but let's not turn this into another character profiling thread >.>
    We all end up sounding like broken records.
    We don't need to argue with him at every turn :p

    I say, change the scene to the character actually being a part of it.
    Merely observing the conversation is more like spying and eavesdropping.
    Unless the character has absolutely no reason to be there, he should be involved in some way.
    Hearing only snippets, trying to keep appearances, and the like.

    If he is only snooping, switch PoVs to that of one the people discussing and flower them up.
    Then, next chapter or whatever, switch back to your MCs PoV and have the first line be like all revealing he was eavesdropping.

    It's far more interesting to read what is happening around or at the character than what he is observing.

    If it's only two paragraphs , certainly don't switch the PoV. That'd be bad >.>
    But there are more interesting ways, as I noted above, to describe the conversation than matter-of-fact narrative. The character doesn't stop existing during it, why should the narrative assume so?

    I can't believe I'm not taking my own advice here...
    I don't mean to argue but can't a chapter hold multiple scenes?
    I've read books where Ch.x contained different scenes but split up with spacing and a fancy icon or even numbers.

    Although, generally, a chapter is only one scene.
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    In this case, I wasn't. Ah, irony.
     
  17. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I know it wasn't the idea, but from what I noticed, thread just gets an extra page or two of unrelated and repetitive posts :p
    So, just trying to nip it in the bud before I can't help but join in too :D
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Of course it can. There are many books where this is the case.
     
  19. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, just thought it was rather stern saying chapter 1 is the scene when it all depends on how a book is broken up.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. The truth is, almost any such statement, or any statements of "rules" that are given in absolute terms on writing forums can be proven empirically false by a simple trip to the bookstore. So I don't put much stock in those sorts of pronouncements :)
     
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  21. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Steerpike your example is irrelevant: it doesn't fit the rules ;)
     
  22. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I was commenting because the OP said the first chapter was setting up the scene, which implied backstory and infodumps before the action started. But the story should begin with story, not history, hence the note that the chapter is the scene.
     
  23. A.M.P.
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    I thought OP meant something that isn't info dumping.
    Like a setup, nervous characters, chattering, impatience, character thoughts on their surroundings as they wait for the big boom of the scene and know its coming.
    Kinda like an escalation.
     
  24. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Interesting. Please refute the rule that you should never begin a sentence with a comma.

    How about the absolute that beginning your story with a dream, without at least letting the reader know it is, is pretty much a guaranteed rejection.

    It is an absolute that a story without tension will not sell. Any publisher will be glad to tell you that. So yes is is an absolute that you must introduce tension into every scene. And it is an absolute that if you don't take the time to learn what a publisher feels is the best approach to presenting tension, you're pretty much blowing yourself out of the water.

    I'm not making this up. The points I raise come, primarily, from two of the most respected teachers of writing who ever lived, and are what you would learn in any university course on commercial fiction. If you stood up in that classroom and told the teacher that they were full of shit and you can write any way that comes to mind you would be laughed out of that classroom. Of course you can approach the writing of fiction any way you care to. And you can express any view you care to. But objecting because someone presents the view of the teachers of the profession you hope to successfully practice? Seems less than literary discussion, because you're blanket rejecting, not arguing a point.
     
  25. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Not to argue the point, but that is about the most qualified, mealy-mouthed, non-absolute statement of an "absolute" I've read all week! You're backing away from your statement before you've even finished making it. Come on: "without at least ..."? "Pretty much"? These are not phrases one usually finds in absolute statements.

    It's a bit grinworthy. Carry on. :)
     

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