1. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Problem with character perceptions

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Nervous1st, Mar 23, 2009.

    My novel is based around a girl who is recovering from childhood sexual abuse. It’s told in first person because I feel third person is not going to personal enough. She has critically low self esteem so her narration is very depressing and cynical. I am finding to write as her I really need to go to a very unhappy place to see the world as she would see it.

    The problem I am running into is she doesn’t see the world the way it really is. Her perception is warped until she starts to heal. For example to her everyone else is excessively beautiful, smart and talented but they’re not really, it’s just how she sees them in comparison to herself. As the story unfolds her thoughts change but in the meantime I was thinking of adding a chapter or two from the perspective of another character. I understand this is very difficult to do.

    What do you think? Should I keep going and let the reader watch her perception improve, allowing the ‘reality’ to come to them slowly or should I include a couple of alternative POV chapters to highlight the contrast and hence have the reader already know that her perceptions are distorted? Does that make any sense?

    Also, I’m worried that while I’m trying to build a character who I feel sorry for, the reader may find her more pathetic than depressed…. But I guess that will come down to the writing.

    Does anyone have any advice?

    Thanks
     
  2. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    The only thing I would like to say is, you can get HORRIBLY personal regardless of which view you use.
    I have seen first-persons that feel like a third-person perspective, and third-person where I feel like the main character is the one telling the story.

    Let us just dispel this idea that the two perspectives are so incredibly different in this regard.


    As it concerns your story, an interesting idea would be to START the story off in another persons' perspective, then switch to hers after. (Maybe a prologue)

    But the idea of switching perspective is intriguing, to me. Of course, you do not want it to FEEL like it is tacked on for clarification, but instead a smooth, seamless part. That is only natural, though.

    (*Frown* I hope I haven't. . . OFFENDED anyone with this post. *Sigh*)
     
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  3. Khengi
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    Khengi New Member

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    I also have never thought of switching perspectives. Interesting.

    I feel putting yourself in one's place is a very tasking thing to do, and quite complex. Your idea of starting off pathetic and personal, and soon rising up sounded nice, but soon the reader would probably get annoyed at every page being filled with emo-angst until the 'rise' in perspetive.

    But, that's all my opinion. :D
     
  4. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Yes, It's more difficult than I anticipated. In staying true to her character she is negative and depressed which is becoming quite frustrating but perhaps that's just because I'm constantly in her head.

    It's going to be cutting it fine... some will feel for her and others will be annoyed, especially those of us who just pick themselves up and keep going.

    Mmmm, I have no idea how I could do this but I like the idea, I shall give it some thought, thank you.
     
  5. crimsonrose
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    crimsonrose Senior Member

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    As much as I hate to bring up the teeny-bopper schreechiness that is Twilight, a good example of decent character prespective swapping is in the saga. I believe it's in the forth book? Yes. Anyhoo, the perspective switches from that of the main female character's, to one of the angsty boys that loves her. It was refreshing, and done very well.

    Thus, I truly believe perspective switching is a good thing :) Just make sure you lead into it smoothly. Make sure it's obvious that it's someone else's perspective you're in now, so that there isn't any confusion.

    And honey, honestly... the world is filled with emo's nowadays anyway. Even if your story's depressing atmosphere did come off as pathetic, there are many wee emo kids that would enjoy it :D just saying. It sounds very good though.
     
  6. Light
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    Light New Member

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    A good example of a third person book which is written in a first person way is 'I am Legend' by Richard Matheson.

    Every so often he goes into Roberts mind and tells the read his thoughts and emotions.
    I strongly suggest you read it, it might help you a lot.
     
  7. TereFaerie
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    TereFaerie Member

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    I don't think you should throw away the idea of third person so quickly if you think the story would benefit from another POV. As others have said, there are many great examples of third person that get inside the character's head.

    But I can see what you mean about needing another POV. Perhaps you can alternate chapters, beginning with your MC talking about how perfect everyone else seems to her, then in the next chapter, shift POV to one of those so-called "perfect people". Example, Maybe a guy she likes who she thinks has it all, but really his Dad is a retired Marine and always busting his chops, drinking too much, and the son winds up taking care of his Dad more than being a child.
    This second character's POV would not have to be every other chapter, but a character like this could take the pressure off of the scenes showing the other character's depression.

    I really like the idea of showing the imperfections where she sees perfection.

    Also, third person might help you to think of the story in a different way. Instead of being stuck in the MC's head where not much action is occurring, you can show her actions, like shuffling around until noon in her pajamas, faking sick on those days when the depression is just too much for her, or picking up a bottle of her mother's valium, contemplating how many it would take to go to sleep and never wake up. You can show her looking at the old family photos on the mantle, seeing Uncle Hank (a relative I assume, since most victims of childhood sexual abuse were victimized by a close relation or family friend) who abused her and wanting to throw it out the window. But she can't because she has to act semi-normal.

    Not saying any of these ideas will fit the story you are trying to write; just trying to show the opportunities that a second POV character, guy or girl, could add to the story.
    Like, when she finally reveals what happened to her to the guy character, he might want to grab one of his Dad's guns and go to kill Uncle Hank. Your MC realizes she doesn't want him dead because he's just a sad old man and she now has a friend who is willing to do whatever it takes to make her feel better.
    Sorry, I just saw that whole story unfold in my head like a Lifetime Original Movie.

    Anyway, good luck, and don't discount the good things that stepping back out of the character's head can do to your story. Third person could work.
    Keep writing!
     
  8. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    I think your readers would be sophisticated enough to understand that not everybody she meets is Adonis incarnated.

    If written correctly, readers will pick up on it from the characters actions and apply that trait to the MC.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's a misconception that third person can't get the reader as close to a character as first person. For example:

    Both forms are quite capable of conveying very personal feelings and perspectives. However, it's easier to step back from the internal perspective to an external one without an awkward transition. For example, you can more easily show someone quietly approaching her from behind with innocent intent, just before she freaks out when he touches her shoulder. From a first person perspective, it's much harder to explain that he was only trying to surprise her in a fun way, when her reaction is one of panic and rage.

    The main reason for choosing first person is to make the reader more comfortable with you limiting the observations only to the character viewpoint. For example, a detective novel written in first person won't see the assailant following the MC, even though anyone watching the scene from another POV WOULD see him. Unless you really have decided not to reveal anything before the MC knows it, you are better off sticking with third person.
     
  10. Sato Ayako
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    Sato Ayako Contributing Member

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    Since you seem to be concerned about portraying her world "correctly", while showing how she sees the world, you might actually benefit from third-person narration. Third-person narration can still be quite intimate (as others have said), but it gives you the benefit of being able to stand somewhat back from your work. It's easier to weave metaphor, imagery, and simile into the tale. (First person imagery and such is so dependent upon the narrator's ability to form poetry.)

    From the sound of it, you have a great idea how someone who has gone through childhood sexual abuse would act. Another thing that might benefit you is studying it even more if you haven't. Sometimes learning more about a subject helps the writer-brain to move more efficiently.

    Being a victim of childhood sexual abuse can become a master status--ie: the piece of identity that is more important that all others--and will color all your character's reactions. If you want to show her worldview as warped, depending on how warped it actually is, I would definitely recommend at least one other viewpoint character. Your best bet would be one close to the main character, so s/he can watch and help the reader gage progress.

    Part of what you're feeling might be nervousness. It's difficult to write a mentally-aberrant character, even if the character isn't all that aberrant (mental aberrations do fall on a continuum, after all).

    I recommend a book called Writer's Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D. The book is a basic rundown of different psychological states. It talks about abuse and rape, among other things. It talks about family and social dynamics, things that will become important in your story. Furthermore, Edelstein refers to different, base character "types" you can use such as "Adventurer" or "Hyper-Masculine". At $17 US and $19 Canadian, the book is a bit expensive, but you'll use it over and over again. The cheaper version of this book--by another author--is Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon, PH.D., but compared to the Edelstein book, Breathing Life. . . is very poorly written.
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Someone mentioned I Am Legend, and it is a good example of just how personal third person can feel. Here is a snippet.

    His lips pressed together as an old sorrow held him again. Why couldn’t he have Kathy there too? Why had he followed so blindly, listening to those fools who set up their stupid regulations during the plague? If only she could be there, lying across from her mother.

    Don’t start that again, he ordered himself.

    Drawing closer to the crypt, he stiffened as he noticed that the iron door was slightly ajar. Oh, no, he thought. He broke into a run across the wet grass. If they’ve been at her, I’ll burn down the city, he vowed. I swear to God, I’ll burn it to the ground if they’ve touched her.
     
  12. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Guys, thank you so much for all your help, you have given me a lot to think about.

    I should clarify, I don't think that third person is less personal for the reader, I am concerned about my ability to write in third person. I think my writing is better in first person, but perhaps I just need more practice.

    I really appreciate your responses.
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Pretend you are writing in first person, but write he/she instead of I.
     
  14. traffic101
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    traffic101 Member

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    I'm the opposite, I love third person, but have a hard time reading first person writing. So I tend to make all my writing third person. I find it's great because I can switch view points from the main character to the villian, to a minor character and so on.

    With first person, you're stuck with just a one person show, so it's much harder.

    Either way sounds like you have an interesting story idea. Just make sure you have events that take place that help move the story along.
     

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