As a norm, when we talk about POV in a novel, we think about the narrator. Is the story written in 1st person, 3rd close, 3rd distant, 3rd omniscient, or even in the 2nd. We think of the narrator, and we stop there. In reality, there are also other points of view, and we need to be aware of all of them.
When you craft story, and add conflicts, create tension accumulation points that’ll send your characters through crisis mode, you need to have clear in mind where do they come from.
Not all characters are born equal, and they are not boards to stick your dialogues to, nor just names and physical (if even needed) descriptions. You have to think in terms of “persona” to understand the “whats”, the “hows”, and the “whys” of each of them.
Matters not whether you decide to write in 1st person, or 3rd, or establish a one-on-one dialogue with the reader and use the 2nd, characters are never omniscient, only the writer is and even when the narration is in 3rd person omniscient, with a narrator off-stage voice showing the story to the readers and taking them through the plot, not everything can be said or done by any character at any point in time in the storyline. You need to ask your characters specific questions and their answers are unique.
Some authors do create characters’ cards, and build a personality with many details; some ( if not most of them ) will never appear in the story, even, but serve the purpose of creating their “persona” in the writer’s mind. The important thing to keep in mind is that characters don’t know everything, nor they will in the story. Some will die without even knowing why, but that’s another matter. So, what could we ask characters to help us understand what, how, and why they will react in a certain way as they travel through the plot? It will also help understand their mutual interactions. It all depends on what do they know.
• What do they know? – At any point in time, before any interaction, we need to know the level of knowledge characters have of elements of the plot. And if they do, the level of accuracy of that knowledge. If this information is blurred in the writer’s mind, actions, dialogues, interactions will negate the character “persona” and result phony or artificial, gimmicky and plain wrong to the reader. There’s nothing worse than a character saying or doing things based on information s/he can’t possibly have or suspect.
• How do they know it? – Did they witness it, were they told, did they learn or researched that information? This too will influence their interactions. Are they sure of what they know? (witnessed, seen or heard directly), if not, can they trust their source? Knowing something is not black and white. Can the character be certain of how she will deal with the information she has acquired? Again, if this is blurred in the writer’s mind, or if no attention is given to this aspect of character’s knowledge, the result is always loss of credibility, inconsistency, and lack of plausibility.
• What are the restrictions on what they can tell and/or know? – We’re not equal, and certainly aren’t our characters. A character can have a first hand, direct acquisition of crucial information in our plots and, yet, unable to do anything with it. A janitor can hear and witness two physicist discuss a discovery and write downthe solution on the blackboard, but would that character know anything about what s/he came to know? So, be aware that even if characters know something, that knowledge is filtered by their “persona”. Have a blurred persona, be lax on the limitations and restrictions that each character has and you will create inconsistencies, you will break the readers’ suspension belief and you will lose credibility.
• From what point in time, relative to the action you are describing, the characters become involved with what they do know? – Knowledge can burn inside, memory can be affected by emotion, a character who ‘knows’ something for a long time will react in a different way than another who learns of the same thing when the action takes place.
There could be other crucial questions you might ask characters, either consciously or unconsciously, but one thing is certain, if characters know more than you, the writer, do, your story is in jeopardy.
Post by Massimo Marino