Monday, April 26, 2010

Characters & Viewpoint

Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you think you already know all about characters and viewpoints, think again. Most writing books will grant at most one chapter each, sometimes less; in Characters & Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card -- better known for Ender's Game -- devotes an entire book on the subjects.

Characters & Viewpoint, obviously, is a book geared towards writers. Depending on where you are in the craft, you'll find different parts of the book more useful than others. Even if you're just an avid reader, though, you'll still have something to take away in the appreciation of technique.

The first few chapters deal with character creation: no, not the usual stuff about names or physical descriptions, but more about motivations, backgrounds, habits, and how the character interacts with the story. Card points out four different types of stories: Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event; each type of story requires different handling of the characters. Towards the middle part of the book, Card discusses the development of characters and the classification of characters.

The last few chapters of the book I found the most useful, though, and simply because these were things I had never thought about before. Perhaps the most important idea (because this is where I'm weakest): the narrator of the book (regardless of whether it's first person or third person), must likewise be a character, a role that must also be written.

Card distinguishes between Representation and Presentation as a matter of technique and approach. These are concepts taken from Theater. In Representation, the characters (including the narrator) play to the audience through a Fourth Wall in order to maintain an illusion of reality. In Presentation, a character (the narrator) knowingly plays to the audience.

Finally, Card dissects the different approaches to viewpoint, identifying where each is most effective. First Person narratives, implicitly assume a distance in time, i.e., the story told is in the distant past, and is best used when attempting to show the internal psychology of the character. Third Person narratives are more immediate, but even then, there are so many varieties whose effectiveness varies with the story being told.

All in all, a great book to keep as reference for writers. I know I'll be keeping it handy.

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