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Thursday, July 22, 2010

WRITING FIRST PERSON: How to develop other characters when trapped in your main character’s point of view.

Please welcome guest blogger Linda Robertson

Or, Do MORE with your supporting cast.

Let’s face it, writing in First Person is a very intimate and personal point of view (POV), but it has some limiting drawbacks. In order to “flesh out” those people around your main character (MC) so they aren’t flat and boring means giving them a lot of time interacting with the MC. This can be tough to plot. Or, what if your heroine is enamored with a guy who’s not what he seems, but has expertly allowed her to see only that? What if she thinks a local farmhand is an ass because she saw something she didn’t know all the facts on?

Sure, your MC could go confront these people and find out.

But, you could also have others get in the way. Others who discover what she’s up to. Others who may have an agenda of their own and misguide her, or perhaps they set her straight but it’s not what she expected. Now you have a conflicted heroine. Conflict is good.

In FATAL CIRCLE (example excerpt below) my MC, Persephone, is bound to a certain handsome vampire and that’s not something her boyfriend is happy about. The Witch Elders have come for an impromptu breakfast, and their leader discovers the vampire happens to have crashed in the MC's basement.


Drawn to the kitchen where I could be almost alone, I opened up the joke book. The sticky-notes

had joke questions on the front, answers on the back. I should have remembered before they’d gone out the door. Such a small detail, but it had become clear these meant something to Beverley. She read the joke to the other kids at the lunch table. It was winning her friends.

“My life is getting in the way of her life being normal.”

It was never my intention to see how much this child could be expected to tolerate, but damn, she seemed to be taking it in stride better than I was. Maybe I’m not good enough to be a parent.

“Persephone.” Nana’s voice was soft.

Stuffing my despondency deep down and plastering on an “I’m okay” expression, I grabbed the carafe because it was the only thing within reach. “Coffee?”

She snorted and said, “Sure,” then came and leaned on the counter beside me. I poured two cups, and neither of them was my favorite Lady of Shalott mug. We drank in silence, side by side, listening to the chatter that had picked up again in the next room.

Before I’d finished the coffee, Johnny returned. He entered by the front door, passed through the living room and dining room, checking on the gathered witches and inquiring if they’d had enough to eat. They claimed they had and complimented him on his culinary skills. Someone remarked, “Your pancakes are as fluffy as a cloud.”

“Well, you would know,” he replied, “flying around on brooms like you do.”

He came into the kitchen and, seeing Nana and me, wagged the empty platters and whispered, “They didn’t leave a crumb,” before stacking them in the sink. “I thought only wæres and teenage boys had claim to the appetite crown, but damn, those seven little old ladies can chow down!”

“There’s still coffee.” I lifted the carafe again.

He took it and poured himself a cup. Derisively, he asked, “So what are we going to do about the corpse in your cellar?”

“Corpse?” Nana echoed, voice hollow.

“He means Menessos.”

“He’s here?”

“Yes.” The chatter in the other room had stopped.

Xerxadrea appeared in the doorway. “You must make Menessos tell you the truth.”

“Finally!” Johnny exclaimed.

“Huh?” I asked.

“I’m not the only one who thinks Menessos is a liar.” Johnny grinned over the edge of his mug.

“Do not add implications to my words, young man,” Xerxadrea snapped. “I insinuated nothing of the sort.” Though her patriotic velour jog suit was quirky, her formidability was undeniable. “Menessos is many things,” she went on, her voice firm but without the condemnation. “He embodies things you fear, things you envy, and things you cannot comprehend, but he is not a liar.”

Before Johnny could protest, she raised a hand and added, “Oh, you can argue he twists facts to suit himself, but what he truly does is so much more than that. He can instantly take all the information he’s acquired and accurately discern which words—and what order—will produce the best advantage for his purposes.”

“My bad,” Johnny muttered. “He’s not a liar, he’s a manipulating ass.”

Again, I couldn’t intervene because Xerxadrea was quicker.

“Omitting the unaccommodating words doesn’t make him a liar or an ass. It makes him a master.” She

pointed at Johnny. “Perhaps you would learn a few things if you would but try to see beyond your own conflict, and see his.”

Johnny’s silence couldn’t disguise the fact that he resented her scolding. It was conveyed in his raised chin and rigid spine.

Xerxadrea continued. “His perception has been transformed by eons of blood. He has worn the fabric of this world for so long it’s threadbare and holds no mysteries for him now. He has mastered the patterns. Whatever moment in time you’re bitterly clinging to and trying to alter . . . it’s merely a thread to him. He can sever it as easily as he can fray it into a hellish and frantic existence for you. Or he can reweave that thread, making those seconds produce an outcome to fit the necessary and inevitable truth he uniquely sees, and it is that truth of which I spoke.”

She gestured to me, and held out her arm. “Take me to him, Persephone. We must speak with him privately, you and I.”


In the scene above, you see the witch Xerxadrea give everyone her opinion of the vampire—and it’s not as unflattering as expected. Seeing the offense Johnny takes to all this tells us more about him, too.

But your supporting cast can't suddenly change their demeanors just so you can inject some info into the story. These characters stay true to who they are: Xerxadrea is authoritative. Johnny’s sense of humor and his dislike of the vampire are both accounted for. Even Persephone, being swept away by this destiny she cannot avoid, is drawn into Xerxadrea’s plan to speak with the vampire.

So look at your supporting cast and consider your scenes. Who do you have available? Who might have a persona that would clash with someone elses? What information would these people have? Who might have a different opinion? Where can these people give information (where meaning in the story, AND where in setting), where can their words and actions make them broader, fuller characters, rather than just set decorations? Go a step further: Who has the motive (not necessarily malicious) and the ability to make things harder for the MC?

Once you've got all that, sit back and rub your hands together and laugh like an evil scientist plotting world domination. That's what I do, anyway.

Linda Robertson is the author of the Persephone Alcmedi series for Pocket Books, featuring a witch struggling with her destiny and aided by the wærewolf rocker Johnny and the master vampire Menessos. The series includes VICIOUS CIRCLE, HALLOWED CIRCLE and the just released FATAL CIRCLE. ARCANE CIRCLE will be released in January 2011.

No stranger to rock-n-roll, Linda was once a lead guitarist in a metal cover band. She holds a cum laude Associates Degree in English, and has also previously been a Art Director for a realty company and a Realtor. Now the stay-home mother of four boys, she juggles her writing time around them and the two big dogs constantly at her feet. Her website is www.wolfsbaneandabsinthe.com

Fatal Circle
Destiny sucks. . . .

There was a time when Persephone Alcmedi thought her life was hard to manage, what with wondering how to make sure she took adequate care of both her grandmother and her foster daughter, Beverley, whether she’d end up in the unwanted position of high priestess of a coven, and whether her wærewolf lover, Johnny, would resist the groupies who hang around his band Lycanthropia.

But that was before the fairies started demanding that Seph’s frightening, unpredictable ally—the ancient vampire Menessos— be destroyed . . . or the world will suffer. Seph and Menessos are magically bonded, but that’s a secret she dares not reveal to her fellow witches lest they be forced to reject her and forbid her use of magic. And, despite the strain this casts on her relationship with Johnny, as a showdown with the fairies nears, she and Menessos badly need the wærewolves as allies.

Life, death, and love are all on the line, but when destiny is calling, it doesn’t help to turn away. With the individual threads of their fates twisted inextricably together, can Seph, Johnny, and Menessos keep the world safe from fairy vengeance?


Anonymous said...

Nicely said. You illustrate this concept really well. It's a difficult POV to write, but I love writing it. Thanks for this it's helpful.

Linda Robertson said...

Thanks Lynn!!

Anonymous said...

Many a true word is spoken in jest..................................................................