I hope you're having a safe and happy Labor Day weekend. A reminder: Today's the last day to take advantage of my e-book giveaway.
And another reminder that I'm hosting a month-long discussion of characters at Coffee Time Romance. It's free, and you can drop in any time. And thinking about characters leads me to today's post.
When authors put a character on the page, they've made a decision as to whether or not it will be a POV character. In my opinion, if you're going to make a character a POV character, there needs to be a good reason for it.
If the only reason you're adding a POV character is to show his thoughts, then you should probably re-think it and see if there's another way to get that information to the reader. We live in a single POV world. A POV character has to be critical for plot advancement, not author convenience.
In romance, it's a 'given' that there will be two POV protagonists: hero and heroine. There might be more, but there are always at least two.
Mysteries are another genre. Most mysteries I read feature some kind of crime-solving detective, and often, they're part of a series where the same character heads up the entire series.
And then there's suspense, which by nature, requires more than one POV character, because the reader needs to know more than the protagonist—hence, the suspense.
A recent read falls into the suspense category (the back cover calls it a thriller, but I disagree with the recent overuse of the term). As someone who definitely prefers to connect with characters, I tried to step back and examine why the book works for me.
Because the author is using so many POV characters, there's not a single character to get behind, to care about. Technically, as a character-focused reader and writer, I shouldn't be enjoying the book. So why am I? I think it's because despite the complexities of writing multiple POV characters, the author has worked to avoid distancing readers.
1. Readers should connect with each POV character, one way or the other. Show us the stakes.
For example, there's the kindly rancher who harbors the children who claim to have witnessed a murder. They're afraid because the killers have seen them. We know the children are telling the truth, because we've seen it. The rancher's conflict is whether or not to reveal that he has the children. He knows their mother is frantic with worry. But can he trust the people who are supposed to be the good guys when the children say they're really the bad guys?
2. Character back story needs to be woven in with the same care you'd take for a single or dual POV character story.
To layer character depth here, long before the rancher and the children come into contact, we see that he's in danger of losing his ranch, that he has had marital problems, and he's lost his son. In short, he's a 'real' person with real-life issues beyond wondering what to do about two kids who need help.
The flip side to having so many POV characters is that we're constantly being shifted from one to the other. If a reader doesn't connect with one of the characters, it's quite possible they're going to skip over those scenes. Each character requires its own introduction, creating even more opportunities for the author to lose readers with dumping back story so many times. The author has to make sure we don't wonder why he's introducing the rancher's financial and marital problems when it appears there's no connection to the mystery.
3. Transitions between characters must be logical and clearly ground the reader in the POV character's head.
This is more of a challenge in books with many POV characters. Simply because switches are clearly marked with scene breaks or extra spacing doesn't make things flow smoothly. The reader still has to regroup and figure out which character's head we're in now.
An author wants a reader to turn pages. Wondering what happens in the story is definitely a reason a reader will keep going. But making your reader wonder what's happening to the character in addition to following the story is even better.
Tomorrow, my guest is author Kelly McClymer who's going to discuss the downside she's encountered with her expansion to indie publishing
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