This week's Refresher Friday takes another look at dealing with out of balance POV characters. Enjoy!
One of the hurdles of having a dual point of view (POV) is making sure readers like and care about both characters in the story. This is doubly hard if there’s conflict between them, but that conflict is something to be overcome, not the thing holding them back (as in, the second POV isn’t the bad guy).
It’s not unusual for one POV to pull ahead of the other in these situations. One is more developed, more likable, more sympathetic. He just have more charisma than the other--which creates a problem if you want readers to like them equally. What do you do when you know you have a “better half?”
What Do You Mean You Don’t Like Me?
I was once chugging along on a manuscript when I noticed that my male POV was a lot more likable than my female POV. There was a pretty good chance that readers would identify with him and feel negatively toward her. She’s not dislikable or anything, but she's a cool, calculated spy, and she came across that way. That was fine when it was a one-person POV spy novel (cause she was pretty cool), but after I added the second POV and a romance angle, she needed to be warmer. She needed to be a good match for the male love interest. And she wasn't.
A more likable character leads to readers being more interested in that plotline, and you could risk one whole side of your book being skimmed or worse, disliked, if readers don’t care about the other character. Not good for a story.
(Here's more on creating likable characters)
Concern for Others
Showing a likable quality helps readers like a character. Concern for others is a nice trait, so I added in a layer of caring. My female POV started worrying more about the people in her life (like the eventual love interest). She still had her own selfish concerns of course, but she was aware of how other people were affected, and that made her nicer.
Ways to Make Your Character Care:
- Show a concern for someone who is often ignored
- Let her stick up for the downtrodden
- Try to right an injustice
- Disagree with something universally accepted as bad
- Have her be kind to animals or children
(Here's more on writing characters whose loyalty is uncertain)
Uncertainty About Her Own Beliefs
My girl started the story as a firm believer in what she was doing, but by the end of it, her views on right and wrong would change. Not getting to that soon enough was making her feel a little self righteous (and bad), so I let her second-guess a few things about her mission, question her motives, and react to things in a negative way that normally would have seemed normal to her.
Ways to Question Beliefs:
- Have her realize she's done something bad
- Have her reluctant to do what has always come naturally to her
- Let her question what is truth
- Have her react differently to something than she expects
- Show her disapproving of someone doing what they’d normally do
(Here's more on working with multiple POV characters)
Show a Sympathetic Side
Since she was my protagonist, it was important for readers to sympathize with her. Trouble was, the way I’d set it up originally, her actions toward the other POV made that hard to do. Readers liked him way more, so anyone who was mean to him was “bad.” No one was going to like her just because I said so. I had to show that she was in a bad spot, doing what she had to do, and would have done things differently if given a chance.
Ways to Generate Sympathy:
- Show the character in a tough moral situation
- Let her regret things she has to do
- Show her desire to be more or do better
- Show what’s holding her back from becoming what she wants
- Let her try, not matter how bleak her chances at winning
- Hint or show what she could be like if she did win
(Here's more on making an unhappy character likable)
Give Them Goals Worth Rooting For
This was a particular challenge for me, because winning wasn’t so black and white in this story. Both sides had a lot of wrong assumptions, and neither was really right. And if readers preferred my male POV, then there’s a very good chance they’d consider his perspective the right one and think my female POV was the bad guy. I had to show that her ultimate goal meshed with his, and that her beliefs were every bit as important. Readers needed to want her to win, same as they wanted my male POV to win.
Ways to Create Rootable Goals:
- Let readers know what the character wants and why
- Show the value in what she wants
- Show how that goal also has value to the other POV or characters
- Show the stakes and why failing at this goal is bad
- Show that things aren’t so black and white and maybe the “right” side isn’t so right
- Let the character care about it personally
- Make it something that readers can relate to or at least understand
(Here's more on creating compelling, yet unlikable characters)
I was much happier with her POV when I was done. Having a little mystery and uncertainty to her character at first was also a nice hook and added tension overall. Redeeming her was something I played with later, and that “I like her but I don’t trust her” feeling worked very well in that regard.
If you run into a not-as-likable character as the other POV characters, look to see where you’re weak.
- Are they not coming across as caring?
- Do their goals not matter on a personal level?
- Are they unsympathetic?
- Are they mean?
- Are they too negative toward a well-liked character?
- Are there enough reasons to like them?
Have you ever written a less-than-likable character? What about one POV that steals the show?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel.
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
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