Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo Day Three: POV Character

Happy Wednesday!  Welcome to my impromptu countdown to NaNoWriMo, which you can read more about here and here.  To celebrate/prepare for the month of madness, I'm recapping some of the workshops I attended at the Highlights Foundation Writer's Workshop at Chautauqua, NY in July, because they were full of gold nuggets and wonderful bits of wisdom.  (Yanno, the kind of wisdom that comes in handy when you're writing 50,000 words in 30 days...)

Pressing on.

Today's gold nuggets are from a workshop by author Sandy Asher, titled "Who's story is this?  And why?  And are you sure?"  In other words... all about your Point of View Character.


All characters need at least one of these crucial items:
1.      Safety/Security
2.      Acceptance/Belonging
3.      Love
4.      Independence
5.      Recognition/Esteem
6.      Empowerment
7.      Self-actualization  

You have to decide who of your characters has the greatest need, and thus, who is driving the story forward.  It is crucial to know why characters are in your story at all, and what they are trying to accomplish there.

Needs 1-3 are good for very young readers. (Early childhood.)  4-6 are good for adolescents.
- Getting these needs met, plus maintaining the first three, keep us busy for a lifetime.  Safety, security, and trust are much more complicated to a high school student than to a young child; thus creating a more complex situation.  (“I wish someone cared where I was at midnight.”  Rules are a comfort to older kids.)

- With teenagers, needs begin to conflict with one another.  You want to belong, even as you want to assert your independence.  To become an adult, a teenager has to become more like his/her parents.  To become an individual, a teenager must become LESS like his/her parents.

- These needs are constantly in play, constantly interacting with one another.  And as they crash against each other, conflict arises, creating STORY.
- Every time a character enters a scene, he knows what he needs, or he wouldn’t enter the scene in the first place. 

- The underlying need not only affects why we do the things we do, but also HOW we do them.  Determines the level of desperation, as well as the tolerance for failure.

- What your character wants may be exactly the WRONG thing to get him what he needs.  He may get what he wants, and still not get what he needs.

- When a story is too thin, or a character lacks dimension, it is often because you present what HAPPENS without presenting the WHY.  This is an opportunity to travel deep inside a character.

- Real, basic human needs in stories keep readers coming back again and again for more.  It keeps the same story fresh and significant.  We instinctively understand that need.  Every person acts instinctively out of his or her needs.  And the people around them react.  It is an action driven from inside.  SO it behooves you to know why and how your characters are acting in a particular scene.  If you can’t figure it out, perhaps there is no need for the scene?  Or perhaps that is not, in fact, your main character.

Ultimately: the main character is the one whose needs and wants are so strong, they drive every scene and every chapter irresistibly forward.

Any thoughts?  How do you decide on your protagonist?  Does your main character have clear needs and wants, or is that something you can tweak before you begin?


  1. I love your preperation for the big month!!!

    My MC knows what's best for you them and they drive me to continue to write to allow them to work out their goals. I learn more as I write, the beginning wants and needs often differ by the end!

    Good luck! Can't wait to watch your progress!

  2. Can I have 3 main characters? I mean, if Jonathan Franzen can have 5....

    If so - I think I'm on an alright track! Ana needs 1,2,3. Paul needs 4,5,6. And Charlie needs, 2,4,7.

    These posts are really helping!

  3. HOLY CRAP! Best NaNo preparation stuff I've come across so far! I am literally (okay not really) HUGGING Jen right now for telling me to come check you out because your having a Harry Potter pre-release party and she wanted to go! Being an avid HP fan as well I jumped right over... And SO glad I did!

  4. Jen, thanks! I love it when characters dictate to you as you go. It's an awesome phenomenon... but sometimes it makes me feel sort of unimportant. Like I want to say to my kids--er, characters in a whiny, wounded voice, "You're only using me for my words!"

    Nicole, anything Jonathan Franzen can do, you can do better... So take as many main characters as you want! I'm glad you like these workshops. They were great fun for me.

    Melissa, I'm so glad you stopped by. And yes, I'm definitely having a pre-premier Potter Party which promises to be awesome. If you lived nearby, I would definitely invite you. The more Potterheads the merrier!