Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Swapping perspectives to give characters depth

I spent some time today editing Chapter 5 of the Butterfly Lady and I came across a rather dull conversation where the protagonist stereotypically sympathized with a group that had been reviled as human-hating monsters (the Unseelie Court) who were so tainted by evil they were doomed to become demons. It wasn't a bad viewpoint. It made sense. There were reasons why the monsters could be considered sympathetic.

They were, after all, evil because they had chosen to stay and defend an increasingly toxic homeland rather than flee to greener pastures. The toxic nature of the land, known in my story as the Ihlander salt plains, had corrupted them. There's a certain element of the tragic in that which could invoke sympathy.
So my protagonist, predictably enough, is sympathetic towards their predicament.

Of course, to do this I ignored the fact that he was raised by a member of the Seelie Court when his mother had died. I ignored the fact that he would have been given at least a light dose of indoctrination. No, no, he's the protagonist and thus automatically sympathizes with their plight. While this is possible, it's hardly interesting, and was so predictable that the scene was dull because of it.

So I swapped the viewpoint of my protagonist with a spoiled nine-year-old kid who is a fan of gothic horror stories. The kid who loves gothic horror, of tragic pasts, evil destiny, and the rest, manages to see what the protagonist doesn't - that the Unseelie Court might be monsters, but they're sad and pathetic monsters who should be pitied. This simple switch breathed so much more life into the scene.

The conversation showed the protagonists' arrogance (he expected the kid's argument would be weak), the protagonist's flexibility and capacity for humility (rather than doggedly resisting the point, he could accept that it was a point well-made), made the exposition more interesting and removed the sense of lecturing (history lesson was vital but goody-two-shoes protagonist made it dull), and the interplay will make it far more understandable when the protagonist makes a certain decision later on in the novel.

The motto of the anecdote: Sometimes a writer has forced words in their protagonist's mouth. If a scene just doesn't ring true to you, perhaps see what happens when you swap the characters' perspectives.

No comments:

Post a Comment