Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Vivid and memorable characters aren’t born: they have to be made
This book is a set of tools: literary crowbars, chisels, mallets, pliers and tongs. Use them to pry, chip, yank and sift good characters out of the place where they live in your imagination.
Award-winning author Orson Scott Card explains in depth the techniques of inventing, developing and presenting characters, plus handling viewpoint in novels and short stories. With specific examples, he spells out your narrative options—the choices you’ll make in creating fictional people so “real” that readers will feel they know them like members of their own families.
You’ll learn how to:
Draw characters from a variety of sources
Make characters show who they are by the things they do and say, and by their individual “style”
Develop characters readers will love—or love to hate
Distinguish among major characters, minor characters and walk-ons, and develop each appropriately
Choose the most effective viewpoint to reveal the characters and move the storytelling
Decide how deeply you should explore your characters’ thoughts, emotions, and attitudes
Wow. That’s the first thing I have to say. The second would be… how quickly can I get it from Amazon?! I have to send this book back to the library tomorrow and I’m going to miss it.
I hope you read the description carefully, because what it claims is absolutely true. All too often, books on writing are not practical enough. They make the art sound fantastically cool, but the science remains maddeningly mysterious. Not so with this book. Mr. Card must have thought long and hard about his subject matter; it is so well organized and articulated that his points really are like “crowbars, chisels, mallets, pliers, and tongs”! The tools and principles he sets forth are that tangible. He breaks down what normally seems nebulous and subjective into something measurable, objective, and understandable. That is an intensely practical writing book! For example…
“It is a mistake to think that ‘good characterization’ is the same thing in every work of fiction. Different kinds of stories require different kinds of characters.
“But what are the different kinds of stories? Forget about publishing genres for a moment… Instead we’ll look at four basic factors that are present in every story, with varying degrees of emphasis…” (from Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card, page 62, emphasis added)
He then goes through these four factors–milieu, idea, character, and event–with great detail, explaining their differences and exploring applications. Do you see how practical that is?!
He points out important principles such as, “At the beginning of the story, all characters are equal–we don’t know any of them at all… if the cabdriver is in fact supposed to be minor, you could not begin the story with this scene. If these were the first five paragraphs of the story, we would naturally expect that the story was going to be about Nora and the cabby, and when Nora goes on through the story without ever seeing or even thinking of the cabdriver again, at some point the readers are going to ask, ‘What was that business with the cabdriver all about?'” (page 82)
No wonder I’m gobbling up this book as fast as I can…!* (Note: This review was originally published here in 2012.)
*Content notes on Characters and Viewpoint:
Most books on writing have the common, unfortunate malady of using rotten examples to illustrate points. This book does have some obnoxious examples. For this reason, I’d rate it PG or PG-13. In other words, you still have to buy this book, but before handing it to your young writer, do go through with a good ol’ Sharpie. 😉
I also wanted to note that its writing style is not geared toward children. Youngish writers will still benefit hugely from reading it, however, they will just need to be committed.