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:~: Wednesday, August 02, 2006 :~:

Deepening Character with a Powerful Tri-fecta: Internals, POV Filters & Props

Part II

Welcome back from Nationals--you lucky bums you!

I want to congratulate all the Golden Heart and Rita Winners for 2006, and if I could find a list of everyone who won, I would name you all here with personal kudos, but since I can't seem to locate said list online, I'm giving one contratulatory WHOOP for everyone!!

And a BIG thank you to Elisabeth for standing in for me at the ceremony.

To help you get into the routine of everyday life again, join in our discussion of deepening characters. Check out last week's post: The Tri-fecta of getting deeper into your character: Internals, POV Filters & Props, Part I. I blogged about internals: how getting inside your character's head allows the reader to do the same, giving them the experience of living vicariously through the character you've oh-so-beautifully created (or something to that affect).

This week--POV filters (and how you can use them to make your characters distinctive. Unique, memorable characters--that's what we're all striving for.)

Each of us sees our world differently based on our personality, our past, our peers...the reasons for our unique perspectives are endless. When developing your characters, knowing where they've been and how it has shaped them into individuals is imperative to creating a unique and believable cast.

To start with a simplified example, let's say Cassie (heroine) sees her world through a RED filter; Rio (hero) sees his world through a YELLOW filter. When Cassie looks at the sky, she sees purple. When Rio looks at the sky, he sees orange.

Now, let's put that into practice with their character.

Backstory: You'll need a bit of your character's history to decide what filter your character views life through. Here's my heroine's...

Cassie had a perfect childhood with her mother, surrounded by love, money, friends and security. Her stepfather (selfish and manipulative) came into the picture when she was sixteen, tilting everything off kilter and setting off a string of troubled situations. In his attempts to control her, her stepfather bugged her room, had her followed and interfered in every aspect of her life through manipulation and bribery.

After she left home for college, her relationships with her beloved mother and stepbrother suffered because her stepfather's psychosis worsened and started to affect their behavior as well.

While in the early years of medical school, she dated a man who attempted to rape her on their third date--her first brush with true violence. She was emotionally and physically scared. A strong personality to begin with, her vulnerability has shamed her. Self-disgust over her naivety kept her from turning to others for help and she retreated into herself, regaining "control" over her life by drowning herself in her medical studies and residency.

During the last year of her residency, three years after the attempted rape, her mother and brother are killed in a boating accident. The trauma of losing the last of her family sets back any recovery she'd attempted, and her return to a more normal and balanced life is thwarted.

This is where my story begins.

In Cassie's case, her filter is SUSPICION and FEAR. To add conflict, her strong independent personality combined with the sudden changes in her past and experience from medical school has developed an almost severe need to control her environment. Lingering beneath that, her happy childhood with a doting, loving mother has ingrained a deep inner need to love and be loved. Not only do these traits clash with each other, they war against the filter that has become as much a part of her as her eye color.

Here are some examples from Safe in Enemy Arms I hope will illustrate that explanation.

Example 1: The sea to her right spread like ink into the distance. The coal-black mountains to her left loomed against a plum sky. Behind her--nothing. Ahead, only the asphalt beneath her high beams. The only sign of life came every fifteen or twenty minutes in the form of headlights on the opposite side of the road. With each mile, the isolation sank a little deeper into her bones. Anxiety had already taken hold with pressure in her chest, tingling in her fingers. Her heart thumped a little too quickly against her throat.

Result: She sees the landscape through her filter of SUSPICION and FEAR. Another person in her situation--exhausted from residency, taking three months off to go to Baja and tie up personal business--might feel relaxed, relieved. They might even be looking forward to closing one chapter of their life and starting anew. They could see the landscape as peaceful and soothing, not ominous and desolate and threatening.

Example 2: Cassie caught sight of a large man silhouetted against the truck, blocking her view of the back and making her rethink the decision to stop. "Make sure you send the policia, por favor."

Result: Cassie immediately sees the man as a threat. Many women would see a man as a source of security; someone uninjured as someone who could help. But Cassie's filter of SUSPICION and FEAR automatically make her distrustful.

Example 3: When the first police car arrived, she considered unloading all her suspicions. An elemental part of her wanted to insist, no order, the cops to arrest these men. But with the rampant corruption of Mexican officials, she knew a few hundred pesos would render this officer blind to anything but an unfortunate accident. Instead of labeling herself a suspicious outsider with local authorities, she gave a concise report of the incident and went back to work.

Result: The internals within this passage make her thoughts, and the filter through which she views life, clear. Mexican cops are dishonest. Not only won't they help her or these poor women, the cop could also be a threat to Cassie's safety. Her filter, created from past experiences, affect her opinions and her decisions.

Example 4: (This passage is taken later in the story, chapter 2. She's seen Rio in town and believes he's following her.) Of all the nerve. Saul had put his watchdog on her ass, just one of many controlling techniques he'd used on her as a teen. A grown woman, a doctor, sole owner of everything Saul now had, and he still treated her like a naive, ignorant child.

Results: She hasn't confronted Rio yet, so she doesn't know for a fact that he is following her. But with the SUSPICION and FEAR filter in place, along with the knowledge (shown through internals and interaction between them in chapter one) of her past relationship with her stepfather (Saul), the reader can accept the fact that Cassie was on alert and when she spots Rio, her natural instinct is to believe she'd been followed.

Is this stuff making sense? I'm trying to make it clear, but my mind is often gets swampy when I try to explain something that is more of an intuitive "sense" of a concept than a concrete application.

Questions? Comments?

Next week: Props -- my favorite of the tri-fecta.


Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Great examples, J. What filters does Rio see the world through?

8:50 PM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

That is a very good question...one I thought I knew, but when I sat down to write out the answer, found I couldn't. I had to think about it--which made me focus on Rio, forced me to get into his head and understand him.

Rio also sees the world through a filter of fear...which made me realize, it's important to specify, or narrow that filter down.

Cassie fears physical danger as a result of the attempted rape, the battery she suffered at the hands of someone she thought she knew, thought she could trust.

This manifests itself in the way she crawls inside herself. When she's forced into the open, she's rigid and prickly, showing a strength she doesn't feel but believes she needs to convey to stay safe--to keep others at a distance.

Rio fears failure, and he fears losing someone he loves. This stems from the murder of his sister when he was little, his inability to help her at the time, the sense of failure he's lived with because of that.

This manifests itself in his career--seeking justice for the weak and manipulated (usually women and children sold in an attempt to get over the border) and punishment for the perpetrator. To this end Rio needs a constant sense of control in every aspect of his life, especially with women, which has caused problems in past relationships and which challenges him in dealing with Cassie.

I'm still thinking about this...how to narrow it down and clarify. I may go back through past characters and see if I can define some filters and the manifestations of those to hone the theory a bit.

Great question, E.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Evanne said...

I read, blogs included for two basic reasons - entertainment and education. Romance worth killing for offers both.

The craft articles, with Joan's analytic apprach of writing always make me think.

Thanks for another great post.

12:53 PM  

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