i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

Book review: Characters and Viewpoint

July 21, 2007

Orson Scott Card is a great writer. I loved Ender's Game and cried at the end. I read a Russian fairytale book by him, which may or may not have been called The Rose. I also read Sarai, which is a biblical story, which was not so bad, as far as those types of stories go. When I heard that Orson Scott Card was the author of Characters and Viewpoint, I knew I had to read it.

I enjoyed this book. i was familiar with the "MICE" Quotient, having taken classes with Timons Esaias, who introduced it in his lectures, but most of the information was new and presented in an effective and enjoyable to read manner. I particularly enjoyed Part III: The Performing Characters.

This is something I'm struggling with in my novel: who's story is this and who's voice best tells the story? I've been experiments with different takes, seem to have settled on the viewpoint of my protagonist Daniel, told in first person past, but I seem to slip into first person present sometimes, which gets confusing for me, the writer, and for the audience.

Card's chapter on first person narration gives me some pointers that I will need to keep in mind as I write: First, there's no "fourth wall" - everything is open to the reader, in otherwords, the narrator must have a reason for telling the story and an audience in mind. I am attempting to tell with this by having the story told from the perspective of Daniel as an old man and Daniel as a thirteen year old, but this isn't working for a variety of reasons. I'm still working on figuring all this out.

Next, if the narrator is unreliable, this must be establshed early. I like the idea of this, and have experimented with it in short stories, but I am not yet brave enough to attempt this with a book. My narrator tells what he believes to be true, and a big part of the book is Daniel's discovery that not everyone is that same as him in this respect.

Card notes a technical problem with first-person stories, and that is the withholding of information. The reader gets frustrated with the narrator who knows something and keeps it intentionally hidden, and yet it is essential for the story that the narrator allow some of the discovery to occur on the part of the reader.

In other words, if the narrator says: "and then they all died" or something right at the beginning, there's nothing to compell the reader to continue throughout the rest of the story. Also, having the narrator's life in jeopardy won't be as suspenseful, since obviously the narrator lived to tell the tale. The trick then is to keep this issues in mind and work with them, instead of struggling against them. Duly noted, Mr. Card.

The most useful tidbit I gleaned from this book came in the section "Levels of Penetration," which sounds naughty, but is not. Instead, Card provides illustrations to help the writer visualize camera angles for the different POVs (i.e. omniscent sees all, first-person sees through one person's eyes while limited third person focuses on one character, etc.) These pictures helped me gain a better sense of POV, which is often confusing to the beginning writer (i.e. me).

Anyway, I borrowed this book from the library, but I've added it to the list of books I want to buy, which is saying a lot, believe me. Any writer who hasn't read this book should check it out.

Moira at 3:14 PM :: Comments (1) :: ::

I've never looked into Card's MICE theory, though I have used some of his online workshops in my teaching. Thanks for pointing me in this direction.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at July 22, 2007 10:07 AM
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