Create multiple perspectives?
Posted by inkpop on November 21, 2009
inktip #8: Beautiful Americans author Lucy Silag shares her experiences with writing a story from multiple points of view
Bear with me—I’m going to get heavy for a second.
In a Pomp and Circumstance magazine interview, musician Casey Spooner of Fischerspooner makes a good point: “The artistic crisis is when you don’t feel like you have a point of view with what you’re doing. So you always have to come up with what that point of view is going to be.”
Same goes for developing perspective in fiction and nonfiction—which involves crawling into the minds of your characters to figure out what really makes them tick. Creating a character’s perspective—the way she views her place in the world and the story—is a critical part of the character-development process.
Author Lucy Silag knows a thing or two about character perspective. In her trilogy, Beautiful Americans, Silag is careful to make sure the voices of her four co-narrators (Zack, Alex, Olivia, and PJ) are easily distinguishable. “Since the book switches back and forth between all the characters, I don’t want my reader having to flip around trying to remember who’s talking,” Silag says. “Writing from multiple perspectives seemed to be the best way for the reader to get close to my characters—by reading their most private thoughts in the first person—but also showing a variety of experiences in the gorgeous city of Paris.”
Now working on the final installment of her trilogy, Experienced, Silag, 27, is also obtaining her fiction MFA at the University of Iowa, where she teaches Rhetoric to undergraduates. Here she gives tips on developing perspective and writing from multiple points of view.
WHEN TO WRITE FROM MULTIPLE POINTS OF VIEW
Trying to decide whether to write from one point of view or several? The answer lies in how to best tell a story.
Many stories are best served by a single point of view. For instance, Sex and the City needs Carrie to anchor the show and be the one to tell the story for all the girls, Silag says. “Memoirs, which might be my very favorite genre, don’t take anyone else’s point of view into account, and that’s what makes many of them so engaging and moving,” she says. “I wanted to tell four stories, so all four characters have to share center stage.”
FIRST THINGS FIRST: FLESH OUT THE DETAILS
Just like we covered in the “Create Compelling Characters” inktips post, getting to know your characters is critical for developing a story and perspective.
Silag invests a day or two into writing everything she knows about her characters: when and where they were born, the name of their best friend, what they’re into, etc. “Nothing is too detailed for this step in the process,” Silag says. “I save it to my computer to open when I can’t remember something about someone—what town in Iowa are they from? Who’s mom worked as a flight attendant? It helps me stay organized, and also shows me if I am making any of the characters too similar to be distinguishable on the page.”
MAKE THE CHARACTERS’ VOICES EASILY DISTINGUISHABLE
Once you’ve nailed the nitty-gritty character details, it’s time to figure out how to make their voices easily distinguishable.
The four narrators of Beautiful Americans come from wildly different backgrounds, Silag says. “Even though Zack’s a stylish, witty, sensitive guy, he’s also from the South and prone to getting nostalgic for pickup trucks and vintage Dolly Parton,” she says. “Alex tells her reader when things are just deplorable or when they are absolutely fantastic. Olivia’s a romantic, always noticing the underlying passion of things. And PJ’s running scared from a troubled past—so she’s jerky, sort of hyper, not ever sure of herself.”
GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS A TELLTALE TRAIT
Giving characters a catchphrase, signature item of clothing, or habitual behavior serves as a memory trick for readers to hang onto. Carrie from Sex and the City is known for her obsession with Manolo Blahniks, and Samantha always says, “Fabulous!” “Because we know how she’ll react to something that happens in the story, we get to know her, and like her, really quickly,” Silag says.
This writing trick centers on the old rule of “Show, don’t tell,” Silag says. “If a character can’t stop doing something, such as twirling her hair, doesn’t that give you such a great mental image of them, and suggest things about who they are and how they feel?”
As an example, here are the signature items for each of the four Beautiful Americans characters:
PJ: A favorite old sweater that used to belong to her dad
Alex: Lipgloss and a huge, expensive leather bag
Zack: Thick-framed hipster sunglasses
Olivia: Warm-ups, Ugg boots, and the fact that she is always running off to dance class or rehearsal
DIVE INTO DIVERSITY
Appealing to a variety of audiences is one of the benefits of writing a story from multiple perspectives—the reader gets to relate to several main characters. For instance, Silag has received “wonderful feedback” from male readers. “I’m not sure if they would have liked the book as much if I hadn’t had a guy’s perspective,” she says.
So does Silag ever worry that her books’ multiple points of view will make one narrator’s perspective more compelling than another’s?
“Yes, definitely,” she says. “Some of my characters in Beautiful Americans are more forthcoming than others. Balancing those impulses in terms of what my characters would want to reveal is actually one of the most challenging things in these books.”
The inkpop blog is written by inkpopAmy
inkpop Forums topic: What are your characters’ signature items?