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Thread: Every POV character needs to have a "journey"?

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    figuring it all out ardenbird's Avatar
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    Every POV character needs to have a "journey"?

    I've just heard this... Do you agree that every POV character in a novel should make some kind of meaningful journey? (like a character-change, lesson-learned, etc.)

    I hadn't really thought about it. My current WIP has the MC with a major journey, two minor POV characters with fairly major journeys, and two minor POV characters that don't really change much. I'm wondering if I should rewrite to give the latter two some sort of journey (even if it's minor), pick new minor POV characters (one of them sits right next to another character that has a major journey, but isn't actually a POV character), or delete those POVs entirely.

    Or, does it matter? Can I have POV characters that just give a better sense of the world (I'm writing a fantasy) and provide a perspective to the reader that they wouldn't otherwise get?

    What are people's opinions on this?

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW
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    No, not every POV character needs to have a journey.

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    practical experience, FTW srgalactica's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ardenbird View Post
    I've just heard this... Do you agree that every POV character in a novel should make some kind of meaningful journey? (like a character-change, lesson-learned, etc.)

    I hadn't really thought about it. My current WIP has the MC with a major journey, two minor POV characters with fairly major journeys, and two minor POV characters that don't really change much. I'm wondering if I should rewrite to give the latter two some sort of journey (even if it's minor), pick new minor POV characters (one of them sits right next to another character that has a major journey, but isn't actually a POV character), or delete those POVs entirely.

    Or, does it matter? Can I have POV characters that just give a better sense of the world (I'm writing a fantasy) and provide a perspective to the reader that they wouldn't otherwise get?

    What are people's opinions on this?
    By no means am I an expert, so this is just my own take on how I like to write. For me, the more important the character, the larger journey I want them to have. My FMC's internal journey is pretty major (so is her external journey, actually. lol) . In contrast, I have a secondary male character and he doesn't change a whole lot, but there *is* a journey.



  4. #4
    That hairy-handed gent
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    Every POV character has to have a reason for being a POV character. The biggest pitfall of multiple-POV narratives is failure in this department. Static characters generally are uninteresting characters, so why would you want one of those to be a POV character?

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    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ardenbird View Post

    Or, does it matter? Can I have POV characters that just give a better sense of the world (I'm writing a fantasy) and provide a perspective to the reader that they wouldn't otherwise get?

    What are people's opinions on this?
    This is a matter of taste.

    My own personal rule is that every POV character has his or her own character arc.

    Non-POV characters can also have an arc, but it's less central to the story and obviously only observable from the outside.

    But I don't do walk-on POVs, and I don't do POVs of characters who don't change. What would be the point?

  6. #6
    That hairy-handed gent
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    But I don't do walk-on POVs, and I don't do POVs of characters who don't change. What would be the point?
    Brilliantly put. "Walk-on POVs": Love it. Wish I'd thought of it.

    caw
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    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    Brilliantly put. "Walk-on POVs": Love it. Wish I'd thought of it.

    caw
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    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I agree with Beth and Blacbird. What's the point? That's a bit of a serious question; if someone can convince me that a POV character who remains static is important enough to be a POV character, then I'll change my mind.
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    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    > Do you agree that every POV character in a novel should make
    > some kind of meaningful journey?

    This type of story format (also named myth form, monomyth, and hero's journey) is the one most found across time and cultures. Should is the word here. Characters with inner and outer conflicts make the story more interesting, but as an author you are not bound by this. As BethS pointed out, it makes sense with characters that drive the story.

    Action-oriented heroes and series characters typically don't experience character change at the conclusion of the story. The first because it's not necessary, the second because it burdens the author with extra constraints in sequels and risks alienating fans who liked the hero just the way it was in the first book. Then again, it's a choice, not a requirement. I've read series where the main character experienced character change and it worked just fine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    Static characters generally are uninteresting characters, so why would you want one of those to be a POV character?
    I can't agree with this. A character who provides comic relief, frex, can easily be interesting. They don't have to undergo change. Heck, the humour could come from them refusing to change.

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    Hello? Eat my tarts? johnhallow's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    But I don't do walk-on POVs, and I don't do POVs of characters who don't change. What would be the point?
    I don't think walk-ons are necessarily a bad thing. They're awesome for forshadowing. Sometimes you want characters who briefly appear in order to do something (or have something horrible done to them ) that builds tension, but it really depends on the needs of your plot.

    Be careful though. Like any technique that draws attention away from the immediate story, they can easily be overused.
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  12. #12
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnhallow View Post
    I don't think walk-ons are necessarily a bad thing. They're awesome for forshadowing. Sometimes you want characters who briefly appear in order to do something (or have something horrible done to them ) that builds tension, but it really depends on the needs of your plot.
    But do they need to have a POV? You can have walk-ons without going into their heads.

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    That hairy-handed gent
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buffysquirrel View Post
    I can't agree with this. A character who provides comic relief, frex, can easily be interesting. They don't have to undergo change. Heck, the humour could come from them refusing to change.
    But that doesn't address my question, which is the same one BethS just asked: Why does it have to be a POV character?

    The mania for having every character who shows up become a POV character is the recipe for instant head-hopping. It's a lazy, unfocused narrative technique at best, and a symptom of a writer who doesn't have a clue about the use of POV at worst.

    caw
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    The ever absent-minded CChampeau's Avatar
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    What you need to ask yourself is why you have a character as a POV character in the first place.

    Quote Originally Posted by ardenbird View Post
    I'm wondering if I should rewrite to give the latter two some sort of journey [...]
    This makes me wonder if you know why you picked them as POV characters. Attaching a story to them in order to justify their being POV would be ad hoc and artificial.

    Do they really have no story or journey? No point in being POV characters? Why did you pick them?
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    I think a "walk-on POV character" (I, too, love the designation) can be useful to set the scene from the POV of an outsider. It can be used well as contrast to establish comedy, horror, shock - all manner of things. Movies do this all the time - something happens, and then the scene view shifts to focus on some side-character, who looks up and sees <insert thing that he sees>. Suddenly, we're privy to the surprise this side-character feels over seeing something awful, or absurd, or what-have-you.

    Done well, I think it can be effective. Done poorly, it can suck, but that applies to just about every tool in the writer's satchel.

    Does the inclusion of a POV character mean that character needs to have a meaningful arc? Nah. That said, most scenes are going to be mini-stories in themselves, so there's probably going to be some sort of coherent narrative, and I guess you could call that an "arc" of sorts, even if it's just a matter of the character's day being altered by finding himself some small part of this larger story. But if we're going for "meaningful journey", then no, I wouldn't say it's necessary, and trying to shoehorn one in there is probably just going to jack up the flow of the grand narrative.

    If you want to see how this sort of thing works from a comedic standpoint, pick any random Discworld book; you're likely to find an example.

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    Wandering worlds Gynn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post

    But I don't do walk-on POVs, and I don't do POVs of characters who don't change. What would be the point?
    I've done short "walk-on POVs" before, generally to give an outside view of the MC. I try to introduce them smoothly, though. We don't want the readers confused!

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    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    But do they need to have a POV? You can have walk-ons without going into their heads.
    Many crime dramas that I've seen (Law & Order, CSI, etc.) use "walk-ons" to lead the audience to the crimes. Sure, they could just start with the cops showing up and poking over the dead body for clues, but by allowing someone else to discover it (or witness the crime occurring), it not only grounds the event in the greater "reality" where the show occurs (because there are other millions of other imaginary people living in the world where our fictional detectives do their detecting), but helps drop clues that the audience can pick up on for later reference.

    Walk-on POVs can be good for this sort of thing, giving the viewer a glimpse of something that the MCs don't see, but which will prove pivotal to understanding the overall plot. (Unless, of course, your MC can be everywhere at once to witness everything...) By giving them a POV role instead of a simple NPC "non-speaking extra" role, an author can add some depth and observation to the scene.

    Any POV character invented simply to gawk at your fictional universe, though, is probably unnecessary.
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  18. #18
    That hairy-handed gent
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brightdreamer View Post
    Many crime dramas that I've seen (Law & Order, CSI, etc.) use "walk-ons" to lead the audience to the crimes. Sure, they could just start with the cops showing up and poking over the dead body for clues, but by allowing someone else to discover it (or witness the crime occurring),
    You're missing the point. TV or movie dramas aren't exactly analogous to written narrative in technique. The viewpoint in a show like Law & Order is an objective viewpoint. These "walk-on" characters are being viewed, by you, the viewer, through the viewpoint of the camera. The scenes switch to other characters doing stuff, but the viewpoint remains that objective camera viewpoint (unless there's some voice-over narration, in which case you have a first-person equivalent).

    Prose narrative can be structured in a similar way to that objective camera technique, and many good stories have been ("The Lottery", the famous story by Shirley Jackson, is a good example).

    The point of my comments, and those of several others here, remain simple: You need a good reason to be switching viewpoint characters, and the characters chosen for such purpose need to have a reason for being so. It's tough to make this work with short-lived automaton characters who serve little purpose in the narrative other than to feed some kind of information to the reader. Not impossible, but difficult. And it commonly feels unnecessary, if not plain gimmicky.

    Generally, if you have the kind of story where you feel the need to do this sort of thing, you might want to consider adopting an omniscient POV.

    caw
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  19. #19
    all hail zombie babies! CrastersBabies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    Every POV character has to have a reason for being a POV character. The biggest pitfall of multiple-POV narratives is failure in this department. Static characters generally are uninteresting characters, so why would you want one of those to be a POV character?

    caw
    I agree with this. Why have their POV at all if there is no change you are showing? Why do they have a POV? Are they peripheral characters? If so, why do we need them to recount other character's deeds if those deeds don't push up against who they are, or, alter their perception in some way?

    Are they there just to show a different perspective? Why do we care (as a reader) if we get the message from the start that nothing will move them to change? Challenge them or whatnot?

    I don't think it's necessary to have a long, epic arc for each one. It could be that these minor POV characters are changed more BY the main characters. No issue there, but unless you're showing me what's at stake with minor characters, they'll simply be talking heads for the author.

    Also consider that you might already have change there, but it could be a more quiet change. Up to you to assess.
    Last edited by CrastersBabies; 01-17-2013 at 05:22 AM.
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    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    You're missing the point. TV or movie dramas aren't exactly analogous to written narrative in technique. The viewpoint in a show like Law & Order is an objective viewpoint. These "walk-on" characters are being viewed, by you, the viewer, through the viewpoint of the camera. The scenes switch to other characters doing stuff, but the viewpoint remains that objective camera viewpoint (unless there's some voice-over narration, in which case you have a first-person equivalent).

    Prose narrative can be structured in a similar way to that objective camera technique, and many good stories have been ("The Lottery", the famous story by Shirley Jackson, is a good example).

    The point of my comments, and those of several others here, remain simple: You need a good reason to be switching viewpoint characters, and the characters chosen for such purpose need to have a reason for being so. It's tough to make this work with short-lived automaton characters who serve little purpose in the narrative other than to feed some kind of information to the reader. Not impossible, but difficult. And it commonly feels unnecessary, if not plain gimmicky.

    Generally, if you have the kind of story where you feel the need to do this sort of thing, you might want to consider adopting an omniscient POV.

    caw

    I have seen similar techniques used in writing, but you're right. Wasn't quite the same thing.

    Sorry.
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    empty-nester! shadowwalker's Avatar
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    What about narrators or observers? I'm thinking Dr Watson - although that may not be the best example. But characters who 'report' what's happening may not change at all, and yet they can be entertaining and/or interesting by themselves.

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    practical experience, FTW MakanJuu's Avatar
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    They don't all absolutely have to, unless you're writing a TV series. If you're planning on sticking with characters for that long a period of time, you have no excuse not to.

    Otherwise, I've read books where all POVs have a journey & some where they do not- mind you, they're all involved in the overall plot, or their own side plot, but if you have one or two going through a personal journey then the others are safe enough to leave alone, especially if they're already established & well liked.

    Professors & such generally just like to push writers in certain ways to try to increase their skill- what they claim you should do isn't necessarily set in stone.
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    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    If you're writing in 3rd-limited and you have a scene where only secondary characters are present, how can you *not* have a POV for one of those characters?

    I have a scene in my WIP in which a major character, Bud, calls a secondary character, Ronald, on the phone to say he's coming to kill him. The POV is that of another secondary character, Phillip, who is listening to Ronald's side of the phone conversation.

    I don't believe it's lazy writing, nor do I think it's gimmicky. If I told it from Bud's POV, I'd just have him talking on the phone. But this way I get both Ronald's and Phillip's reactions to the call as well as revealing to the reader something heretofore unknown, something Bud doesn't know, which will come as a surprise to him.

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    I agree with Roxxsmom.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ardenbird View Post
    I've just heard this... Do you agree that every POV character in a novel should make some kind of meaningful journey? (like a character-change, lesson-learned, etc.)
    According to how you've described "meaningful journey," I don't believe ANY character HAS to have one, including the MC. Some genres simply don't require it.

  25. #25
    figuring it all out ardenbird's Avatar
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    Ooo! Love all the discussion.

    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    But I don't do walk-on POVs
    I agree that this is a great term!

    Quote Originally Posted by CChampeau View Post
    What you need to ask yourself is why you have a character as a POV character in the first place.

    This makes me wonder if you know why you picked them as POV characters. Attaching a story to them in order to justify their being POV would be ad hoc and artificial.

    Do they really have no story or journey? No point in being POV characters? Why did you pick them?
    Quote Originally Posted by CrastersBabies View Post
    I agree with this. Why have their POV at all if there is no change you are showing? Why do they have a POV? Are they peripheral characters? If so, why do we need them to recount other character's deeds if those deeds don't push up against who they are, or, alter their perception in some way?

    Are they there just to show a different perspective? Why do we care (as a reader) if we get the message from the start that nothing will move them to change? Challenge them or whatnot?

    I don't think it's necessary to have a long, epic arc for each one. It could be that these minor POV characters are changed more BY the main characters. No issue there, but unless you're showing me what's at stake with minor characters, they'll simply be talking heads for the author.

    Also consider that you might already have change there, but it could be a more quiet change. Up to you to assess.
    Yeah... I guess for one there actually is a journey, which all I'd need to do is flesh out (sees himself as a father figure to the MC, starts out thinking MC needs protection, ends up realising she's grown up and can handle things herself). But the other... I'm not sure. Both these characters are older, more experienced people, to provide perspective not seen by the young hot-heads who make up the rest of the cast But it makes it harder to define a "journey" for already well-developed personalities.

    Quote Originally Posted by ElJeffe View Post
    I think a "walk-on POV character" (I, too, love the designation) can be useful to set the scene from the POV of an outsider.
    This might be the reason I've got the second POV there -- this is the one I'm struggling the most with. I could replace her with another young hot-head, but the hot-head can't know some of the things the experienced character knows, which is sort of the point of her, so then I might as well leave out that POV perspective entirely. Although I think having the outsider-view of what the MC and most everyone around her think is important adds some depth and tension to the story. Another way to get that perspective across is to have one of the other POV characters "overhear" people talking, which I think is even more contrived. I suppose I could develop a storyline where an outsider befriends an insider to the point of eventually saying, "hey, back before I knew you, I thought..." although that seems to be going a bit far, and not quite worth it.

    Quote Originally Posted by guttersquid View Post
    If you're writing in 3rd-limited and you have a scene where only secondary characters are present, how can you *not* have a POV for one of those characters?

    I have a scene in my WIP in which a major character, Bud, calls a secondary character, Ronald, on the phone to say he's coming to kill him. The POV is that of another secondary character, Phillip, who is listening to Ronald's side of the phone conversation.

    I don't believe it's lazy writing, nor do I think it's gimmicky. If I told it from Bud's POV, I'd just have him talking on the phone. But this way I get both Ronald's and Phillip's reactions to the call as well as revealing to the reader something heretofore unknown, something Bud doesn't know, which will come as a surprise to him.
    Yeah, this -- I personally like it when I know things the MC doesn't, and can agonise over them heading for unexpected disaster Most of my secondary POVs are in scenes where the MC isn't present.

    Quote Originally Posted by guttersquid View Post
    According to how you've described "meaningful journey," I don't believe ANY character HAS to have one, including the MC. Some genres simply don't require it.
    I suspect the person who told me this *did* mean a character-changing journey, although I suppose it could be redefined to also include obstacle-overcome, which might fit in with other genres (someone above mentioned action-hero and series).

    I know that one way in which I've used secondary POVs in a poor way is to provide evidence to convince the reader of motivation for the MC they might not otherwise believe if only in the MC's head. Like, "hey, look this *other* person thinks this makes sense, so it must, right?" That's definitely lazy and hiding poor development of the MC on my part. I've done this a lot in a previous book (where the original comment about journeys came about), but in trying to apply lessons learned to my WIP, I think that's not what I'm doing here. There is, I think, one POV character (which I didn't include in the count above) that is like this -- and on reflection he would lift out quite easily if I just wrote the MC a bit better. But he has a particular profile: present for only a very short portion of the novel (a "walk-on", I believe) where his life intersects the MC's, only in scenes with the MC, and basically spends his time thinking about the MC. The rest of them (including the experienced outsider) are opposite: show up throughout the novel, are present mostly when the MC *isn't* there, and only think about the MC when her actions impact their lives.

    It's possible the comment I was given as a rule is one of those know-it-before-you-break-it things in response to my egregious use of secondary POVs in one novel, and it might not transfer to my WIP. But I'd like to learn as much as I can from previous mistakes, so have been trying to apply it here. I really do like the experienced outsider POV, as there isn't a perspective like that in the rest of the novel. But is it really necessary? A lot to think on...

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