Lessons 5 and 6
Here's the next lessons!
Lesson 5 and 6
Writing Strong Characters and Viewpoint
As we discussed earlier characters must have GMC. This will help make
them strong characters; they must act and look real to the reader, to
give the appearance of being real. That was why I gave the archetypes
in another lesson, to help add depth.
Not all characters should act the same way or think the same way.
What are the first impressions the hero/heroine has of each other?
What image do you want the reader to have of the characters? Be sure
if the hero makes a bad first impression we know why. This would be a
good place to trickle in the backstory. No one is all good and all
bad; neither should your characters for them to be strong.
Strong characters mean no wimps or whiners. This follows along on the
last section where we talked about conflict. If the problem is
essential to the character's happiness they will not give up until
they reach that goal.
Let's face it, wimps are boring. Good plotting means having a
character that is active not passive. The character, by the act of
their struggles determine the story, not fate.
According to Bickham in 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes,
writers have said, "I just can't make anything happen in my story."
Or, "I've got a good idea, but can't seem to keep it moving." "My
story is dull, the characters lifeless."
The problem here is not the plot, but the main character. Kick out
the wimp and add a character that plunges ahead, takes charge of the
problem to reach the goal. Re-examine your character's background,
then strengthen them. With a little thought you can easily adjust to
make the shift from wimp to wonderful. Above all the character MUST
ACT, not sit around and whine. Passive characters are boring to read
about. In today's society no one has the time or the attention span
to wait on a character to do something.
This doesn't mean you have to write one kind of story like
action/adventure, it means a character in any setting is capable to
obtain the goal you've given them. The reader takes this story person
and the problem of what are they going to do about it now and turns
it into a question of will the character…
For a character to learn and prove their strength they must be
challenged which leads us back to the beginning of this workshop.
Without a goal for them to care about and proper motivation, how can
the character grow into a better person with lessons learned at the
end of the story?
The character's point of view needs to infiltrate everything you've
developed from the character chart. By knowing this character so well
you know how they will react. A strong person doesn't sit on the
sidelines and whine. They act. Every experience and feeling of the
hero/heroine acts as a layer to their personality.
Consistency in a character is also a key element because it makes the
character believable. Check to make sure your characters don't have
the same internal drives. Both of your characters can have an issue
about money, just don't have them both coming from a poor background
Viewpoint, in my opinion is one of the biggest problems new writers
When you write a story, it comes from the main characters point of
view. As romance writers, it will be the hero and/or heroine.
The reader does not every person's point of view in the story. When
you stay in one point of view, the reader has time to learn and care
about the character who they are investing their time in reading.
Romance novels are mostly written in deep POV and by bouncing all
over the place you can't do this.
Point of view is important for any scene. The heroine may look at the
situation one way, the hero completely opposite. The background
developed for the H/h give them their unique points of view and how
they react to one another and the events happening to them.
You must become the character in whose viewpoint you are writing.
Imagine you are that character.
*First person – I
Second person – You go (Rarely done, awkward)
*Third person – He goes. She goes
Romances normally are written in third person subjective, meaning it
is from that person's point of view. A few romance authors have
written in first person, but the rule is the same. You can go outside
of the character's head into another.
Example of head hopping:
<ST1:place w:st="on"><?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on">Regina</st1:City></ST1:place> glared at Lesa. I know Lesa hates me because I stole her
boyfriend. She could feel Lesa's anger.
What makes the above example head hopping or shifting is the last
sentence. She could feel Lesa's anger. No, <ST1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Regina</st1:City></ST1:place> can only guess and
take clues from facial expressions and body language, but she cannot
know what Lesa is feeling.
Yes, POV switches occur, but you need to stay in one POV long enough
for the reader to get to know that character and the switch must be
smooth. Switching POV numerous times within a scene can be confusing
and also jarring, stopping the flow of the scene. It will also
diffuse the strength of the scene and scene goal and that isn't
something you want to do.
Some authors head hop. Having said this, not everyone does this
successfully and not every editor likes this practice.
Some writers are using first person. If you aren't sure, then try
writing the scene from first person, and then third person to see
which feel rights.
First person is for eyewitness accounts. I saw this, I did this...
You need to imagine everything from this character's point of view.
You see, hear, think, taste, touch, feel from this character only.
I ran behind the overflowing garbage dumpster in the dark alley. Of
course, I had to seek refuge from my crazy ex-husband behind Friday's
Fish Hut. Broken glass crunched beneath my feet. The stench made me
gag and I pressed my hands over my mouth. I wasn't sure which would
kill me first, the smell or George.
In the example even though you don't know the name of the viewpoint
character, you can see, smell and feel the tension.
When writing a scene think about which character has the most at
stake physically or emotionally. This could be a rule of thumb to use
when unsure of the viewpoint character in a scene.
Many romance writers start in a either the heroine or heroes point of
view and stay with it until:
* the middle of the scene
* or the end of the scene and switch to the other person's then
Choose one of the novels at your home and see where the point of view
shifts. What words are used? Does this author head hop? And if she
does, is the transition smooth or jarring?
Deep Point of View
If you write romance, then this is a technique you need to learn.
Orson Scott Card from Characters and Viewpoint says, Deep
penetration, in which we do experience the scenes as if we were
seeing them through the viewpoint character's eyes. We don't see
things as they really happen; we see them only as the characters
thinks they happen. We are so closely involved with the viewpoint
character's thoughts that we don't have to dip into his mind; we
never really leave.
Orson Scott Card's example: Pete wasn't surprised that Nora was
fifteen minutes late , and of course she showed up wearing a new
dress. A blue dress. No, not just blue. Vivid blue, like neon woven
into the cloth.
"Do you like it?" asked Nora.
Pete forced himself to smile. "Terrific."
As usual, she could read his mind despite his best efforts to be
a cheerful, easy-to-get-along-with hypocrite. She glared at him.
"You always want me to be frowsy and boring."
In this above passage, you don't need a tag like Pete thought
because we are in his thoughts. When Pete says "terrific" and smiles,
it shows the reader the motivation behind his smile. With deep point
of view, the viewpoint character's attitude colors everything that
An easy way to achieve deep third POV for a character is to write the
scene in that character POV in first person, then switch it over to
Deep POV is more than adding in lots of internalization, which can
slow the pace, kill the tension and possibly annoy the reader. Too
much can also become a form of telling.
Look for words such as s/he thought, saw, decided, watched and remove
them. Why? They distance the reader from the POV character.
Describe things how this main character sees them. Memories from the
past can have a tremendous impact on the plot and the character's
actions. The gender of the character and their background come into
play here. A man will notice things differently than a woman. Unless
there is a reason that you've clearly explained.
He will see a candy apple red, vintage '65 Mustang, leather seats and
the engine overhauled to stock car racing specs.
She will see an old Mustang that's been painted. Unless she's a car
buff and grew up working on vintage cars or learned about them from
her brother/Dad. See, this is where your characterization comes in to
play and can impact the plot.
Whose story is it?
Whose story is it? After that is determined get into the characters
head and stay there until the time comes to switch. In some stories,
of course, you may not need to switch POV's it depends on what you
decide is best for what you're writing.
Switching viewpoints/head hopping makes it difficult for the reader
to get to know the character; it distances them because the readers
want to experience everything the character is. The viewpoint
character is the one who has the most at stake.
Point of view is important for any scene. The heroine may look at the
situation one way, the hero completely different. The background
developed for the H/h give them their unique points of view.
Some authors head hop. I know. I've read them. I will tell you that
for me the stories don't have the impact as a book with good deep
point of view and point of view switches that come at the right time
and are seamless.
As mentioned earlier, there are problems with this practice.
Lesson Six and Seven
No Sagging Middles
This is a problem for many people when plotting their story.
Knowing what to look for can help fix this nasty problem. In one
word, it's CONFLICT. Conflict motivates the characters to take
action, right now.
Not keeping the conflict going which is needed to push the story
forward is one of the reasons. Remember while doing this the
characters must grow and change. The conflict deepens as the plot
twists continue and the consequences harder and harder for the
hero/heroine to accept. The tension will snap and crackle when you do this.
The further you are in the story, the more the plot is driven by the
choices the character makes, the motivations can change as they learn
Another reason is not having enough subplots, or not making use of
the subplots you have. This is one of the ways to insure the conflict
keeps going, motivation and goals are revealed. Move novels have a
couple of subplots to keep the tension running and many run parallel
with the main story with secondary characters.
A weak scene is something else to consider. Does the scene reveal new
information about the plot or character?
The middle doesn't have to be something you dread. It can be just as
exciting as the beginning or ending of the book.
Scene and Sequel
Scene and Sequel Structure<O:p></O:p>
This section is hard to grasp for many writers. Don't feel bad if you
can only understand part of it.
First let's start off with what a scene is.
This definition comes from the fabulous author and instructor,Alicia
Rasley. What is a scene? It's a unit of action and interaction taking
place more or less in real-time and centering on some event of plot
Jack Bickham-Scene is action, written moment-by-moment, without
summary, presented onstage in the story `now.' It is not something
that goes on inside a character's head; it is physical. It could be
put on the theater stage and acted out.
Scene Tips from Alicia Rasley:
Invent Events: Scenes are units of action based around actual events.
Don't wimp out with a flashback or a long scene of musing. Center the
opening scene on the character's experiences and actions. Anchor the
event in the setting. And make the event something relevant to the
Revise and Reinvent: If the chapters don't get the response you want,
reinvent them. Step back and analyze each scene. What is your purpose
in the opening scene? What impression do you want the reader to have
of the character?
You might have to rewrite the opening altogether to accomplish these
purposes but that's good.
Jack Bickham,pgs. 110-114, in Writing Novels That Sell said until he
understood scene and sequel he believes he would not have sold over 70 novels.
As you can see, learning scene and sequel is important.
Scene structure is threefold: goal, conflict and disaster.
Just as a story starts with statement of a character's long-term
goal, so every scene starts with a character, the viewpoint
character, saying specifically what he/she wants to accomplish in the
confrontation that is about to take place. The reader forms a story
question from the story goal, and worries about it, he also forms a
scene question. Good novelists never write a scene where the goal is
vague or ambiguous. The reader has to know what's wanted in no
uncertain terms. They write so that the goal in every scene is
perfectly clear, specific, and obtainable now.
Bickham continues, conflict is 95-98% of the scene. Once the goal has
been stated, someone has to come along and say "Huh-uh. You're not
getting that, and I'm here to stop you." This antagonist, too, is
strongly motivated because he sees how this scene fits into his book-
long struggle with the hero, how the outcomes of this confrontation
fit into his game plan. And so the struggle starts.
Scene is written moment-by-moment. How? Through stimulus and response
Every scene starts with a goal, and the goal statement raises a scene
question in the reader's mind. This question must always be one which
can be answered simply in terms of the goal. The only possible
answers are: Yes, no, yes, but and furthermore.
Yes kills the tension and makes for a short story since the goal will
have been met.
No, yes, but and furthermore need to put the viewpoint character into
a worse position.
In the plotting section, I mentioned raising the stakes. Using the
yes, but or furthermore will put your character into more conflict.
Your character must change and learn by the end of the story. By
conflict and challenges, this will show them working toward the
As you can see with all the action taking place in scene, your pacing
will be fast. But, the reader needs a mental breather and the
character needs a chance to plan his/her next move which leads us
Sequel structure is fourfold: emotion, quandary, decision, action
which will lead you right back into scene. Novels are written in
scene and sequel structure and knowing how and what they can do, can
help in regards to the pacing of your book.
Romances have more emotion than a thriller or mystery, so our sequels
tend to be longer and more emotional. Romance is emotional with the
discovering of the feelings of the hero and heroine. But, I think
there needs to be a balance. Today, we can't have five, six, seven
pages of internalization with how the heroine feels.
In quandary, this is where the character will review, option and
search. Review what has happened and what it means, what options are
available (which none look good) and find another pathway to get to
my goal. The character is plotting her/his next part of the novel.
To fix pacing:
If the story is going too fast lengthen a sequel.
Too slow? Expand scenes, shorten or leave out sequels. Can you see
now that it doesn't have to be cut and dried scene-sequel-scene etc.
Scene and sequel don't have to be in chronological order. They can
interrupt each other.
Bickham says, scene-sequel structure is the key to how (and when) you
change viewpoint. I use another method. I switch POV when the other
character has the most to lose in the scene or if I'm writing a love
scene because I want both hero and heroine's POV.
Other elements that go into making scene and sequel are stimulus-
internalization-response. They function by helping make the story
In Bickham's Scene and Structure, page 15:
* Stimulus must be external—that is, action or dialogue, something
that could be witnessed on a stage.
* Response must also be external in the same way.
* For every stimulus, you must show a response.
* For every desired response, you must provide a stimulus.
This section is one of the most difficult. Once you master it, you'll
see a change in your writing.
There's lots of information in these lessons. If you have any questions or anything about the lessons you want to discuss, please post.
I'm in the Houston area and there's a monster churning in the Gulf of Mexico.
Posting the last lesson could be tricky depending on where Ike hits, so to be safe, I'll post it Thursday night so you'll have it.
My Prayers Go Out For You. Be safe Polly!
Originally Posted by Tambra
It sounds so scary, but I have to say I love your expression "there's a monster churning in the Gulf of Mexico". That's good writing!
This is great to have someone to discuss Bickham with. I know of only one other writer who has even read his book.
I agree that once Bichkam's Scene/Sequel and Motivation Reaction units are understood the novel has more chance of succeeding. Like I said earlier this week, this is what has bugged me ever since I first read an article he wrote.
So ticking the boxes…. Scene; Goal. Conflict. Disaster ü Sequal : Reaction x. Dilemma. Decision. ü Motivation & Reaction Units ü
My Difficulties: Sequel - you say the Reaction must also be external. I thought 'reaction' means to show immediate emotion (fear, pain, anguish ). Wouldn't that be internal? And then show physical reaction.
Are the two Reactions/Response in SEQUEL and MRU different or the same?
I get that the Motivation (Stimulus) must be external and have its own paragraph.ü
I don't get that the resulting Reaction (Response) must also be external.
Doesn't Bickham say it is Internal and subjective. Feeling; Reflex; Rational Action & Speech?
Also, I can't figure out how to layer the Motivation/Reaction into the Scene and Sequel scenarios. In other words I don't understand how to layer Bickham's large-scale and small-scale structure of the scene.</O:p
Sorry for being difficult but you are the only person I've come across who has any idea of what I'm talking about. Any suggestion will be greatly appreciated.
I'll do my best to explain this better. You're not being difficult at all.
In fact, please email me privately and we can discuss Bickham whenever you like. email@example.com
As for the MRU, I don't do them. (If I do, then it's just something that I'm unconsciously doing.)
Goal Conflict Disaster which leads to
Reaction Dilemma Decision which leads us back to scene.
In Sequel this is where the character thinks about what has occurred externally and internalizes the emotions to the situation. When the character has made a decision of action it leads us back to scene.
In sequel you show the character's reaction to the disaster that has occurred and then the planning stage to get back to fighting for his/her goal.
Yes, emotion is felt during this time, but also it's time for the character to regroup and overcome this blockage keeping them from their goal.
Mr. Bickham says scenes end in disaster, which require sequels leading the character to new decisions based on the experience. Sequel is feeling and logic that pushes the character to action.
The motivation and reaction is blended together in the sequel.
Within scenes there is a scene goal. (small scale)
A series of scenes and sequels make up a novel (large scale)
I pulled out my Swain book. The motivation/reaction unit on page 77 says to detail that which is emotionally pertinent in reference to creating tension or the character's state of mind.
Motivation is what the character will react to, an external circumstance (page 78).
The reaction sentence part of the unit is about the character behaves in consequence of the action in the first part of the unit.
Did my example help with any of this?
Karenne needs to close the class, you can email me and we can talk further.