Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Giving Your Characters A Little Perspective

I consider myself many things: writer, mother, small business owner, wife, dog lover, etc. One unexpected label I earned last week was World Class Laundry Folder (those who follow me on Twitter already know this--and that Carolina Valdez Miller is my long lost laundry twin). My 7-year-old son's teacher had assigned an essay in which they had to write about someone who was special to them and why that person was special. Though honored that my son chose me, I was floored when his teacher told me the reason why was my ability to fold "not one, but two loads of laundry at once." Seriously. She thought it was hilarious. Of all the things he could have picked, it wasn't my ability to whip up a mean man-n-cheese or my willingness to repeatedly lose to him in Wii Olympic Snowboarding (I don't try to lose by the way--I just suck at it). No, it was my folding expertise that awed him. I even asked, "You know mommy's a psychologist right, and that I help people." He responded, "Yeah, but you're really good at folding."

[NOTE: These are not my actual folded towels, because I can fold circles around whoever folded these.]

I realized that from his perspective, he's never seen me "be a psychologist" or interact with clients. He sees me, well, folding. I am going somewhere with this. Every person in your life has a slightly different perspective about you based on their own interactions with you, as well as their own 'personal lens' or way in which they view the world. How we see ourselves doesn't always match up with how other people see us. This can be tricky when writing, especially with first person POV. The writer must be able to convey how each character views the main character (MC) solely based on the dialogue and expressions of those other characters.

Unlike the MC in a first person POV, where we are literally 'inside their head', we don't know the thoughts of the secondary characters--only what they say and do. This isn't always a bad thing. For instance, it's a great way to add in conflict, such as when the MC misunderstands the actions or words of other characters and drama/comedy/murder ensues. However, it also demonstrates the need to understand each of your secondary characters really well before you get them down on virtual paper. The 'lens' of the best friend will be different than that of the potential love interest and the sworn frenemy, etc. You want each character to be three-dimensional and believable to the reader. In my last book, several people told me how much they loved one of the secondary characters--I loved him too, so it made me happy that others found him 'real.'

How do you make sure all of your secondary characters are three-dimensional? How do you give them unique perspective?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some laundry to fold. Check back tomorrow when I'm starting a weekly query critique giveaway over on my personal blog! :)


  1. haha, that is so cute that you're appreciated for your laundry folding skillz. My kids definitely don't appreciate my laundry folding, if their closet drawers are any indication...

    I *was* only appreciated for my mom work, but last year my 6yo asked me to read her my stories - which was sweet, especially when she said how much she loved what I wrote - but then her teacher congratulated me on getting published (I'm NOT!!), in front of a huge group of people... and that was pretty embarrassing. :D

  2. Marisa--I totally understand that. His teacher told the class I was "a writer." Even though I write, I feel like I can't call myself one until I'm published.

  3. Aw, that's adorable that your son is impressed with your folding skills!

    And so true about how everyone sees you differently. Such a great thing to remember when writing!

  4. That is adorable! And very true about perspective. Great post!


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