How a Character’s Point of View Can Become a Writing Barrier

No matter how experienced you think you are—at anything—there is always something new to learn. I consider myself an experienced writer, rather than an accomplished one; I write a lot, but my readership tends to struggle. (I don’t mind; it’s a process you have to build up from the bottom, and it takes years.) Still, I find the more I write, and the more I immerse myself in the writing process, the more I discover about my own work.

If you have been following my updates on my current writing project (aka the novel that never sleeps), you know I’ve witnessed many revisions in its structure and perspective since first starting the process in 2012. I’m excited and terrified to say I have reached another milestone in the never-ending writing challenge called Elite, and for those of you who have been following, I wanted you to be the first to know.

The Exposition

Elite originally began as a single first-person narrative, told from the perspective of an ambitious student seeking to climb to the top of her fictional society’s political hierarchy. The story then picked up a second critical perspective: the current holder of this top position, what was then called some Latin word I’m glad I abandoned after the first partially completed drafts.

This second perspective quickly became my favorite. I enjoy stories that give an inside perspective on a somewhat misconceived (let’s use the word mysterious, and you’ll see why later) position of power. It was exceptionally enjoyable once I got to toy with a love interest. Do you see the flaw in my thinking yet? Keep reading.

The Conflict

As authors, we become parents to our characters. We create and develop them, shaping them to fit our story (or so we think). Often times we “raise” our characters so well that before we even realize what we’re dealing with, we have formulated a persona that can think and even act on her own behalf. Rather than the writer influencing the character to shape the story, the character begins manipulating the story to adhere to her own needs.

Frustrating? Yes and no. As it turns out, sometimes it works in our favor.

The second main character, Ollia, became my favorite perspective to write in of the two. Her story, especially the background you started getting in small fragments toward the end of the original draft, intrigued me. I found myself wanting to tell a love story amidst all the other conflict, a love story that was different from all the others.

She was, and still is, important to the story. Essential, really. However, I realized while listening to a few podcasts at work yesterday, that Ollia’s story and her perspective on the main conflict, while interesting, was never meant to be the main focus of the book in the first place.

The Climax, Pasted Between Rising and Falling Actions

Sitting at my desk, feeling the combined relief and horror of a sudden unintentional discovery, I started thinking about Ollia as a character. I obviously couldn’t cut her out; in time, the book had developed multiple other character viewpoints, all centered on this political power everyone admires, but simultaneously knows nothing about.

So how could I have a character, meant to be mysterious, with her own thoughts and opinions splattered across the pages?

I knew then, and feel more confidently now, that I needed to make a major shift in the way I was formatting and constructing my book. I realized the reason I have been struggling so much to work through even an outline of the first book in what I’m mostly certain has to be a series is that Ollia as a narrator was taking away from the rest of my story. Writer’s Block does not exist, friends; our characters, however, do. They can often become barriers to the stories we are trying to tell; but there are ways to fix the problem.

The Resolution

The character preventing me from moving steadily forward with this project just so happens to be the most important character in the entire trilogy (or whatever it ends up being). The challenge becomes not a matter of taking her out of the book completely, which would be relatively easy in comparison, but rewriting the scenes told from her point of view through the eyes of other characters.

Does this drive me absolutely mad? Of course it does! Some of my favorite scenes so far have been told from Ollia’s viewpoint, and there’s one scene in particular I won’t be able to use anymore because of this change. A lot is going to have to change, actually, which makes me glad that I’ve been averaging 100-200 words daily and haven’t gotten very far the past month or so.

It’s going to take a lot longer than I thought to finish this book this year; but strangely, I’m not upset. I’m ready. This is a major breakthrough in this project’s process. We are one step closer to you never having to read about the unfinished version of this novel ever again!

What I’m learning from this, even before I start applying the shift in style, is that writing does not get easier the more time you spend doing it. You might get better over time at cranking out more stories more often, but that’s not what’s always the most important.

The basis of your story, your purpose for writing it, will always be there. Everything else, though, will keep changing. I think we have to let that keep us going, let that change keep us writing even when we start wondering if this thing is ever going to make up its mind. Your “writing blocks” might turn out to be characters whose opinions aren’t important to your story anymore, or a side plot that’s just not working.

It’s not that you don’t love them. You just love your story, and all the places you believe it can go, a little bit more.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.