Is it POV or Characterization?

I am pleased to present a guest blogger today – Jan Morrill.

I met Jan in June of 2009 when I walked into a classroom at West Texas A&M University. It was a magical class, a magical week, all in the magical setting of Canyon, Texas. Jan and I have been friends since that time. Beyond our love of words, storytelling and creating characters, she and I are connected through our Japanese sensibilities. You see, both of us have a Japanese mother, which adds credibility to Jan’s writing, evident in The Red Kimono.

She uses examples from her novel (scheduled release for Spring 2013) to dig deep into the topic of POV.

Is it POV or Characterization? by Jan Morrill

Recently, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen spent some time discussing Point of View vs. Characterization. The only conclusion I came to in the end is that these two concepts are so intertwined that they are impossible to separate.

Either way you call it, for me, point of view is the most important part of creating a story. My favorite books are written in deep point of view, where I “see” everything through the eyes of one or more characters. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors for that reason. In her book, My Sister’s Keeper, she tells the story of Anna, a child genetically-engineered to be a perfect match for her sister who has cancer. The story is told from several points of view, including Anna, her parents and her attorney. What better way to help the reader see all sides of the story – to understand that there are no easy answers?

Life is like that. There are no easy answers. If one of our goals as writers is to create conflict, to make the reader feel the conflict and be involved in its resolution, what better way than to do so than to write from the viewpoint of several characters? That is why I decided to tell the story of The Red Kimono (University of Arkansas Press, Spring 2013) from the eyes three young Americans: Sachi, Nobu and Terrence.

In writing The Red Kimono, I used point of view “exercises” in developing the story. Even if I didn’t use the full results in the book, the exercises answered questions and deepened the story. Here are two of the “exercises” that worked for me:

Interviewing my characters

One day, I was trying to write a “Nobu Chapter.” I’m not sure if my fingers were frozen because I had too many ideas in my mind, or nothing in my mind, but it was nothing that won the battle. I’d write a paragraph, re-write it, then erase it. Over and over. As a result, after several hours, my page remained blank. The idea came to me that perhaps interviewing my character would help. So, I imagined where I would interview Nobu, what questions I would ask. As I wrote the scene, more questions came to mind. In the end, Nobu told me a secret and my fingers began to fly with what his story would be. It was like magic, and it was one of the most thrilling days of my writing life. (See my blog with the story.)

Tell the story from a different point of view

Another time, I was challenged with “deepening” the scene where Sachi and her family arrive at the internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas. In my research, I’d read several passages written by Japanese-Americans about what they saw and what they felt when they arrived at the relocation camps. Also, my mother and her family were internees. But like the recollections I’d read, their discussions of life in camp were restrained, controlled. So, it was difficult for me to describe the scene on paper from the eyes of my Japanese American characters, Sachi and Nobu.

It was only when I decided to write the scene from the point of view of Jubie, the young black girl who lives in the town just outside of Rohwer, that the scene came alive. Jubie described the fear and confusion on the internees’ faces. Through her eyes, I described what it was like to have a crowd yell ugly words. Though I didn’t use Jubie’s scene in The Red Kimono, I was able to use many parts of it. Best of all? The scene became a stand-alone short story (Voices Anthology, Volume III) that was later nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

So, to me, point of view is so much more than “I, he, she, you, etc. It is how the story is told from the eyes of a character with whom the reader can empathize. The best part of writing this way is that it helps me to understand characters not only in my writerly world, but in my real world, too.

Links of interest:

Fiction Writing @ suite 101

Dummies.com : How to Understand Point-of-view in Literarture by Geraldine Woods

BIO:
Jan Morrill’s award-winning short stories and memoir essays have been published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books and several anthologies. Recently, she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her short story “Xs and Os,” which appeared in the Voices Anthology.

Her two children grown, Jan lives on a farm her husband, two dogs and two cats, five chickens and one lucky rooster—that is, when she’s not getting new story ideas while on a new adventure somewhere else in the world.

The Red Kimono will be released by The University of Arkansas Press Spring 2013.

Also available on Amazon is her EBook, Doll in the Red Kimono. In this compilation of essays and excerpts, Jan shares the challenges of becoming published, as well as memories of family history and how they led to the story of her characters, Sachi, Nobu and Terrence. In reflections of current events, she writes about similarities to the events of the 1940’s and why it’s important that history be remembered. (http://www.amazon.com/Doll-Red-Kimono-ebook/dp/B009FDY4XM/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1348417651&sr=1-1#

For more information, please visit Jan’s website or blogs:

http://www.janmorrill.com/home.html
http://theredkimono.com/
http://www.janmorrill.wordpress.com/
http://haikubyhaiku.wordpress.com/

I hope you enjoyed the meeting Jan Morrill, and please let us know, which approach you take: POV or Characterization.

Happy Reading and Writing!

Smiles,
Linda Joyce
www.linda-joyce.com

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About Linda Joyce

Writing is a curious journey. You don't pick it, it picks you. See my website at www.Linda-Joyce.com to learn more about me.
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12 Responses to Is it POV or Characterization?

  1. I agree that POV and characterization are completely interwoven. I think in the romance world it would be referred to as “voice.”
    Very nice, Jan.
    kathy

  2. Jackie Rod says:

    As always, your posts are thought provoking, Linda. I agree–you can’t separate deep POV and characterization. Thanks for guest-blogging today and the tips to help us hone our craft, Jan. “The Red Kimono” sounds great, and I wish you much success with it.

  3. Ann Greenfield says:

    Wow!! How easy you make POV sound. I’ll have to try interviewing my characters. I’ve had them write me a letter to tell me about themselves, but asking them questions makes since.

  4. Jack LaBloom says:

    POV was one of the most difficult concepts for me to learn as a writer. I wrote in first person until I finally got it. Now, I love to write in third person, because it provides a lot more flexibility. Well done, Jan.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Jack, like you, I was very challenged with POV at first. In fact, it drove me crazy trying to “get it,” and there was even a time or two that I wanted to give up. Funny that now, it’s my favorite part of writing. 🙂 Thank you for commenting!

  5. Jan Morrill says:

    Linda, thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on your beautiful blog! In the past, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and now, I’m lucky enough to be ON your blog and love reading “our” comments. 🙂

    • Linda Joyce says:

      Jan,

      It was an honor to feature your writing wisdom. I wish you much success in your upcoming publication. Can’t wait to add your autographed book to my collection.

      Smiled,

      Linda

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