A tween-ager read my book, To Catch a Golden Ring and wrote to me saying, “I felt like I was Angie. I experienced everything she did, and I felt like the things that happened to her were happening to me. It was like I could get under her skin!”
How do we writers create stories that pull readers in? How do we build characters that matter, characters that readers relate to? The secret is in a technique called single character viewpoint. This means that everything that happens is seen, or heard, or smelled, or felt by the main character — the viewpoint character — and by that one character alone. Such a character may be seen as “I,” (first person singular) or as “he/she” (third person singular). The choice is the author’s. Some of us write more easily in first person, some in third. The “person” is often dictated by the style and content of the book. As you are writing, it will become apparent to you which voice you are most comfortable with.
The single character viewpoint is a convention of style that does not diminish the supporting cast. It simply answers the question, “Whose story is this?” In To Catch a Golden Ring, the story is Angie’s. She therefore has to be on center stage throughout the book. Everything is seen through her eyes, heard through her ears, felt as only Angie can feel. She is the most developed character — the one who grows and changes before our eyes. She is the character with a problem that must be solved, the character that sounds like no other.
Does this mean that secondary characters are static? Not at all. They move and breathe. They have opinions. They laugh and cry and cause happiness and tears. They have their own voices. They have their own problems. But they are seen only through the eyes of the viewpoint character.
They are humanized through dialogue and tone of voice (which the viewpoint character hears), through movement and facial expressions (which the viewpoint character sees and interprets), and through particular character traits (that the viewpoint character observes). Each supporting character must move the plot forward in some way, each must sound different, each must have a unique voice — without taking over the story.
Creating a viewpoint character is a convention of style that will serve you well in the middle grade novel. A viewpoint character keeps your plot on track, creates a relationship with setting, and allows secondary characters to develop into important story enhancers. A well-developed viewpoint character will carry your story from start to finish.
Just think how much work that is going to save you!
Contributed by Marilyn Donahue