Monday, May 23, 2011

The Active Hero and Thoughts on POV

In my last post I put a spotlight on the character Corwin of Amber and talked a bit about how he's a great active hero. After writing that post, I felt an urge to reread the Amber books. Some books just get better every time you read them. This morning I came across a passage from the first book in the series, Nine Princes in Amber, that ties into that post very well.

Corwin and his brother Bleys are discussing their family and each sibling's respective claim to the recently vacant throne of Amber. Bleys says to Corwin:

"I wish Benedict were here. I wish Gerard had not sold out."

Corwin responds:

"Wishes, wishes. Wish in one hand and do something with the other, and squeeze them both and see which one comes true."

This struck me as being very applicable to writing. Every character has wishes and things that they want. Their desires are what make them who they are. But a story happens when a character does something about it.

Right before the above conversation Corwin was in a position where he had just gotten back his memory and was able to use a certain magic to go anywhere he wanted. He knew that he brother Eric was trying to find him and kill him. He could easily have reacted to that danger by hiding in Shadow until he was safe. But Corwin doesn't use the magic to run away. Instead, he uses it to take himself to the city of Amber its self, Eric's stronghold. While there he fights a sword duel with Eric and tries to kill him. Only when the situation is beyond hope and Corwin is about to be captured does he retreat. But he doesn't let his defeat stop him. Immediately after this conversation Corwin raises a freaking army of 100,000 soldiers to attack Amber.

That, my friends, is an active hero.

I'm glad I've taken this opportunity to study Corwin, because I think a strong, active POV/Main character like him is extremely important. But it's also something I've really been struggling with.

My WIP has multiple "main characters" though there's one in particular that drives the plot forward. Kamose is a forceful personality with strong desires and he goes to some very extreme lengths to see his goals accomplished during the story. However, he is not my POV character.

My POV character is his friend and close companion, Setekhpenre. Setekh basically gets taken along for the ride as Kamose carries out his plans. Uh oh. Did you hear the warning bells going off in your head? Gets taken along for the ride. Yeah, talk about a passive character.Now, Setekh isn't always passive. He's very involved in eventually rectifying the destruction that Kamose unleashes, but I can't escape the fact that in the beginning he's pretty darn boring. And I don't know what to do about it.

Some might say, just make Kamose the POV character. But I don't want to do that because I don't want his voice telling the story. Kamose is... a bit crazy and his perspective isn't the one I want readers to see through. Setekh's role in the conclusion of the story is important and he's the one who will be able to illuminate the themes I want the story to explore. So how do I make him more interesting in the beginning? How do I make him more active but still a good foil for Kamose?

The answer is probably in what I mentioned before. Our characters' desires make them who they are and give them the goals that drive them forward. So what does Setekh want? What drives him forward? I'm note really sure. This is something I'm going to need to spend some time thinking on. I think I need to get to know Setekh better. Time for a week of character exploration.

In addition this week I'll be participating in the Power of Tension blogfest hosted by Cally Jackson Writes and Rachel Morgan Writes. This cool blogfest give us 5 whole days to post a snippet of writing that showcases  strong use of tension. My post probably won't be until Friday, the final day, because I am a procrastinator of epic proportions. Still, be looking for that. I'll have a scene from my WIP to post.


  1. I don't know all the details of your story, but have you considered making Setekh desperate NOT to go along?

    If you give him something (or someone)else he wants to do, something that's important to him, how he gets dragged along becomes much more interesting through the conflict. He doesn't have to actually do the other thing, just the desire woud be enough. Active doesn't always have to be in the positive.

    Not sure if that helps, but thought I'd mention it.


  2. Mood, he definitely DOES NOT want to go along. But I hadn't thought of giving him something he desperately wants that is in conflict with Kamose's goals. That would definitely up the tensions. Thanks.

  3. Your post brings up good questions for all of us. How do we handle that character that needs to be in the story, has an important role yet isn't the main MC? I like to bounce ideas off my critique group sometimes. Other times I create a sub-plot that this pesky character can be an important part of in order to highlight the 'thing' about them that needs to be relevant. Hope that helps.
    N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

  4. Oh, good idea, N.R. A subplot for Setekh might be just the thing to liven him up. Now I just have to think of one...

  5. Sounds like Setekh just wants out of the situation!

  6. When all else fails, add conflict! Yeah, I know, I'm a real help. :(

  7. That's the hardest part sometimes, not letting the MC drift along into the conflict. I'd think the best way to handle this situation is not to fight the fact that it's Kamose who gets the MC involved in most of the early issues (who doesn't have a friend that gets them into trouble on a regular basis?), but WHY your MC allows himself to be pulled along.

    That's all I got. :)

  8. Well, Kamose is really the main main character. But Setekh is the POV character. So you see the dilemma.

  9. Great analysis. Active heroes aren't a necessity, but nine times out of ten, they're more interesting and enduring than their more passive brethren. Give me an active hero any day - and yet, active heroes can be ridiculously hard to write. It's a lot easier to write about someone who just sits there and takes it, rather than getting up to *do* something about it.

  10. Great questions, Sarah! I think I'll go ask all my characters about their motivations one more time...

  11. Thanks, K.M. I find I prefer active heroes most of the time.

    Deniz, isn't that so important? This discussion has made me realize how much I've neglected Setekh's personal motivations.


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