It' s my privilege to welcome Karin Harlow to our blog. I read about her on another blog and immediately fired off an email inviting her to visit with us. She graciously agreed. Welcome Karin!
Digging Deep and Writing Backstory, While Keeping Up the Pace
by Karin Harlow
First, I want to say, thank you, Ruby for the invitation to guest blog today! You asked me to write about deep POV and writing back story without info dumping.
I’m going to borrow a bit from a Magical Musings blog I did last month on character because one: it was one of my finer moments (and trust me, when it comes to craft, I am so not good at How Tos, but when it comes to characters, which is one of my strengths, and I’m all about playing got my strengths, I do really well conveying How To.) and two POV is character, so to understand POV, you must understand the character whose POV you are writing..
I’d like to say also, that for me personally, as a reader and a writer, story =character. Yes, there has to be a plot, but to me, a romance writer, character is what drives everything. Characters are emotional beings who make us care. Not because of a clever plot or an amazing setting. Give me characters I care about and you have me. Give me characters that are flat, boring or unoriginal, the book is hitting the wall.
I work very hard on developing passionate characters that I care about, here’s why:
Edie Ramer over at Magical Musings wrote about the heroine, Jax Cassidy, in my paranormal debut, ENEMY LOVER: Harlow’s character is really messed up…Harlow’s heroine isn’t just damaged, she’s been ripped apart and put back together with a few of the pieces misplaced. She’s a strong woman who’s been horribly wronged. We can see that in her thoughts. Though she’s not a traditional heroine, I’m rooting for her from the first page. Harlow writes in third person, very deep POV. So deep she’s hitting the ocean floor…Harlow is raw!
From The Romance Dish: It has been a long time since I have read a novel that includes the total realm of emotions. This book has it all – desperation, passion, humor, fear, anger, despair, love, lust, sadness, euphoria and oh so many more. I was pushed almost to the point of emotional overload, but in such a good way.
For characters to be viable and layered, the writer must pull at our emotions, as they are pulling at the character’s emotions.
When you begin your story, I think it’s very important to give a quick snapshot of who, what, where, and how. I’m a big less is more kind of girl; so long as the words are strong, and paint a clear picture. And the good news is, it’s easier to write than it seems.
Here’s the first paragraph in ENEMY LOVER, Angela (soon to be Jax Cassidy) Giacomelli’s POV:
How do you weave in back story without stopping the action?
I like to show, not tell, so here is a generic example of simple POV:
The rain had stopped. I hate the rain.
What do we know about the character? She hates the rain.
What else do we know? Nothing.
Deeper POV with back story:
I stepped outside and turned my face up to the stubborn sun. It had been weeks since it shone. I was glad for it. The rain reminded me of Devon. He loved the rain, so did I. Once. Now. I hate it.
Now, we not only have action and back story but we have that all important element: Emotion. We are pulled in by this character’s loss. We know that someone named Devon who once meant a lot to her is gone. Either physically or emotionally or both. We have a peek into her heart. We know she has emotions. We feel empathy, because on one level or another we have all lost something or someone we loved.
So, how deep do you have to go to create characters we care about? Pretty damn deep. Think of it this way: What has it taken for you to become who you are? What has it taken to instill deep-rooted fears, phobias and angst? What in your past can lead to an instant meltdown or conversely, what makes you stand and fight? What profound events or persons in your past have shaped who you are today?
Here’s one single paragraph in the first scene where we meet ENEMY LOVER hero and uber badass, Marcus Cross. He’s waiting for his mark to arrive so that he can eliminate him.
Marcus curbed a sneer. Since his change seven years ago as he lay dying in the hills of Afghanistan, his natural predatory senses had become so acute, so fine tuned, so accurate, his vision rivaled that of a hawk, his sense of smell was as keen as a wolf’s, and his reflexes and strength were that of a cobra. No living thing could stop him. He was a vampire of the highest order.
This one single paragraph is a loaded one-two punch. We know that before Marcus was changed, he was a badass. We know where he was changed and what he was changed into. We know he likes it, in that he revels in his power and sneers at mere mortals. He is arrogant in his knowledge that there is nothing that can bring him down. He is scary, and sexy. We also know after having met Jax (aka Angela) earlier in the story, that when these two collide, it’s going to be an epic event.
POV is character. Think of it this way: when it comes to delving deep into a character’s POV we have to remember that it’s their past that creates their present. As with us, it’s our past that gives us depth and dimension. If you begin a story with no past, you create a one-dimensional present, which is boring. POV is how your character views the events and emotions in his or her life at that moment. Their past defines that POV.
Take a minute to think about which characters you’ve read are the ones who stand out? Why? Is it the hero who comes home to find his fiancé in bed with his best friend and who now because of that one incident distrusts all women? Or is it the hero whose distrust of women began earlier. Abandonment by his mother as a young child, abandonment by his own people because he wasn’t completely like them. Abandonment by a drunken father who drops dead in front of him when he’s only five. All of these issues reinforced as a teenager then again as a young man, so that when it comes to commitment of any kind he walks away. Why should he trust anyone when everyone in his life has abandoned him on one level or another?
Here’s where Marcus is mentally after he meets Jax for the first time while he’s conferring with his maker, Joseph Lazarus, who wants Marcus to eliminate a non enemy of the state to make a point. When we first meet Marcus, he’s arrogantly content to be what he is. Now in his deep POV, he begins to question the feelings he has pushed down since his human life and now into his immortal life. He also gives us still a little more of his back story without clogging up the pace. And despite what he is, an assassin, we empathize with him. A peek into Marcus’s soul:
Everything had become easier for him these last seven years. He was stronger and faster. He could see into the night, smell scents from long distances and even take the form of the victims he drained dry. He was the six-million-dollar man except he had no soul. He was the perfect killing machine. Isolated from humanity even while being in the thick of it.
So why did it bother him? Why now, when his human life had been unmarked by relationships?
Was it because he at least had hope then? The possibility, whereas now there was none? Not even when he found a woman who could affect him the way the one last night had?
Maybe he should stay where he stood and await the sun, then perhaps his soul would be at peace. As it was, it clamored for something he knew he could not find in his current life. What it was he didn’t know…
When writing in your character’s deep POV, you have to dig into their past. To the events that shaped them, the things that angered them, made them love, made them hate and made them smile. As their storyteller, you have to be them, and convey their thoughts, actions and most importantly, their emotions to the page.
If as a child you almost drown, your reaction to water may be immediate. Recoiling in fear. A natural reaction to the fear of drowning. What event instilled this fear?
Same thing applies with deep character POV. Put your character in a scene where she has to jump into the deep end of a murky pool to save a kitten. You show her balking. You feed us her fear and you take us back to what initiated the fear. That’s digging into deep POV. And it’s giving us back story that doesn’t slow down the pace. If she dives into the water, despite her fear, to save the kitten, the scene shows character building. Conversely, if she chooses to walk away, we now have, hopefully, her guilt over allowing the kitten to drown because she was too weak to overcome her fear to deal with it.
And remember two people can experience the same exact trauma and act one of three different ways. One can curl up in a ball and wish the world away. One can come out fighting, and yet another, as many men do, simply walk away and drift as a lost soul until someone or something ignites the fire inside to fight.
POV is the author’s tool to telling a character’s story. And in POV, the author reveals back story. I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks, but I am a fan of dialogue as a tool to give back story. Whether it’s the character whom the back story belongs or other characters in the story talking about another character’s back story. Just remember when you use dialogue in this way, it must be relevant, and move the story forward. If it’s idle conversation, you need to find another way, the best way IMO, is through the character who experienced it.
Always remember that a story is a narrative of a characters’ journey. What is story without character? Boring. What is story with characters we don’t care about? Irritating. But what are stories that pull you so deep into the character’s life, thoughts and emotions that you are there with them and you care? Wonderfully fulfilling!
I have a signed copy of ENEMY LOVER up for grabs for a lucky commenter: All you have to do is ask me an industry related question to get your name in the drawing!