Review: "Characters and Viewpoint" by Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint is a zoomed-in view of taking a character from invention, to fleshing it out, and finally into the story. Card is an accomplished storyteller in his own right, and with this book, he promises a set of tools which will help a writer create and then distinguish a character.
Characters and Viewpoint is set up in three major parts: invention, construction, and performance. In ‘invention,’ Card explains the usual suspects in nailing down the basic concepts of a character such as motive and action. However, he also presents several more nuanced ideas, such as network, talents, tastes, and how to make a character’s physical description work harder. Finally, he goes into the relationship between character and name, as well as how to create plot beginning with character.
Part two, ‘construction’, focuses on how to most effectively place an invented character in their story and build a world around them. This is where the book begins to move into the ‘intermediate’ level, as Card explains different types of stories, the contract with the reader, and determining how a character can most effectively make a strong first impression on an audience. While many of these topics would be effective for a beginner without any story background, a somewhat more experienced storyteller will recognize more of the terms and situations Card mentions in this section.
Finally, in part three, ‘performance’, Card goes over the different modes of narration and the pros and cons of each. These chapters cover topics such as narrative voice, point of view, and how deep the point of view will be, as well as how to determine where one should use each possibility to the greatest effect.
- Chapter one has several suggestions of things to consider when creating a new character which are not often explained at length.
- Chapter six is an in-depth explanation of the hierarchy between background, walk-on, minor and major characters, with tips on how best to use and characterize each.
- Chapter eight has a series of ‘how to make a first impression’ ideas with characters that are specific enough to be helpful, but general enough for flexibility.
- Chapter seventeen is a very concise and easy-to-understand view of Third-person limited point of view, complete with pictures for clarity.
- Many original examples to illustrate topic.
- Easy to follow along, to build something from the ground up.
- Most any level of writer will find value in this book – re-readability.
- Originally published 1988, no modern examples of passages.
- Very little is mentioned on the concept of world-building. Focus is definitely in the title.
- Orson Scott Card has built a somewhat divisive reputation which is not reflected in this book but is worth noting
The writing style is easy to understand and walks the reader through base-level creation ideas all the way to higher concepts of milieu and how to navigate specific point of views.