by Debby Prum, Instructor

Recently, I watched a terrible movie on the SyFy network: Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Gators. (Don’t judge me. I was having a low day.)

A Cajun man dumps toxic moonshine into the local bayou, thereby creating mutant alligators that crave human flesh. These badly rendered, computer-generated reptiles use their tails to hurl lethal darts into people. The hapless victims then re-appear as humanoid gators who go on to torment their former family and friends. In many cases, the loved ones become lunch.

Even in the world of science fiction, the plot made no sense, which meant there was little narrative tension and even less engagement of a non-stoned viewer. Worse yet, many of the off-putting characters behaved reprehensibly, making them unsympathetic. For example, to distract a ragin’ gator, one guy tosses the family mutt to the beast. Really? Maybe a surly teenager–but cute little Fido?

By the end of this movie, I was rooting for the gators. I felt thrilled to see the gruesome demise of each townsperson, not caring about any of them.

So, this awful film got me to thinking–as a writer, how can I capture the attention of my readers and also create characters they care about?

One way to engage a reader is to write prose that decreases the emotional distance between the reader and my protagonist. Successful use of the literary device, point of view (POV), will grab your reader’s attention. Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. It is the type of narration an author chooses in order to place a reader into the fictional universe of a story. A writer’s successful rendering of POV provides a reader with the eyes, ears, heart and mind through which she experiences a story. A writer’s choices re: POV can allow a reader entry to the fictional world they’ve created and access to the greater reaches of the tale.  Successful use of POV can keep a reader riveted to her seat.

Once you’ve determined your POV, that is, once you’ve chosen a narrator through whom you will tell your tale, how do you create ongoing and intensifying sympathy for your character? There are myriad ways. Place your character into difficult situations and then escalate. Create a character who is an outsider.  Portray a character with baggage, for example, someone who has had a traumatic childhood.

Would you like to explore how to write a strong and vibrant point of view in a fictional piece? Want to play with ways to create sympathetic characters?

Attend Keep the Pages Turning: A Mini Retreat at my home on Saturday June 10th from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Attendees will listen to brief (painless) talks, participate in a few (fun) improv exercises, respond to (inspirational) writing prompts, write (brilliant) paragraphs of their own and (kindly) critique each other’s work.This is for writers of all levels. We will discuss elements of point of view and explore ways to create sympathetic characters. Also, we will take a look at how to break out of writing habits and consider new ways to approach universal writing challenges. Think of this as agility training for your mind.  And who knows, maybe some day you can create a screenplay for a movie involving mutant alligators that actually hooks your audience. Think big.

Interested in learning more about Debby? Check out her website.