Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Through the Lens of Your Protagonist's Eyes

Last week we discussed chain reactions and how the order of feeling, action, and speech should be logically written to make your writing smooth. In other words keep the horse in front of the cart. Today we’re going to focus on seeing the world through your protagonist’s eyes.

Picture it:

Small town USA, stores frame a park in the center of town and at the head is the courthouse with a clock tower. In the park children are playing on a swing set, a woman walks by pushing a stroller, two men are sitting on a park bench, and a young boy tosses a stick for his dog to fetch.

Now enter your protagonist. What is it that your protagonist focuses on? Is it the kids on the swing set, the woman with the stroller, the two men or the boy playing fetch with the dog?

It depends on the genre you write in. If you’re writing suspense and your protagonist is a woman who has been anonymously stalked, where would her focus be?

As Jane hurries through the park, she notices the boy with the dog, but her main focus is on the two men sitting on the park bench. As she gives a wide berth to them, she abruptly comes face to face with the dog that corners her and the boy who pulls out a gun.

Did you notice I didn’t bring up the kids on the swing or the mother with the stroller? I only brought your attention to what was important and how the lens of your protagonist sees them. Her attention was on what she thought was the obvious threat, but it turned out to be the boy and dog AND that is why I mentioned them. A writer must only bring up what is important to the story. It may seem like filler, but that filler is there for a reason and in this case a very important reason.

Okay let’s try it with romance. Say the protagonist is a man in his late thirties, he’s just broken up with his girlfriend, and he realizes he may never have a family of his own.

On Jon's lunch break he goes to the park. He sees the kids on the swing, the boy with the dog and the woman with the stroller. Without thinking Jon stops the woman with the stroller and gazes down on a beautiful sleeping baby. As he chats with the woman he notices her beautiful dark, chocolate eyes; her easygoing nature; and her low, sexy voice. Jon finds out she is the baby’s nanny. The clock on the courthouse tower bongs. She immediately excuses herself saying she has an appointment and leaves. He has no way of getting in touch with her, so on the hopes of meeting her again he comes to the park every day at the same time.

Did you notice the filler? Kids on swing, boy with dog, the courthouse clock tower. A man on his lunch break would notice the clock. A man who yearns for a family would notice the kids on the swing and the boy with the dog. Most importantly because this is a romance a man who yearns for a family would notice the woman with the baby.

Did you also notice the cause and effect in each case? As you write a scene view it through the lens of your protagonist eyes, focus on what he/she will notice, and add filler that is important to the scene.

I’ve only given you the bare bones of each case. To fully flesh out the scene again you need to think of your protagonist. Is he an artist? Would he notice if the trees were hunter green? Is he a landscaper? If so, would he notice the condition of the grass and trees? Is the protagonist a mystery writer? Would she look at every person with a bit of suspicion as she plots out her next novel? A fully fleshed-out protagonist brings context to every scene and as a writer you need to color the lens the readers view your story with just the right amount of focus.


  1. I liked that you point out certain details as being irrelevant to a character based on their primary "need." That does effect the way they'll see/interact. Just like boys won't notice every detail about a woman's clothing and a woman won't always pay attention to what kind of truck a person is driving. ;) (I know, I totally stereotyped there.)

  2. Stereotyped or not, you are right! Thanks so much for adding to the discussion. :)

  3. Kathy, I am enjoying following your post. I'm not a writer but a reader. I believe your post might make my personal Journal a little more interesting. If only I can remember all the great detail of things that happen around me.
    Thank you

  4. Robin, even if you don't think so you are a writer. :) Writing in a journal is awesome. I understand about wanting to capture the details. Even little things can mean so much to future generations who will read it. As I read my late mother's journal I yearned for more. You've reminded me to write in my journal more often. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  5. Really good blog, Kathi. I wish I could do so well with mine.

  6. Thanks, Char. I'm sure your blog will be better than mine once you get going. Thanks for stopping by.



Related Posts with Thumbnails