Gracie posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I LOVED LOVED LOVED your precis of Downton Abbey (in your newsletter) and why it rocks. Having everyone with secrets and goals certainly keeps things hopping.
My question is: If I’m writing first person POV how do I convey the goals and dreams of my other characters in a way that makes the story as exciting as (if not more exciting than!) a multiple third person POV story.
Randy sez: Gracie is referring to the article WHY DOWNTON ABBEY ROCKS in the March, 2012 issue of my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine.
When you’re writing in first person point of view, you can’t get inside the heads of any other characters. So how do you let your reader know their hopes and dreams and goals?
That’s a good question. Remember that in the movies and on TV, we see all the characters from “outside.” It’s very rare to do a voiceover that lets the viewer in on the thoughts of the focus character.
The answer is by looking at their actions and listening to their dialogue.
In Downton Abbey, one of the young housemaids, Gwen, wants to quit service and work as a secretary. This is extremely important to her. But we never get to hear the thoughts inside her head about this.
Here’s how the makers of Downton Abbey showed us this dream of Gwen’s:
First, we see her in the post office sending off a letter. We don’t know what’s in the letter, but she acts secretive about it when she runs into Mr. Bates. So we know this is important to her but it’s also something she can’t share with anyone.
Later, Gwen returns to her room, which she shares with another maid, Anna. Anna is rummaging around in Gwen’s things, and Gwen gets angry and asks what she’s doing. Anna asks what’s in that big case, and she won’t quit asking until Gwen admits that she’s taking a correspondence course in typing and shorthand because she wants to become a secretary.
There, the secret’s out. But we still don’t know why. That comes later, in a scene where Miss O’Brien has found Gwen’s typewriter and brought it down to the servant’s dining room for inspection by the butler, Mr. Carson. Gwen bursts in on them and demands to know why they’re violating her privacy. Carson insists on knowing why she has a typewriter in her room.
Gwen then explains more fully her dream and why she wants to leave service. She has nothing against being a servant. There’s nothing wrong with it. But it’s not what she wants to do. She wants to be a secretary, and that’s that.
Eventually, word gets back to the Crawley family. Some of them are appalled at the idea of a servant leaving service. Others think she has a perfect right. The youngest daughter, Sybil, is a huge fan of women’s rights, and she argues that Gwen should be allowed to do what she wants.
Then Sybil goes the extra mile. She finds Gwen and tells her that she’ll give her a reference which is suitably vague on her work experience, so it won’t be obvious that she’s just a housemaid. For several episodes, Sybil actively looks for job opportunities for Gwen, makes her send in applications, and goes with her to interviews.
That’s how you show a character’s hopes and dreams when you can’t go inside their head. You use actions and dialogue. You use conflict to force the character to explain her motives in dialogue.
Notice that when Sybil comes into the picture to help Gwen achieve her dream, we learn more about Sybil’s own dreams of a world where women have the right to vote and work and do whatever they want.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Gracie O'Neil says
Thanks Randy! That’s wonderful advice, and I appreciate it.