Character Development and Point of View

In my two previous posts, I discussed character development in hint fiction and character development in a few short words or phrases. The following passage shows a new take on character development. The author describes two characters from each other’s point of view. This technique can be very useful. Developing one character through the observations of another character can serve two purposes–providing a portrait of the character being observed and simultaneously providing a revealing glimpse of the character doing the observing. This method also reveals a character’s own flawed perceptions and preconceived notions, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the true nature of each character.

The unedited passage reads as follows:

She stumbled over the old man to reach the last remaining seat in the waiting room. His legs were stretched out into the middle of the room, and he moved them so slowly that she tripped over them before falling into her own seat. Sophie glared at the old man, thinking he was too enfeebled to even notice the confusion he had caused. He wore a pair of jeans, ironed so that a pale crease ran up the front of each leg. Sophie imagined that someone dressed him each morning and wondered if he even knew what he was wearing. His gray cardigan drifted mellowly over his shoulders, pooling in thick wooly piles at his elbows. His shoes looked thick and sturdy, with thick, sensible-looking soles that probably kept the man upright as he stumbled through his days. Sophie felt sorry for him, bumbling along with no clue what he was doing or who was around him. She opened her book.

The old man sniffed as the girl across from him opened her romance novel. Her chipped red fingernail polish looked cheap and artificial to him. She wore the rhinestone-studded jeans the old man often saw in the windows of the cheap stores near the library. The girl moved her lips as she read. But at least she had stopped staring at him. The old man picked up his ball-point pen and returned to the New York Times Sunday crossword he had been doing before she tripped over him.

The following is the edited passage.

She stumbled over the old man in the waiting room. His legs were stretched out into the middle of the room, and he moved them so slowly that she tripped over them before falling into her own seat. Sophie glared at the old man, thinking he was too senile to notice the confusion he had caused. He wore a pair of jeans, ironed so that a pale crease ran up the front of each leg. Sophie imagined that someone dressed him each morning. She wondered if he even knew what he was wearing. His gray cardigan pooled at his elbows. His shoes were thick and sturdy and probably kept the man upright as he stumbled through his days. Sophie felt sorry for him, bumbling along without knowing what he was doing or who was around him. She opened her book.

The old man sniffed as the girl across from him opened her romance novel. Her chipped red fingernail polish looked cheap. She wore the rhinestone-studded jeans the old man often saw in the windows of the discount stores near the library. The girl moved her lips as she read. But at least she had stopped staring at him. The old man picked up his ball-point pen and returned to the New York Times Sunday crossword he had been doing before she tripped over him.

The passage with my editing marks follows. My additions are underlined, and my editorial comments are in brackets and italicized.

She stumbled over the old man to reach the last remaining seat in the waiting room. [As the passage now reads, she reaches her seat at the end of this sentence and at the end of the following one. I’ve left only one mention of her seat, in the second sentence.] His legs were stretched out into the middle of the room, and he moved them so slowly that she tripped over them before falling into her own seat. Sophie glared at the old man, thinking he was too enfeebled senile [From what we later learn about Sophie, it seems she would be unlikely to use a word like enfeebled,” even in her own thoughts.] to even notice the confusion he had caused. He wore a pair of jeans, ironed so that a pale crease ran up the front of each leg. Sophie imagined that someone dressed him each morning and. She wondered if he even knew what he was wearing. His gray cardigan drifted mellowly over his shoulders, poolinged in thick wooly piles at his elbows. [“Drifted mellowly” doesn’t convey a clear description.] His shoes looked were thick and sturdy, with thick, sensible-looking soles that and probably kept the man upright as he stumbled through his days. [I eliminated one use of the word “thick.” Because “thick” applies to the soles of the man’s shoes, I also eliminated the mention of his soles.] Sophie felt sorry for him, bumbling along without knowing no clue [Although Sophie would probably use the term “no clue,” I think “without knowing” makes more sense.] what he was doing or who was around him. She opened her book.

The old man sniffed as the girl across from him opened her romance novel. Her chipped red fingernail polish looked cheap and artificial to him. [Nail polish is inherently artificial, so I cut this word. “To him” is already understood from the fact that the old man is looking at the girl and thinking about her.] She wore the rhinestone-studded jeans the old man often saw in the windows of the cheap discount stores near the library. The girl moved her lips as she read. But at least she had stopped staring at him. The old man picked up his ball-point pen and returned to the New York Times Sunday crossword he had been doing before she tripped over him. [I like this surprising ending to the description of the man. We learn a great deal about Sophie and about the man himself.]

Please send me your thoughts or comments about this post. I would love to hear from you.

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply