Geek Girl Learns…

From Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint

Well, this one was certainly interesting…

Disclaimer: I totally disagree with pretty much all of Orson Scott Card’s politics, but I attempted to read this through without bias. It has been recommended to me by several teachers, so here we go.

Disclaimer #2: It’s also a book that is close to 35 years old. Some of the recommended techniques and perspectives reflect that.


Overall, I thought it was a good introduction to character creation. Card gives a great deal for writers to think about, especially in thinking about a new character for a novel. While I could see a bit of his own personal bias coming through in some of the examples, it didn’t reflect on the actual teachings of the book. The viewpoint portion of the book went deep into several types of POV, which I appreciated.

However, the advice in the viewpoint half of the book was so outdated (especially for current Young Adult authors) as to be nearly useless. Probably good for its time, but that time was the 80s, and writing has moved on. (More on this later…)

The Good…

This is a good reference for character creation, including what should go into a character based on what type of novel you are writing. I especially liked the references to the MICE quotient. In sum, all books are made up of four broad elements: Mileu, Idea, Character, and Event. Depending on which element your story emphasizes, you adjust your character creation and depth accordingly. I’ll include links for further reference into this.

Card does a good job describing techniques with Third Person, especially the difference between omniscient and deep third.

Card takes us back to the very basics (What even is a character, anyway?), and leads us through to exploring the deep meanings and motivations of our characters. He also reminds us that we don’t have to do this amount of investment for every single character on the page. If the bartender just serves drinks, then let the guy serve drinks. We don’t need to know about his sick cat.

The Bad…

This is a basic book. While it goes deep into both character and POV, a lot of what it covers is done much better in longer works that cover more ground. In order to keep the book short and sweet, Card sometimes reverts to lists of things (motivations, or types of characters) without going into techniques for smoothly incorporating the list into a character or story line. I’ve read lots of craft books, and there wasn’t much that was new or interesting here. (Except, of course, what was mentioned above!)

The Ugly…

First Person MUST have a separate narrator? I don’t think so…

And now we get to it. Orson Scott Card has definite viewpoints (Ha! see the pun there?) on viewpoint. He almost dismissed First Person entirely, claiming that it was such a limited POV that there were very few stories that could be told that way. He especially didn’t like First Person Past Tense, claiming that it needed some sort of framing device to introduce the reader to the narrator. That extra step separates the reader from the story. Well, true.

But very much outdated, especially in the Young Adult market today.

The Verdict: I won’t be keeping this book.


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