Understand Your Character’s Obsession

Bret Anthony Johnston

Fiction writers: How well do you know your protagonist? While you may have learned the basics of point of view, and can tell the story from your protagonist’s perspective, how does your protagonist see the events and details of the world around him?

Bret Anthony Johnston suggests, “Point-of-view is defined by obsession.” He writes in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin:

What do a narrator’s choices betray about the narrator’s head and heart, history and preoccupations, fears and desires? … Every detail confirms the POV character’s conscious and subconscious priorities. Our brains run on about 12 watts of power, which isn’t much at all, so to conserve energy, they’ve evolved to only process one thing at a time. Through a totally interesting concept called “inattentional blindness,” we filter out nonessential information while amplifying and concentrating on the stimuli that seems most crucial. This is point-of-view in its purest form.

Read more from Johnston, and try a writing exercise based on this principle.

To read more in the latest bulletin:


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Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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