editing advice, hemlock notations, how to write, Perspective, Point of View, World Building, writing advice, Writing Tips
The next perspective I want to talk about in introducing readers to your world is, the grizzled veteran. This character can be a veteran cop, or soldier, or knight, or private detective, or wizard, or private detective/wizard. It doesn’t really matter what their profession is, what matters is they have lived and worked in the world of your story for some time, enough time to be an old hand at everything that’s going to happen.
As with the S/I/O technique, this technique is best from the first person and third person limited point-of-view. The Harry Dresden books, and the Hunger Games series are good examples of the grizzled veteran P.O.V. Pay attention to the Hunger Games suggestion, because it illustrates that “grizzled veteran” is just a turn of phrase, as Katniss Everdeen is a teenage girl, not “old” in any sense other than in the context of her story, but she has lived in the world of the story for some time and knows about everything in it—which makes her a “veteran” of the world.
DISCLAIMER: This P.O.V. can be exceedingly fun to write in the first person, but you have to be careful with it. The grizzled veteran, first person P.O.V. is the stuff of noir and neo-noir detective novels and movies, and as such can come off as campy or parody very easily if you don’t have a strong grasp of character voice for it, and a plot that can sustain it.
Moving on! Unlike with the S/I/O, the veteran introduces us to the world not by having it explained/taught to them, but how they react to it. If, while on a case/mission/walk through the neighborhood, they encounter a hellhound and they are accepting of it (note: they can be surprised to see it but still accepting), then this tells the readers that hellhounds, and associated other demonic beings, are a part of this world. During the course of the encounter, the veteran struggles to x, y, and z to banish/kill the hellhound, then the readers now know that x, y, and z can kill/banish a hellhound and that similar things can be done to banish/kill other demonic beings. I would like to point out that it must be clear what the veteran’s reaction is and what they do to resolve the situation; it must be clear because those are the things defining your world. If either one of those things is vague or confusing then your world is vague and confusing.
Sometimes, to ease the burden of this character being the sole thing defining your world authors will provide them with a partner. When I say “provide”, I mean the author put in the partner, but story-wise there could be any number of reasons this person has latched onto the main character. In the Harry Dresden example, he is a consultant for the police, and has to have a police detective with him at all times. The presence of the partner is a release valve for the author, allowing them to explain to the partner certain bits of the world taking some of the weight off the back of the veteran and the storytelling. Be careful with this however, because too much explaining to the partner can lead to a flipping of the perspective, giving us an inverted student/initiate/outsider story. The partner should be competent individual in their own right, able to take care of themselves, if lacking in certain knowledge to do that effectively. To bring back the hellhound example, and saying the partner is a police detective, they can shoot the hound, staggering, but not stopping it, slowing it, but not killing it, and fending it off long enough for the veteran to find x, y, and z to deal with it permanently.
One of the ways to ramp up tension in this story is also the scenes of separation, (1) the unintentional split-up, and (2) the proving myself scene. Many of these stories have the plot device of partner/client/chosen one/loved one that need some form of protection (even the partner in this case). The unintentional split-up is usually a trap in order to separate the veteran from the thing they need to protect, but can also come as a twist of fate, or as part of a desperate last stand where the veteran and the thing must be separate for “safety”. The proving-myself-scene can be any of several things, but usually comes from a “I-work-better-alone” attitude, or “they’d-know-you-were-a-cop-from-a-mile-away” setup. Whatever the reason the veteran is taking a risk by going somewhere by themselves. Which can lead to one of two things or both; (1) it’s a trap for the veteran, (2) it’s a lure for the veteran so the “villain” can take a shot at the thing the veteran needed to protect, (3) both of these.
Of course, you don’t need a partner/client/chosen one/loved one to protect to ramp up tension in the story with the veteran. Another way to do that is, the “something new” approach. With this approach, the grizzled veteran who’s seen it all runs into something they’ve never seen before. The reason for this can be as varied as the story your telling, the threat could be ancient, or so rare as to be thought of as a myth, or could just be so gruesome or inventively sadistic that they can’t seem to wrap their mind around it. Let’s look at the show Supernatural, the premise being, there are monsters (werewolves, ghosts, and the like) in the world, and humans, called hunters, that hunt them down and kill them. Sam and Dean, the main characters, were raised to be hunters by their hunter father, and they are good at it, but every once and a while they ran into something they never fought before and would have to research it. In this story they are two grizzled veterans, and partners, and brothers (loved ones).
One of the most interesting ways to make a story with a grizzled veteran interesting, and to ramp up the stakes to eleven, is to have the antagonist another grizzled veteran. This is a person that is just as smart/tough/world weary as the protagonist, and thus can out think them. A story with a grizzled veteran antagonist is multi-layered, with the protagonist unraveling one plot only to find out that it’s there to obscure a much darker one. Probably one of the most famous G.V. vs. G. V. relationships in media is Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Two men, one a master detective, the other a master criminal, both geniuses, dark reflections of the other. The beauty of a Sherlock Holmes mystery was the, “how is he going to solve this one” pull of the character, but…If he solved a case, only to find more threads underneath, the reader knew Moriarty was afoot, and then the pull of the story was if he solved it.
Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.