Book Review · Creative Writing

Ender’s Game and Writing Great Characters

Whatever your opinion of Orson Scott Card as a person (and that’s all I’m going to say about his controversial views), there is little doubt that he is a good writer. I’d been meaning to read more of his stories since I stumbled upon one of his short stories in a sci-fi collection, but they didn’t move to the top of my reading list until I learned Ender’s Game is going to be a film. I wanted to read the book before Hollywood ruins it (don’t get me wrong — I’m going to see the movie and it might be good, but there’s no way it can be as good as the book).

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve read (been absorbed by?) eight of the books: Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, and four of the Shadow books (Shadows in Flight is waiting for me on the bookshelf).

Chronology of Enderverse books. Numbers in parentheses are years of first publication. Question marks indicate a work that has been announced but not yet published.

Brilliant Characters

There are many things right with the Enderverse books. The plots are intriguing and Card’s ideas are some of the most fascinating I’ve ever encountered in fiction. But it is the strength of his characters that make the books so compelling.

There is a quote from Ender’s Game that I think helps explain the appeal of Card’s characters. In this scene, Ender is discussing the secret of his brilliant military strategies.

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.

The idea I want to focus on is this: when you fully understand someone and see through their eyes, you can’t help but love them. The way Card writes his characters, it is possible for the readers to understand them and see through their eyes enough to love them. I know not everyone who reads these books will have the same kind of reaction to the characters that I did, but I think it’s telling that I finished three of these eight books in tears not necessary because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed by how much I sympathized with the characters.

Person and Point of View

All the Ender books (that I’ve read) are written in close third-person narration. This lets Card get inside his characters’ minds, but also gives him the freedom to tell the story from several points of view. Though it is possible to switch between different characters when writing in first-person, it is not generally recommended. (I’m trying to do it in one novel, alternating chapters between the two main characters, and it’s not easy.) If you want to tell the story from multiple points of view, third-person is the way to go.

Person and point of view are two of the first choices writers have to make when starting a fiction story. Sometimes the decision is easy. If you need to tell the story from multiple points of view, third person is the logical choice. If you have one main character you want the readers to connect with, first person is generally the one you’ll write in. If you write like Orson Scott Card does, you can take advantage of both closeness to the character and switching between multiple points of view.

Reading a wide variety of books is really the best way to get a feel for how each point of view works. You can also try writing a scene for your newest story in different points of view and different persons to see what works best.

MarisMcKay.com writing prompts
Point of view and person writing prompt
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