Tipping the Velvet

First of Two Posts on this Book

Tipping the Velvet is set in 1890’s in England. The glimpse into that time period in England is interesting and adds another layer onto the book.  This blog is about character and how to write better characters.  This post will focus on that aspect of Sarah’s debut novel, while next week’s post will delve more into the rest of the book.  There is really so much to learn from this book that I could not fit it all into one post.

Point of View, First Person

Writing in the first person is the most difficult point of view to write in and to capture the main character’s personality. The most helpful book I have read about Point of View is Point of View: Tips, Tricks and Tools of the Writer’s Trade by Alfie Thompson writes about First Person POV, “Skillful First Person POV requires good characterization.” First person POV is evidently not for the faint of heart nor the inexperienced.

Character Arc, Times Three

Sarah takes the main character, Nancy Astley, on a journey, three really, from a naive teen working in an oyster parlor with her family to a happy adult in love. This is a long journey, full of twists and with three distinct character arcs built into one long character arc.

In essence, the reader learns who Nancy Astley is three times. The reader is introduced to Nancy as an oyster girl. Then Nancy is whisked off to London with Kitty. Nancy becomes a male impersonator along side Kitty Butler, as well as Kitty’s lover, until Kitty marries their manager. When Nancy finds Kitty in bed with their manager, she leaves Kitty and the show. Nancy then falls into a depression before being propelled out if it by a newspaper article about Kitty’s marriage. Nancy learns how to survive on the street dressed as a boy renter before being picked up by a wealthy older lesbian. She is given many luxuries of life in exchange for the sexual gratification of her rich keeper, Diane. When this turns sour and she is kicked out on the street, she has to scramble to survive yet again. This time she ends up on the doorstep of Florence, where a new chapter and self discovery begin.

The reader is with Nancy as she moves through each stage of Nancy’s life and as she grows and matures. The reader is there as Nancy adapts to each new set of circumstances and when she finally finds what she has been looking for since she left Whitstable, love.


Three phases of Nancy’s life in Tipping the Velvet.

Sarah re-introduces the reader to Nancy over and over again as Nancy evolves and changes due to her inner growth and response to her circumstances and life. This book is really three examples in one of how to write a character in first person POV.

What We Can Learn

Sarah makes writing in first person seem easy and effortless, but all great artists have that capability.

  • Put the mechanics of the story, including POV, behind the story or in other words, put the story first.
  • Let the characterization of the character in first person POV happen gradually. Don’t rush the process. Allow the story and the character’s reaction to the story gradually characterize the main character. Have patience with the first person POV process and let it unfold slowly.
  • Utilize both objective and Subjective POV for a richer experience within First Person POV.

Summarized from a table in Thompson’s book above on POV:

Objective is:









Subjective is:





Making love




Stay tuned next week for the second post on Sarah Waters book, Tipping the Velvet.

Next week I will review the content of the book. Tipping the Velvet is certainly worth at least two posts!

What have you learned about writing in first person POV from other books or sources? Please write what you have learned from this book or any other books on writing in first person.

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