Saturday, October 8, 2011

Whose View Is It Anyway?

Fact: If you’re a writer, you hear voices in your head. 
For the rest of the world, this condition is most often met with bleak concern, and then consequently treated with a regiment of anti-psychotic pharmaceuticals. But for a writer, hearing voices is a good thing! This means the creative juices are flowing, plot lines are developing and characters are taking shape.
Fact: Before family intervention becomes a necessity (or said writer’s head explodes), the best course of action is to write those voices down.
I know several authors who start projects this way. Rather than plotting, outlining, or mapping out characterization, they sit down at the computer and write nothing but dialogue – a stream of sentences punctuated by simple quotation marks.
If this is the way you choose to begin your writing process, most excellent. But keep in mind that at some point or another, a tough decision needs to be made. From which character’s Point of View (POV) will the scene most benefit? Or, if two POVs are necessary, at what point during the scene do you make the switch?
Enter the POV SNAFU. 
In most romance novels, authors choose to write predominately from two perspectives, the Hero and Heroine. After all, who better to speak of their developing emotional connection than the two main characters? Also more often than not, the prose is written from Third Person POV, meaning third-person pronouns such as he, she, and they are used to relate story events.
Note:  for more information on choosing which Point Of View is right for your story go here
However, whatever viewpoint you choose to relate your story, one thing above all is imperative: THE AUTHOR MUST REMAIN IN ONE HEAD AT A TIME
In other words, just because you’ve got umpteen characters clamoring for attention inside the ol’ grey matter, doesn’t mean the reader needs to receive their viewpoints all at once. On the contrary. Giving the viewpoint of each character present in a scene only confuses the reader, and creates a nasty little technical issue called “The Head Pop”.
I do NOT mean to imply that your entire manuscript should be written from one POV. That issue is for the author alone to decide. Nor am I saying a POV shift mid-scene is a deal breaker. In fact, I’ve read stories where POV shifts have taken place mid-conversation, and was blown away by the author’s seamless transition ( this takes a keen eye and incredible talent, and I’ve seen it done well only a handful of times). What I AM saying is if you are crafting a scene that contains more than one character, the author must be careful to interpret the scene from only one perspective, until the scene ends or a new POV is introduced.  
Now here’s the part where you roll up your sleeves, because we’re about to get down to the nitty-gritty.
Although each scene in your manuscript is best served by writing from only one POV at a time, that doesn’t mean you should disregard all the other POVs in the room. No, no, no. What it does mean is that all internal dialogue, sensory input, and scenery interpretation needs to come from ONE character -- while at the same time that ONE character **SHOWS** the reader the reactions of the other characters to the same information.
Think about it this way. On the off chance your significant other storms into the house wearing a scowl–perhaps by the way he slammed the door, the set of his jaw or the sudden tension in the room– something in his demeanor tells you an “incident” has occurred. Although you may have a sneaking suspicion he just located the $400 receipt for the brand new Prada boots you hid in the back of the closet, you’re not volunteering that information until you know for sure, right? Right? Hopefully his bad mood has nothing to do with you. Perhaps he got a flat tire or is angry with his boss. But until you know for sure, you’re keeping your big trap shut!
Same thing with POV. While you, as the author, must have a good grasp of what’s going on inside each of your character’s heads, and you must slowly leak this information out to the reader – your characters will not know what the other people in the room are thinking. Unless, of course, you’re crafting a paranormal story, and some of your characters have psychic ability. And even then the author must be VERY CLEAR about how they are receiving information. 
When considered thusly, POV shifts seem fairly straightforward, and spotting them can be easy. 
That being said, it’s now time to play Spot the POV SNAFU!  *Yay! Whistles and cheers from the audience.*
For 10 points, here’s your first scene. Can you spot the shift? (Keep in mind, everything should be written from ONE perspective.)
Meredith stared across the dimly lit bar. The man leaning against the far wall was tall with dark, thick hair that made her fingers itch with anticipation. Would those waves be as soft as they appeared? She longed to find out.
When she met his gaze across the distance, she placed a trembling hand on her chest, and Derek wondered if her heart raced just as fast under the cream cashmere sweater she wore.
If you guessed: and Derek wondered if her heart raced just as fast under the cream cashmere sweater she wore, you are correct! We first started in Meredith’s head, but then ended in Derek’s. The POV shift sticks out and is fairly easy to spot.  
For 20 points, here’s your second scene. Things are getting a little trickier.
Meredith set her glass on the bar and smiled at the tall, dark stranger on the opposite end of the room. A thrill washed through her stomach when he pushed up from the wall and started toward her. After staring at her all night, he was finally coming over to introduce himself.
Do you see the POV SNAFU? If you guessed, he was finally coming over to introduce himself, you are correct!
For those who didn’t see it, I hate to break it to ya, but unless Meredith is psychic, there’s no way she could know why he’s walking toward her. Maybe she’s standing next to the men’s room. Maybe she’s near the exit and her tall, dark stranger is leaving.
You CAN however change the last line to read, “After staring at her all night, she could only hope he was finally coming over to introduce himself.” This makes the information from Meredith’s perspective, while at the same time maintaining the same level of tension.
And our double or nothing round! For 40 points, can you spot the TWO POV SNAFUS?
He grinned and offered his hand, and she paused before grasping it with hers. She never picked up strange men, but he was just too delicious to pass up. 
“I couldn’t help but notice you’re alone this evening.” He stared into her beautiful blue eyes and she blushed in response. “Can I buy you a drink?”   
If you guessed, her beautiful blue eyes, and she blushed in response, you’re CORRECT! 
If not, then consider this. Who thinks her eyes are beautiful? Does he? And if so, how’d she get that from one handshake? Or maybe she thinks her eyes are beautiful? Not likely (when’s the last time you described your own eyes to someone). Secondly, unless she’s looking in a mirror, there’s no way she could know she’s blushing. Her cheeks could heat, or a wave of desire could raise her temperature a degree, but she wouldn’t know her cheeks had changed color. 
When crafting a scene, be sure to write all internal thoughts from one perspective, while at the same time showing a physical response from everyone else in the room. 
One last issue bears mentioning with POV shifts and that is Author Intrusion. As the author, you need to be careful not to get “stuck” telling the story. Oftentimes, I’ve been reading along, and come across a spot in a manuscript where I suddenly hear the author’s voice. 
Here’s the same example from above, written from the author’s POV.
Meredith stares across the dimly lit bar, unaware of the several men admiring her. She only has eyes for the tall man leaning against the far wall, and how his thick hair makes her fingers itch in anticipation. She wonders if those waves would be as soft as they appear, and longs to find out.
When they look at each other across the distance, she places a trembling hand on her chest, while Derek wonders if her heart is racing just as fast under her cream cashmere sweater.
In this above example, we start out a little screwy right from the beginning. Because how can Meredith know several men are admiring her if she is unaware of them? 
It bears repeating:  all internal dialogue, sensory input, and scenery interpretation needs to come from ONE character -- while at the same time that ONE character **SHOWS** the reader the reactions of the other characters to the same information.
We’re taking a short break from our weekly posts, but stay tuned for the October 22nd post on Passive vs. Active Voice! 

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AJ Nuest lives in northwest Indiana with her loving husband and two beautiful children. She is the Senior Editor for Still Moments Publishing, and the author of two contemporary romance novels.

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wlynnchantale said...

Hi AJ. Chef made all sorts of pastries today, including chocolate croissants. I think he snuck in a few crab cakes and shrimp nibbles too. He's crushin on you big time. :-)

I won all the points so what can I spend them on? lol. Whew! I tell you POV is not easy. I still have other views leak through in a scene during the rough draft, only because I can hear the other character in my head too.

So glad I'm not alone on the voices tip.

Calisa Rhose said...

POV is something I struggle with- in my writing. In others' I can spot it a mile away. Don't ya hate when that happens? Great lesson AJ!

AJ Nuest said...

Good morning, ladies! *AJ winks at "Chef"* The first order of business here is to congratulate Lynn on her release of Breaking Delia's Rules! Whoo Hoo!! Gotta love that cover!!

My biggest issue with POV is always deciding WHO'S POV I'm writing the scene from. I always want to do both the H/H! Because both characters are usually so loud in my head!

Vonnie Davis said...

Super post, AJ. I was so terrible with pov when I started. Thank goodness for online classes, books on the subject and an agent who is a pistol in her own right about pov. I hated that I couldn't tell what six people were thinking if six people were in the room. I felt if I could only show one pov, my story would weaken. Now I realize it strengthens and draws the reader deeper into your story.

One lady in our writers group keeps mentioning NYT best sellers who write main stream fiction in multiple pov's. She love to tell--and show--me where I'm wrong. I'll stick with what I've learned.

AJ Nuest said...

Hi Vonnie! I've seen some amazing things done with POV -- some successful,, not so much. But overall, I must admit I really enjoy "showing" a person's POV simply by utilizing physical reactions. Makes me really pay attention to expressions and body language -- something I never did quite so emphatically prior to becoming a writer.

DA Kentner said...

I adore any story where the writer can make me "feel' what the characters feel without telling me how they feel. That takes a skilled writer, and I'm their captive audience to the last page.

I've encountered a couple books of late supposedly written in third person omniscient, when in actuality the authors thought that voice allowed for unrestrained head hopping. It all got so confusing I didn't make it past the first few pages of either book.

Great post.

AJ Nuest said...

Hi DA! I'm chuckling here over your comment. I get the same thing with omniscient POV. It can be sooooo confusing if not done expertly. Thanks so much for stopping by!!

Amie said...

Hey, AJ, all that pov stuff is great, but what I really want to know is where she got Prada boots for $400! LOL Just kidding (not really), but a great post!!!! :)

AJ Nuest said...

I shoulda known better than to price out a pair designer boots without checking with you first, Amie! LOL

She got them at a close-out sale, that's why she hid them in the back of her closet. Otherwise they'd be on her feet!

Jessica said...

Great article on pov, Lynn. Thanks! The examples were fun and informative.

AJ Nuest said...

Thanks for stopping by Jessica! Glad to see you here!

Sarah Grimm said...

I LOVE shifting POV in the middle of a scene - mostly because people tell me you're not supposed to do it, and for those who know me, this means I'm going to do it. *grin*

However, I only do it when I feel it is absolutely necessary to 'see' the scene from both points of view. Which isn't very often.

AJ Nuest said...

Hi Sarah! Well, YOU are one of those rare authors that can shift POV seamlessly (of which I referenced above). So have had it! Thanks for stopping in!

Sarah Grimm said...

Aw, shucks. Thanks. And you know I don't miss these posts. They're just so darn informative and fun!

wlynnchantale said...

I've done this once or twice. When I'm struggling with a scene from the heroine POV I'll write it from the hero's. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but at least I can gain a different prospective on what's going on.

AJ Nuest said...

You know what, Lynn? Sometimes I write a scene from both POVs as well. It helps me flesh out the physical responses from both sides of the coin, so to speak. Great technique to really bring the scene into focus.

Annie Seaton said...

This is so good! I will be sharing it. As an editor and an author, it is the thing that creates the most difficulty in manuscripts. Great work!

AJ Nuest said...

Thanks, Annie! So happy you stopped by! Whoo Hoo!