Friday, August 7, 2009
Training Our Inner Editor, Part 3b
First, a bit of backstory: Spot, a curious and rambunctious greyhound, loved to explore the neighborhood. Each time he got out, he roamed farther and farther from home—which explained why he was left behind when his family followed the moving van away from the house and headed a thousand miles across country.
When Spot returned, his family was gone. He scratched at the door and looked into the empty house through the big front window. Where was Troy? His young master would be lost without him. The boy was different from other kids, and Spot had gravitated toward him at once. Of course, he didn’t know anything about autism; he just knew Troy needed him. The scene below, pulled from Spot’s search for Troy, is related from three points of view.
We’ll begin with omniscient POV. This scene contains 396 words.
Spot spied the dogcatcher’s wagon as soon as it turned the corner. Sprinting across the street, he headed for the park halfway down the block.
“There he is!” the driver shouted to his partner. “That troublemaker gets around. He snapped at my sister over in Springfield when she scolded my nephew. Now he’s here.”
He shoved the accelerator downward. Tires screeched in response, then screamed to a halt as he slammed on the brake. “Let’s get ‘im!”
Hearing the vehicle doors slam and footsteps pound the sidewalk, Spot sped up. He couldn’t let them catch him. Panting for air, he tapped into his greyhound heritage. His muscular hind quarters propelled him forward in long, fluid strides. The footsteps faded.
“Worthless mutt,” the dogcatcher muttered under his breath. “Here, boy!” he shouted, punching up his pace to close the gap.
Spot ignored the breathless-sounding voice.
“Come on, boy! We’ve got a treat for you!” his partner called out, tossing something into the air.
When the dog slowed down, the dogcatcher dashed back to the truck, jumped in, and stepped on the gas. He stopped fifteen yards ahead of the dog.
The piece of flavored rawhide landed several feet in front of Spot. It smelled so good, and he was so hungry. The last garbage can he’d raided day before yesterday had fallen far short of a satisfying meal. He slowed down to grab the morsel. The truck came up beside him and pulled ahead. Tool in hand, the man jumped out.
A long pole with a loop on the end swung toward Spot. The loop—large enough to slip over his head—came closer, closer to his snout.
With all the power of his racing ancestors coursing through his body, he veered to the right and out of its reach, leaving behind the tasty tidbit he wanted so much.
“We’ll get you yet!” the stick-wielding man hollered, shaking his fist. “Our job is to protect the public from the likes of you.”
His red-faced partner reached the vehicle, leaned against it, and gasped for breath. “That’s a dangerous one,” he panted, wondering why he’d ever taken this job.
“We’ll catch him!” the dogcatcher hissed. They both jumped into the truck.
Spot didn’t wait to see what they were going to do. He lunged forward, heading toward the park at a full run. Troy was waiting for him.
In this scene we know what everybody’s thinking, doing, and saying—in and out of earshot of one another. Multiple POVs, however, limit our ability to identify with one party over another.
Now let’s do the same scene from Spot’s POV. Note how the single perspective heightens the tension even though it reduces the information available to the reader. Word count: 196.
Spot spied the dogcatcher’s vehicle as soon as it turned the corner. Sprinting across the street, he headed for the park halfway down the block.
Tires screeched behind him. Vehicle doors slammed. Footsteps pounded the sidewalk.
He sped up. Panting for air, he tapped into his greyhound heritage. His muscular hind quarters propelled him forward in long, fluid strides. The footsteps faded behind him.
He ignored the breathless-sounding voice.
“Come on, boy! We’ve got a treat for you!” The second voice sounded louder, closer.
A piece of flavored rawhide landed on the sidewalk in front of him. He salivated. That last garbage he raided had been a real dud. The smell tempted him. He was so hungry. Slowing down enough to grab the morsel, he heard the truck come up beside him. It pulled ahead. A man jumped out. Whoosh! A long pole with a loop swung toward him and grazed his snout.
With the power of his racing ancestors coursing through his body, he veered to the right. The tasty tidbit dropped from his mouth. Stomach growling, he lunged forward, heading toward the park at a full run. Troy was waiting for him.
Now let’s make one of the dogcatchers the POV character. This scene contains 235 words.
The dogcatcher spied the animal as soon as the truck rounded the corner. Stepping on the gas, he shouted to his partner. “He’s heading for the park!”
Tires screeched, then screamed to a halt. The two men jumped out, slammed the doors behind them, and took off after dog.
“Here, boy!” his partner shouted, punching up his pace and closing the gap.
The dog kept going like he hadn’t even heard.
“Come on, boy! We’ve got a treat for you!” He hurled a large piece of flavored rawhide through the air. It landed several feet in front of the dog. The animal slowed down.
Good! Stop and eat. That’ll give me all the time I need. While his partner raced toward the animal, the dogcatcher dashed back to the truck, slipped into the driver’s seat, and pulled ahead of the dog. Leaping out, he shouted, “Gotcha now!”
Swinging a long pole with a loop on the end toward the animal, he tried to slip the loop over its head. The dog veered to the right and out of reach, leaving the rawhide behind.
“We’ll get you yet!” The man shook his fist.
His red-faced partner reached the vehicle, leaned against it, and gasped for breath. “That’s a wily one,” he panted.
“We’ll catch him!” the dogcatcher hissed, jumping back into the truck. “Get in here! We’ve gotta stop him before he gets to the park.”
Remember that nothing can occur in the scene that is not known or cannot be seen or discerned by the POV character. This, of course, does not apply to omniscient point of view because the god-like perspective allows the reader to hear all, see all, and know all. No surprises. Which POV would entice you to keep turning the pages?
Editor, publisher, author Linda Lane offers hands-on workshops to writers who want to take their work to the next level. Her thriller novel, Treacherous Tango, will be released this summer.