Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Deep POV: Three mistakes and how to fix them, Part I

If established in the opening pages of your book, readers will adopt a convincingly developed point of view (POV) without reservation. If your world is lavender, we readers will become lavender rather than see it everywhere. If your character is bigoted, we will taste the bitterness of his words on our own tongues. If your character is nervous, we will sense it in the very way he speaks.

In a previous post I offered up examples of literary artists who have made brilliant use of deep point of view, and taken the results all the way to the bank. The perspective of an interesting, well-motivated character gives a work of fiction depth, humor, layers of meaning, and points you in the direction of plot. Deep POV delivers what readers seek: exemption from the limitations of their own perspectives so they can see the world anew.

As you attempt to wrestle down this technique, here are a few of the writing missteps that can reduce its effectiveness.

1. The mistake: Creating annoying filters. Let’s say you’ve traveled halfway across the country to see your only son’s wedding, but when you get there, his bride’s mother plants you behind a tripod in the back of the church. Now you must experience what would have been an emotional event from behind the lens of a video camera. Similarly, POV missteps that keep the reader at a remove from the world of story can seem like a physical object the reader wants to move out of the way.

The fix: Consider words like realized, thought, saw, noticed, and glanced yellow flags that you may have created an annoying filter. These words draw attention to your POV “camera.” If you establish point of view deeply enough from the outset, your character should never have to tell us she is “realizing” anything.

Compare:
I saw a silk nightgown discarded on the floor of our bedroom. It wasn’t mine. I realized then that Steve was having an affair.

To:
A silk nightgown lay discarded on the floor of our bedroom. It wasn’t mine.

Because you would have established the wife as the point of view character in preceding paragraphs, we readers can follow her leap of thought. We’re right there with her. The things she sees we also see; her realization is our realization. In fact, the loss of the extra words creates a starkness that adds to the impact of her discovery. The implication resonates across the space cleared by removing unnecessary words.

By sinking even deeper into the character’s consciousness, you will get rid of the “camera” altogether. Point of view will now be more like a pair of contact lenses, coloring everything while still allowing the reader to experience it.

Two more common mistakes and their fixes in my next post.

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Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist for 19 years, she now writes literary women's fiction.
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15 comments :

  1. I like the idea of the 'yellow flag' words. You've really pointed out what my critters have been trying to tell me for awhile.

    Thanks!

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  2. Thank you for the tips! Although I'm aware that these words make the writing seem stilted, I hadn't thought about why.

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  3. This is totally brilliant - I am going to copy out those yellow flag words and stick them on my computer right now. Thank you so much.

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  4. Thanks, ladies! And Andrea: I LOVE the word "why"--mostly because I'm too stubborn to do something "just because" I was told to!

    Another great way to think about it is something like this: a woman's son just learned to drive and he's late coming home. The mother peeks out the window and sees people gathered up at the corner. She leaves the house and sees flashing lights; there's been an accident. She rushes to the scene. All she want to do is see for herself if it's her son, if he's all right--and this author wants to stand between her and the action to tell her about his perceptions of it. "I got here at 10:10. I noticed the slick road. I heard a screech and glanced up and saw a car." If the author had taken pains to establish deep POV, however, he could now kindly stand aside so the woman could get through and see what happened for herself.

    The analogy isn't perfect because the author is still coloring the woman's (reader's) perceptions of the scene--but the woman's desire to deck him so she can get past his intrusion on the scene is valid!

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  5. Excellent! Little things that make all the difference.

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  6. I think this comes down to an addage the writers should always live by. Readers are smart. It doesn't actually take much for them to get it when it comes to things going on in the story. Flag words to me, are a way of being redundant, you know, just in case the reader doesn't get what you're trying to say. Obviously, we shouldn't do that as writers, because readers do get it most of the time. As in the example you used, clothing that isn't yours is a pretty clear indication of something going on. This can be applied to virtually every aspect of a story. Readers are very good at filling in the blanks. You just have to give them the lead.

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  7. Such a helpful post, Kathryn. I had not realized the impact of those "Yellow flag" words until you pointed them out. And I think JDuncan is so right about how we need to stop insulting the intelligence of readers by telling them everything.

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  8. Wonderful way of explaining POV!

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  9. Thank you! I never caught that, but yet it is so obvious! I am looking forward to revisiting this in my work.

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  10. Kathryn, that's very helpful info. Now, I've to review my existing wip.

    Really Angelic

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  11. What fantastic advice! I'll be looking for yellow-flag words now. :)

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  12. thanks! now yellow-flagging those words now

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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