Monday, March 28, 2011

Deep Point of View - Part Two

As I discussed in Part 1 of this topic, Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping, in order to draw the reader in and grab her emotionally, every story needs to have a clearly dominant viewpoint character. We should meet that character right away, preferably in the first paragraph, and the first scene or chapter should be entirely from that character's point of view so the reader can start bonding with him or her.

But how do we as authors go about this? Suppose you’re writing a story about a macho  guy named Kurt, who defeats the villain, restores justice, and even gets the girl. It’s Kurt’s story so he’s your main viewpoint character. How do you make sure that your handling of his viewpoint is as powerful as it can possibly be?

The first thing to do is imagine the setting, people, and events as they would be perceived by Kurt, and only by him. As you write the story, you the writer must become Kurt. You see what he sees and nothing more. You know what he knows and nothing more. When Kurt walks into a bar, for example, you do not imagine how the bar looks from some god-like authorial stance high above, or as a movie camera might see it; you see it only as Kurt sees it, walking in and looking around.

And of course include his reactions to the other people in the bar. Show Kurt’s feelings about what and who he’s seeing, and his reactions to the situation. Instead of writing, “The bar was noisy, dark and smoky,” write “The cigarette smoke in the air stung Kurt’s eyes and, in the dim light, he couldn’t make out if his target was there. As he looked around, the room started to quieten down. Heads turned, and eyes took him in, some curious, some hostile.”

This way, the reader is seeing the scene through Kurt’s eyes and identifying with him, starting to worry about him. This from-the-inside-out approach is vital if you want your reader to care about your protagonist and get truly engaged in the story.

But you need to go even further – you need to describe what he’s seeing and feeling by using words and expressions that he would normally use. If your character is a rancher or a drifter or a hard-boiled P.I, you’re not going to describe the scene or his reactions in highly educated, articulate, flowery terms, or tell about things he probably wouldn’t notice, like the color-coordination of the d├ęcor, the chandeliers, or the arrangement of dried flowers in an urn on the floor.

It’s also important to be vigilant that your viewpoint doesn’t slip, so you’re suddenly giving someone else’s opinion about Kurt, or telling about something that’s happening out in the street or even in a hidden corner of the bar, while Kurt is still at the entrance of the bar. You can let the reader know other people’s reactions to Kurt, not by going into their heads at this point, but by what Kurt perceives—he sees their disapproving, admiring, angry, curious, or intense looks, picks up on their body language, hears their words and tone of voice, etc.

Then, in a later scene or chapter, you can go into the villian's point of view and find out what he thinks of Kurt. Or, once he meets the girl, write a scene or chapter in her viewpoint so the reader finds out more about her and what she thinks of our hero Kurt.

This technique, properly used, will suck your readers effectively into your story world, where they really want to be, engaged, involved, and connected.

In part 3, I’ll discuss some practical tips for noticing when you’re head-hopping (ping-ponging from one viewpoint to another) and how to stay in one point of view at a time.

Links: Point of View from My Point of View       Writing to Sell: POV        Perception is Part of Point of View     Training Our Inner Editor, Part 3a: Point of View      Deep POV: Three mistakes and how to fix them, Part II       Deep Point of View, or How to Avoid Head-Hopping    

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Guest blogger Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance, YA, and historical fiction. Jodie’s services range from developmental and substantive editing to light final copy editing and proofreading, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at http://www.jodierennerediting.com/ and her blog, dedicated to advice and resources for fiction writers, at http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/.

Posted by Maryann Miller who is always happy to be reminded about whose head she should be in. 

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29 comments :

  1. The idea of a movie camera, which I think I read about earlier in a post at The Blood Red Pencil, is one of the most helpful tips I've ever received on POV. Thank you for a clear and definitive explanation.

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  2. POV is one of the hardest concepts for creative writers to grasp at first, yet it's one of the most effective tools we have. Thanks for reminding our readers that POV isn't only a camera—it's the perspective of a thinking, feeling human being who is struggling to adapt to his world. We want all that inner conflict!

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  3. Great points. I'm most happy to read this post becuase in my second novel, there are four different characters whose POV is treated in separate chapters so that the reader may follow them without getting confused.

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  4. Thanks for your comments, Liza and Kathryn. Yes, in my freelance fiction editing business, I find a lot of head-hopping, which can be confusing and annoying to the reader.
    The other POV weakness I often see is a too-distant, hovering-overhead POV, which takes us away from the immediacy of the story world, and dilutes the richness and depth of story that we would gain from the close POV of the engaged, at-risk main character.

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  5. Great idea, Henya. That's the most effective way to treat multiple important characters - give them their own POV chapter. Sounds interesting!

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  6. Good points, Jodie.
    Like Maryanne, I'm always happy to be reminded of this. :)

    You also reminded me that the main character can (like the movie camera) find MANY ways to see themselves or their situation through the words, body language or the looks (of approval, disapproval, etc.) of others.
    Thanks.

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  7. I tend to write from several pov's, and try to remember that each of their rhythms and word choices continue in their thoughts and observations, not just in their speech.

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  8. Thanks for your comments, Della and Elspeth. Della, by the methods you mentioned (body language, words, tone, facial expressions), we can find out about other characters and their feelings and attitudes without leaving the POV of the main character.

    Elspeth, I like how you expressed describing a scene from the character's POV, Elspeth: "...each of their rhythms and word choices continue in their thoughts and observations, not just in their speech."
    That just makes so much more sense and keeps the tone and feel of the story world intact, rather than jarring to the reader, as it would be if, say, when my macho character above walks into a bar, the bar is then described from a typical woman's POV.

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  9. You can have more than one POV in a book, but constant head-hopping can drive a reader crazy. We really need to be in one head for an extended time.

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  10. Yes, I definitely agree, Helen. Several points of view add variety and diversity, but stay in each one long enough for the reader to get to know that person from the inside out.

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  11. The "inside-out" approach is the best way to get inside the main character's head. It 's also the best way to get the reader to get emotionally involved in the story. Thanks for the tip!

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  12. That's right, Frank, and if the reader isn't emotionally invested in the story, he/she will get bored and put the book down - and won't pick it up again.

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  13. When I first started writing (way back in the 1960's!), romance stories had to be from one POV only - the heroine's. It became ingrained in me only to see things from her perspective. Coming back to writing romance, after a long gap, things have changed. Now we are actively encouraged to use more than one POV, and it had taken me a while to get used to it. My biggest problem is knowing just when to change from one POV to another. Sometimes I've written a scene from the heroine POV, then written it again from the hero's - and that usually shows me which POV is best for that scene.

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  14. Paula, I really like your idea of writing a scene from both the heroine's and hero's points of view, then deciding which one you like better.

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  15. Great post, Jodie. I plan to print this out so I can refer to it again. I'd also like to use an excerpt on my blog (with your permission and with full credit to you!)

    I have a women's fiction novel with four main characters and it is hard to keep from head hopping.
    While I don't necessarily have a definitive chapter for each one, I do create extra space or * * * * for scene shifts and POV shifts.
    It helps me as much as the reader.

    www.banterwithbeth.blogspot.com

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  16. Sure, that's fine, Beth. In fact, I'm honored!

    I like an extra space or three asterisks (* * *), centered, for a new scene or change in time and place. I've seen some small e-publishers use * * * for a switch in POV right in the middle of a tight scene, and I don't like that at all. I think it's distracting and disruptive. To me, * * * signifies a new scene, which can also be in a new point of view, of course.

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  17. EXCELLENT, Jodie. All writers can serve to be reminded of this and it is especially difficult for new writers.

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  18. I like to play with how different characters view the same event or person, mostly because that's central to my heroine's inability to perceive others' thoughts. I do it with clear scene breaks and such to avoid ping-ponging between points of view.

    Of course, I'm not always successful, and that's what's making this revision take so long!

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  19. I've several stories, all from at least two PoV's at one time or the other (using the old *** for multiples in a chapter), but I've never found myself having trouble with the old head-hopping thing.
    Perhaps it got drilled out of me years ago and I didn't notice as I find myself agreeing that all the points being made.

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  20. Scooter, I'm glad you mention the word "revisions," as I sometimes have aspiring authors send me their first draft! Not fun to edit, and it indicates to me that they're not committed to working hard to hone their craft, so I invariably turn them down. It's best to write your first draft without stopping to revise, then let it sit for at least several days, preferably a few weeks. Then go through the whole thing again, revising, at least once, before seeking editing. But that's a whole different topic! Hmmm...I see another blog post coming...

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  21. Great discussion on POV. Thanks so much Jodie for starting this off and for all who shared their tips. Love that about the BRP, we learn as much from those who comment as in the posts themselves.

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  22. I love books that contain just one or two POV characters where I'm allowed to really immerse myself in the character's mind.

    I also really like Paula's suggestion to write the scene from both viewpoints to see which one works best: I'm going to try that with my current WIP which has three POV characters and where I've become stuck on some scenes trying to decide which character should carry the viewpoint.

    Elle
    HearWriteNow & Blood-Red Pencil

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  23. Your post is so timely. I'm at the end of the first draft of [my first] mystery and I'm needing to reel myself in. Appreciate all your reminders.

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  24. I'm glad my article has resonated with so many readers who are fiction writers! Keep on writing!

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  25. This issue has been at the back of my mind for months! I am really struggling with this since, like Henya and Beth, I have 4 main characters. But, I've gone back through to edit POV, breaking it up in scenes using the *** centered methods. I try to not switch too often to give consistency. I definitely have head-hopping issues to clear up!

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  26. Great topic for us new authors. I recently completed an 8 week intermediate novel workshop with two 25 page critiques of my WIP. I learned that I had some POV issues in a few of my chapters. Since then I've been reading everything I can on POV. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and advice.

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  27. You're welcome, Bryan! Glad to help.

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