I recently read an adventure romance that, like most romances, had two point-of-view characters–the hero and the heroine.
That held true for the first couple of hundred pages. Then there was a very short (seven paragraphs) scene where a group of men snuck out in the darkness and attempted to kill the hero. For that scene, the author switched to omniscient point-of-view as we saw the men sneak up on the hero’s sleeping form and beat him to death.
Except, as we learned once those seven paragraphs concluded, the hero sensed they were coming and hid in some nearby trees and watched as they “murdered” his empty bedroll.
The reason behind the decision to write this little scene in a different point-of-view seemed pretty obvious: the author wanted to create add tension by appearing to put the hero in serious danger.
On balance, though, I disagreed with that choice because:
Once an author sets up a pattern for how POV is going to work in a particular book, they’ve set an expectation in their readers. Although I suspect POV changes are much less visible to readers who aren’t writers themselves, I also think that at a subconscious level readers sense something has changed and find it unsettling. Introducing a whole new point-of-view deep into a story creates a cost in terms of the cohesion. The story doesn’t hold together quite as tightly as it did before the wandering murderers trooped into that clearing, spears raised.
Given that the author was unlikely to actually kill off the protagonist halfway through the book, it wasn’t a believable ploy, so the goal of adding tension wasn’t achieved.
The cost/benefit was further thrown off-balance by the brevity of the omniscient scene. We barely had time to register that we were no longer a single, familiar character comfy in his bedroll but instead a crowd of would-be assassins sneaking through the forest with murder on our minds than the scene was over.
I’m not talking about staying in deep third but switching from one character to another (although I think introducing the viewpoint of a different character late into a manuscript isn’t a great idea, either) but completely changing the rules of how this story will be told–from “inside” the main characters to far outside them.
So, in my opinion, the cost of writing this very short scene in an unprecedented POV far outweighed what was gained. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Disagreement not only tolerated but welcomed!
Bonus Question: Do you notice point-of-view in the books you read?
A few months ago I did a beta read for an author friend. She’s a kick-butt writer, with a real gift for creating likeable characters you connect with and want to root for, but she had one narrative tic that I found distracting. When she described events that create an emotional reaction in the point-of-view character, she often described their reaction first and described what caused it second.
Here is a totally made-up example:
His breath shortened and his heart pounded till he could feel it beating in his ears. Footsteps sounded on the stairs above his head.
I can see where you might want to do this occasionally to create suspense for the reader (what’s going on?!), but in general it feels to me like it lacks chronological validity.
On the other hand, research into human perception suggests that we do actually perceive things at a subliminal level and react to them milliseconds before we’re consciously aware of what we’re reacting to.
(This has actually been used as an argument against free will–how can humans have free will if a large portion of our reactions are made by our subconscious minds?)
I’m opening the floor to discussion. In describing a stimulus-response situation, which should come first? Are there exceptions? If so, what are they?
Over the past month I took an online class on writing deep point-of-view with Linnea Sinclair.
I’ve taken several classes with Linnea and they are, hands down, the best online writing workshops I’ve ever found. If you’re looking to improve any area of your craft, you can do no better than one of her classes.
One of the things she does with her homework assignments is to ask each student to begin by mentioning any ah-ha! moment they from that particular lesson. Here are a few of mine from the class.
Deep POV is like spice–you add in a little to intensify the flavor. You don’t have to create an entire dish from it.
This was news to me. I always felt like if I did any “telling” rather than “showing” I was being a lazy writer. Not true. Deep POV is most useful for moments of great impact. Telling, on the other hand, is good when you want to pick up the pace or for events that aren’t significant enough to belabor.
When writing a deep POV segment, consider using this formula:
Action (i.e. stimulus)
Decision (i.e. response)
In this formula, you may think of Action as Stimulus and Decision as Response. So if you were writing a scene where a she-demon walks into her apartment to find it trashed, it might go something like this: Continue reading →
Recently, a friend in my RWA chapter did an advance read of The Demon’s in the Details, Book 2 in my Touched by a Demon series, which came out last Tuesday on Amazon.
She did a terrific job of catching little errors my copy editor and proofreader missed, but in one case, she brought my attention to a problem that I didn’t think was a problem. She pointed out that in the first scene, my protagonist thinks of her father and stepmother as her father and stepmother, but later she becomes less formal, thinking/referring to them as “Dad” and “stepmom.”
There is, she pointed out, a best practice in fiction writing of choosing a single name for each character and always using that name to reference the character.
As a general rule, I completely agree with her. When you have a character that is sometimes called, “Charles,” sometimes “Charlie,” sometimes “Chuck” and occasionally “Binky,” the reader has to stop each time and figure out who this is. While there may be valid reasons for switching names–maybe every other character thinks of him differently, or your POV character thinks of him by different names depending on the current state of their relationship–it’s extra work for the reader. And, in general, we want to make reading our books as easy as possible.
A group of male friends sitting together on a bench telling stories (iStock)
While in Scotland recently, I had the chance to see some beautiful scenery, walk through a castle or two, take a vast number of photographs, and learn a little about the country. The wonderful guides on the two sightseeing tours I took with Rabbie’s Tours were especially helpful with that last part.
During a total of four days of touring, they kept up a steady flow of historical lore, political intrigue, facts, and figures, with a sprinkling of environmental impact and social justice thrown in for good measure.
How many of your favorite stories are written in first person? All, most, or none? Any recommendations? What do you particularly enjoy about them?
One piece of advice often given to newbie writers is to choose the point of view that best fits the story you’re trying to tell. Something that’s shared less often is that for many flavors of genre fiction there seems to be a consensus on that ‘best’ point of view choice. Certainly that’s the way it works for the four hundred or so books in the main menu of my kindle.
I’ve been working on revisions lately but, since I’m pretty sure talking about my current process would be about as exciting as watching grass grow, I thought I’d talk about something else today instead.
While the (paraphrased) Hippocratic Oath is “first, do no harm”, my writer’s oath in recent weeks has been “first, have some fun.” This week that fun turned out to be playing around with POV.
I read a fair amount of cozy mysteries, which have a tendency to be written from the 1st person point of view. After I finished the last one on Saturday, I decided to take the ongoing detective story that I’ve been writing for our Friday Writing Sprint posts and see how it would work in 1st person. I’m generally not a big fan of the 1st person POV, but sometimes it’s just what the story needs. Continue reading →
How does first person reflect on the writer? How does it draw in the reader? (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
I happen to like the first person point of view. Many of my schoolgirl scribblings were in first person, and so were my favorite novels.
But somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that first person wasn’t ideal. It was kid stuff, it was for amateurs, it was a bit narcissistic.
So, I started working with tight third person. I kidded myself that it was practically the same, and I got along OK with it, most of the time. Then I started thinking that a single third person POV was also too baby-ish. I wanted to try working with multiple POVs. And that’s where my muses went on strike. Oh, everybody inside my head agreed that multiple POVs, alternating every chapter or some other mystical and complicated schema, would be a grand idea. A rococo drawing room of an idea, full of interesting insights and various opinions. Continue reading →
Portrait of Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, by Robert Lefèvre (1806). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
This past Sunday was just another day until I got an email telling me I was a finalist in the Rose City (Portland) RW Golden Rose contest. Woo-hoo! Talk about making my weekend!
The coordinator sent back my entries with scores and judges comments. As typically happens, there was one judge who loved it, one who thought it was pretty good, and another who thought it was so-so.
As I read through the comments, though, I was struck by one in particular. At the beginning of my book, when Nate and Susannah meet, he makes what I think is a very “typically male” observation of Susannah. Continue reading →
If you’re wondering why I’m posting today instead of Jilly, the answer is simple. I’ve been road tripping around Arizona with several of the other ladies this week, and put off writing my post (so much to see and do) until it was too late. Thankfully, Jilly bailed my butt out by swapping days with me (THANKS, JILLY!!!).
Still, it wasn’t all breathless Grand Canyon views and inspirational Navajo stories (or love songs). Each stop along the way enhanced some aspect of my story. The trip to the Navajo Nation (Monument Valley) was important to the motivation and characterization of my antagonist (Hawk), as well as to Cheyenne’s return to her cultural and spiritual roots. Our stay at a historic railroad hotel in Winslow, Arizona will play a central role in my next story, and the Grand Canyon was a lesson in the value of quiet reflection.
After each stop, I was sure we had reached the pinnacle of beauty and magic. Surely the next stop on our itinerary would never top the last. And then I walked into Antelope Canyon. Continue reading →
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