Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The One-Three Point of View Punch


A couple of years ago, I submitted an excerpt of a work-in-progress to an online class. The instructor liked it but also mentioned I “head hopped.” This is when point of view (POV) switches from character to character without the benefit of chapter breaks or scene changes.

Since head hopping is probably one of the seven deadly writing sins, I vowed to cure myself of that affliction.

I usually write 3rd person deep POV. Perhaps it was my time in collegiate theatre but I liken this POV to becoming the character.

You have to be aware of what your character knows. For example, consider this sentence: “Francine walked up and down the sidewalk, her high heels of her worn black patent leather pumps clacking on the concrete. She tossed back her auburn hair over one shoulder and sighed. Her green eyes narrowed...”

Yeah, I know. Bad prose. (We won’t get into the overuse of “her.”) But that’s not the point. Notice the description of hair, eyes, and shoes? A character in 3rd person deep POV wouldn’t likely notice these things. Now if the shoes were new, maybe. (I have to thank Toni Andrews of Deadline Dames for first pointing this out about characters and their POVs.)

So how do we know what a character looks like? From another person’s POV. This is why some authors use multiple POVs. Again, this can be tricky. First, not every character needs a POV. Try to keep it restricted to the main characters. Second, which POV is important to that particular scene? Who is going to be affected by what happens?

What I like about 3rd person POV is you can layer your story, explore it from different characters’ perceptions. It also allows your reader to know what’s going on before your hero does and this can make for a suspenseful scene. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage the audience knows the bomb is going to explode but the victims are unaware. Such an incident keeps us on the proverbial edge of our seats.

Knowing what might happen to the hero or heroine puts us in a unique and advantageous position. Will he or she survive? Will they learn of the treachery?

And this is the problem with 1st person POV. We’re restricted to knowing everything our narrator knows when s/he finds out. Sure there’s suspense but it’s minimal because we don’t have that extra benefit of knowing beforehand.

Is this to say 1st person POV is wrong? Not at all. Mystery writers use it. We follow along with the private detective as he unravels the clues. How do we learn about him? From his interactions with other people.

Keep in mind, however, it’s harder to layer a story with 1st person POV because you can’t rely on other POVs. Also, your hero or heroine is onstage most if not all of the time. He or she needs to be interesting and keep the reader engaged.

So what are the benefits of 1st person POV? It can be a great way to write a first draft. Death Sword was originally in 1st person POV before I switched to 3rd. Writing 1st person POV can also ensure your readers will connect with your hero or heroine, see the world through their perspective. Many urban fantasies used 1st person POV.  

Will I write 1st person POV again? Sure. Do I recommend one over the other? No. I write mostly 3rd person deep POV because I’m used to it. But if that’s not your thing, don’t worry about it.

My only advice? Try not to head hop. Sure, some popular best-selling authors are notorious for doing same. Let them. You probably haven’t reached that stage in your writing career.

Remember, your poor editor is already pulling out her hair. No point in her going bald. And you don’t want your readers to throw your book across the room, especially not an e-reader. (Trust me, I know this from personal experience. That LCD isn’t shatter proof. Well, mine wasn’t.)

Until then, happy writing!

1 comment:

Nerine Dorman said...

Or, unless you have a MC like my Jamie, who spends far too many hours preening... Heheheheh! And readers get to hear about how he prefers silk to satin...