Thanks to Tom for sharing his new project. I hope everyone had a chance to read it--and took the 3 minutes to watch the video clip, and check out his blog. As a parent and a former teacher, I couldn't help but feel the passion he has for dealing with these deplorable conditions.
As promised, here's the analysis of yesterday's over the top example of writing without understanding the need for a consistent point of view. This is an example of an attempt at third person point of view.
Mary entered the room. John thought she was the most amazing woman he'd ever seen. Mary walked past without seeing him. She went straight to the patio where the buffet was set up. Seeing trays heaped with caviar, her favorite delicacy, she picked up a plate and waited in line. The breeze ruffled the floral chiffon of her dress. She wondered if her long auburn hair would get mussed. No, she thought. She'd sprayed it with enough hairspray to withstand a hurricane. She scooped caviar onto her plate as John stepped into line behind her, a smile on his face. A tiny furrow appeared in her brow, and her green eyes narrowed.
Let's take it line by line, looking only at point of view.
Mary entered the room.
No clear POV character yet. Not a problem, as long as it's established soon. Anyone could be watching Mary enter the room, or she could be thinking about her own action.
John thought she was the most amazing woman he'd ever seen.
This sets up John as the POV character. Giveaway: "thought". He's the only one who knows what he's thinking.
Mary walked past without seeing him.
Oops – now it's Mary's POV, because John can't know whether Mary sees him or not—maybe she's just ignoring him.
She went straight to the patio where the buffet was set up.
Works from either POV character. "where the buffet was set up" hints that it's Mary's POV, because she would know if that was her target. However, this could still be John's POV because there's no motivation for Mary's heading for the patio. It's a statement of fact, and both characters know it.
Seeing trays heaped with caviar, her favorite delicacy, she picked up a plate and waited in line.
Mary again. Giveaway: "seeing"
The breeze ruffled the floral chiffon of her dress.
This one is a pet peeve of mine, although it's neither wrong, nor a hop outside of Mary's head. I just don't think characters spend a lot of time thinking about all the specific details of their attire and appearance.
She wondered if her long auburn hair would get mussed.
Mary's POV: Giveaway "wondered" but again, she knows her hair is long and what color it is. Is she really thinking that? Be honest. Do you think of your own hair in terms of length and color. Maybe if you've just come from a major salon makeover. More likely, she's wondering if her hair will get mussed. Tossing in the long, auburn is a lazy way for the author to show what Mary looks like, and there are many better ways to do it.
No, she thought. She'd sprayed it with enough hairspray to withstand a hurricane.
Fine, although if you're clearly in the head of your POV character, you shouldn't need "she thought." The reader should know.
She scooped caviar onto her plate as John stepped into line behind her, a smile on his face. A tiny furrow appeared in her brow, and her green eyes narrowed.
Okay – this should be easy by now. She can't see John's smile if he's behind her. Nor can she see the tiny furrow in her own brow, and while I'll concede she might consciously narrow her eyes, is she really thinking of their color? Then again, maybe she's got a collection of different colored contacts and has to keep track of what color her eyes are today.
So … that, I hope gives you an idea of how to stay in one character's head.
One last point about point of view. Even if you're consistent, even if you're firmly in a single character's point of view for a scene, or chapter, or an entire book, you have to be true to the thought processes of that character. After all, it's his head you're in.
Let's say your scene includes a couple home watching television. He's lost an argument and can't watch the game. She's picked an awards show, and the celebrities are doing the red carpet run. She's poking him, saying, "Oh, look at that fantastic Carolina Herrera gown," or "Isn't that a Valentino?"
Now, if you're writing the same scene from his point of view, he's probably not going to go much beyond, "nice tits."
If anyone's interested, my very first published short story, "Words" is actually a study in point of view. It's the same scene, written first from his, then rewound and written from hers. It's a free read at Smashwords. Take a look.
Tomorrow I'm going to be at Patricia Stoltey's blog, and Friday, we're going to Europe with my brother, seeing the sights from a chef's point of view.