Monday, October 17, 2011

Planning a POV Workshop

Today's picture goes with last week's post about discovery drafts vs editing as you go. It' a t-shirt I saw in a catalog and couldn't resist. Maybe I'll wear it to my next RWA chapter meeting.

Because I'm going to be doing a workshop on Point of View at the Emerald City conference, I thought I'd share some of the things I plan to cover as I prepare my speaker notes. If you have any POV issues you think I should include in the workshop, let me know. I'll lead off with the various types of POV, but didn't think I needed to include that here. Since I write in deep POV, that's going to be the focus of my workshop.

Point of view (POV) is the vantage point from which we show a section of the story to the reader -- and it's one of the hardest things to deal with when we write.

Usually, we only tell the story through the eyes of one character -- or at least one character at a time. When we switch back and forth, the reader is jerked from one person's head to the other, and it's hard to develop empathy for either character.

Using POV
If we've chosen to use our heroine's POV, then the reader will see what the heroine sees, hear what the heroine hears, and know most of what the heroine's thinking.

The reader won't know what anyone else is thinking, or what's happening behind the heroine's back, or what's said after she leaves the room. If the heroine doesn't see it, hear it, smell it or taste it, then it can't happen for the reader -- not in that scene, at least.

So how do you show the other character's state of mind (like the hero)? We'll know his state of mind by what he says, what he does, how he acts, and what the heroine thinks about it.

Let's try an example. Sally's the heroine, and she has just confronted Joe, the hero, about a lie she thinks he's told her. Sally's the POV character. How can we make sure our readers connect with Sally and know what's going on with Joe?

• Include Sally's words. ("Why did you lie to me, Joe?")

• Include her feelings as she works herself up to express herself. (Should she say it? Her head feels like it's going to burst. Maybe it would be better to stay silent because he'll only lie to her again.)

• Describe what she sees. (Joe's jaw sets. The corner of his mouth twitches. He looks away instead of straight at her. His knuckles go white.)

• Include what she thinks. ("He's looking away rather than at me, so that must mean he's admitting he was lying, or he'd look me in the eye.")

In Sally's POV, we never include what Joe's thinking -- we don't know if he's feeling guilty for lying, or upset because he has been unjustly accused -- and we don't need to know. Knowing what everybody's thinking will throw all the suspense right out the window. We know what Sally thinks, but we don't know whether she's right. And that makes readers want to keep turning the pages!

Tomorrow, I'll be over at The Blood-Red Pencil for my monthly column. Mike Befeler, author of the Geezer Lit mystery series will be my guest. He's talking about balancing work and writing -- be sure to come back.

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Hart Johnson said...

PoV definitely is one of the things that separates out the amateurs. I hate reading what is supposed to be deep and running across what another character is thinking. Makes me nuts.

I like writing deep myself--usually 3rd person, though getting into YA has had me to first a few times, and first is easier to stay within what the character would know.

Terry Odell said...

Hart, definitely. I've watched editors post on reasons for rejection, and not being able to handle POV is always one of the biggies.

If you're having trouble with deep 3rd, just change the character's name (or he/she) to "I" and see if it works.

Christine S. Morehouse said...

Hi Terry,

This was just the blog post I need for today. I have been mulling over an idea getting ready for NaNoWriMo on Nov 1st. I kept fighting back and forth in whose POV I should use. This helped me out tremendously.

Next I am off to tug my brain in whether to write in first or third person. Wish me luck!

Happy Writing,

Terry Odell said...

Christine - it's a lot easier to change from 1st to 3rd or vice versa if you're writing deep pov, because you're really already there. Good luck with NaNo!

S.G. Rogers said...

Good post, Terry! I tweeted it.

Maria Connor said...

I know my question is probably more a technicality than technique, but can you comment on "formating" POV? A recent contest entry was knocked because I did not include a break in text to signify a change in POV in what was a continuous scene. Instead, I signaled the change by using the heroine's name as a lead-in. I believe this is more a style issue than craft. Your thoughts? Thanks!

Terry Odell said...

S.G. - thanks!

Maria -- I'm judging a contest now, and I'm very careful not to mark down for my preferences or to adhere to these rigid "rules." I make comments in the text, but unless it's an "error" I don't count off for it.

My guess is that your judge was NOT a published author, although some publishers/editors have their own rules, and someone writing for them would likely assume that was the one "right" way to do things. My publisher wants asterisks to indicate scene breaks, but when they publish, they take them all out, leaving only double returns.

Another publisher removed all of the author's breaks, including double returns.

If your transition was clean and clear, you shouldn't have been marked down--but I doubt you'll be able to protest. I've had judges tell me I've done things "wrong" when the judge hadn't looked up whether my usage was acceptable. It's a tough call.

Without reading, it's hard to tell how clear your transition was, but it's definitely style. You might bring it up to the contest coordinator, but again, I'd make sure it was a clean switch, and that you weren't switching back and forth a lot.

That's why there are usually multiple judges for contests. :-)

EW Gibson said...

I love the post and the t-shirt! I'm keeping this as a reminder. LOL.

Terry Odell said...

thanks, EW - I love the shirt, too!

Calisa Rhose said...

POV is one of my favorite things to dig in to. Great post Terry.

Terry Odell said...

Calisa - POV was my first writing lesson. I'm sensitized to it.