Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Power of Point of View

I’d like to welcome Vonnie Davis to my blog today. Vonnie is a romance author of contemporary, historical and romantic suspense. She’s also held workshops on Savvy Authors. Today, she's offering her insights on one of my favorite topics, Point of View. And while she's here, I'm doing my monthly post at The Blood-Red Pencil.

Thank you for having me, Terry.

I’d like to share some thoughts about the bane of my existence when I first began writing full time—point of view.

You see, I’d majored in English and retired as a technical writer. So I knew how to craft a sentence. What I didn’t know was the craft of writing. Character arc? Conflict resolution? Dialog tags and beats? GMC? Isn’t that a truck? Point of view? After all the classical literature I’d studied, I certainly knew about that. I was good to go.

Yes, folks, I was blissfully ignorant.

My soon-to-be agent phoned to tell me I had some real point of view issues. When I told her I was using third person omniscient, I’m sure I heard her fall out of her chair laughing.

My learning curve just shot upward at a forty-five degree angle.

Gee, and I thought I knew so much.

Yet editors cite point of view (POV) errors as the main reason manuscripts are rejected. POV is more than whose head are we in. Properly used, POV is a writer’s tool to draw the reader into the story to the degree that when the reader reaches the end, the reader says, “Man, I just couldn’t put it down.”

If Darla is your POV character, you can only show us what Darla sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels and thinks.

Think about it. Isn’t that how you perceive the world?

Can you read minds or feel another person’s worry or scheming motives? No. Neither can your POV character. When you’re talking on the phone can you see the other person’s movements? No. Neither can your POV character.

This restrictiveness and uncertainty feels more realistic because it's how we perceive the world.

You can’t write about things the viewpoint character can't know. You can’t write that your POV character didn’t notice the car following him. If your POV character doesn’t know it, then you can’t write about it. Can your POV character hear criminals whisper in another room or see a younger brother stick out his tongue behind the POV character? Not hardly. So don’t tell your readers about it.

Writers often inadequately utilize point of view. I’m not talking about head-hopping. I’m talking about a very distant use of point of view that doesn’t get the reader into the character’s head or emotions.

Avoid using “she heard” or “he saw” or “she thought.” These phrases distance the reader from the character and are not needed. If we are in Jason’s POV, for example, the reader already knows you, the writer, are writing about what Jason experiences. Let me show you—

Jason pulled out of the driveway for his first solo drive to the mall. He watched his mother wave and heard his dad issue one final safety warning. Man, he thought this day would never come. For the first time in his life he felt free.

Without those “distancers,” you can get us deeper into Jason’s head by writing Jason pulled out of the driveway for his first solo drive to the mall. His mother waved and his overprotective dad yelled one final safety warning. At long last, he was on his own. What a feeling of freedom. Awesome didn’t begin to describe it.

Now we can feel his excitement. We can almost visualize his smile. And by being in his head, sharing his experience, we feel the power of the scene.

If we want our characters to be realistic, then we must infuse them with realistic emotions. I don’t know what it’s like to be chased by a werewolf, but I have been chased by a swarm of bees. So I take the memory of that experience—the fear, the flush of heat on my chest, my heart pounding in my ears and the clenching of my stomach—and ramp it up a degree for my POV character.

Don’t tell the reader Darla was angry. That’s so lame. Show the roar in her ears as her heart beats faster, the ache in her jaw from gritting her teeth and the pain in her palms from her fingernails pressing into them as she clenches her fists. Make us feel her anger by taking us deeper into Darla’s POV. Show the reader these things and the reader will think man, is she angry. Your reader becomes part of the story because he or she feels it.

There’s great power in point of view. It’s more than whose head are we in. By utilizing its power, we become authors of page-turners.

For more about Vonnie, you can find her at her blog, her website, and on Twitter as @VonnieWrites


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44 comments:

Vonnie Davis said...

Terry, thanks so much for opening your blog to me today. I love sharing thoughts about point of view and its power.

Joanne Stewart said...

Great post, Vonnie! POV is one of those bugbears I think we all have to learn at some point. I hadn't a clue when I first began, but I thank my lucky stars for CPs who did!

Jacqueline Howett said...

Thanks Vonnie for the tips. Yes, there's still lots to learn on POV.
These were good examples. Trying to remember them is the thing! Ithink I shall need a seperate note book or word doc. called POV to jot these down into.

Vonnie Davis said...

That's what I do, Jacqueline. I have word docs on various issues of chraft. There's one for pov. Another for character development. One for plotting, etc. No one can remember all these elements of craft. I review these files before starting a new project. Thanks for stopping by!

Sharon Struth said...

Nice post, Vonnie. So true that great writing isn't just about proper grammer. Strong POV is a tough one but separates a good read from a great one. Thanks for the insights.

Vonnie Davis said...

Hi Joanne! I had so much to learn about pov and made a concerted effort to learn all I could--and I'm still picking up tips. Terry often gives writing gems, so I'm always checking in here to see what she's talking about now.

Kathy Otten said...

Wonderful post, Vonnie. Even though I've learned what POV is, I still mess it up sometimes and because when I write, I can't see the forest for the trees, I tend to lapse into omniscent POV. Thanks for the refresher.

Vonnie Davis said...

Sharon, thanks for stopping by. Utilizing the power of pov takes effort, but your readers benefit because while they are reading your story, they are in effect becoming the pov character, seeing, hearing and feeling everything the pov character does.

Vonnie Davis said...

It's hard to grasp all the nuances of pov, Kathy. Keep at it. I've no doubt you'll succeed. We all write sentences that, upon scrutiny, are "fly on the wall" observations. I still do it and grimace every time I realize what I've done.

Joya said...

Great advice, Vonnie. I'm still working on deep POV. I love reading a book and thinking "wow, now THAT is deep POV." Really makes you feel like "one" with the character.
Thanks for sharing. :)

Vonnie Davis said...

Hi Joya, how nice of you to drop by. Going deep takes practice. I try to become the pov character as I write, getting angry or sad or elated as my pov character would, using the tricks of deep pov. Take FAD, for example. Feelings...action...dialog. Use this once or twice in a scene. A non pov character speaks. Show your pov character's feelings, a physical reaction and then the dialog. This adds additional power to the scene.

Karyn Good said...

So easy to be a reader with a great book and feel like you're on the ride with the characters. Not so easy to write that book. Thanks for the tips, Vonnie! It really is important to get it right.

Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Vonnie!
Great information, clear and concise. Getting POV right is one of the toughest jobs with writing.

I think you've done your public service for the day! Well done.

Lynne

Nancy Jardine said...

I had a bit of an issue with POV in my debut novel, got advice from my editor, and thought I'd tidied the whole ms up. Oops...guess maybe I hadn't quite! My next foray I vowed to crack the POV situation. I use different font colors in my ms for my hero and heroine...and any other protagonist that has space. I think it works better for me, but I still check and do that insurance check again!

Melissa Fox said...

Great article! POV - and not just head hopping and using the senses, also unconscious expressions- was a problem I had with my manuscripts until I took a workshop and wow, was that an eye opener! One of the best lessons I've learned in making my stories stronger. Thanks so much for posting.

Jannine Gallant said...

Nice post, Vonnie. My first published manuscript was just like yours - an editor's worst nightmare. I can only be thankful she took the time to explain POV and give me a chance to clean up the mess instead of chucking my book on the rejection heap. You're not alone in being an English major without a clue...

Anita Clenney said...

Wonderful post, Vonnie.

Vonnie Davis said...

Karyn, the "newbie" writer with the lovely voice, thanks for stopping by. Elements of craft are so important, arent' they? For me, the most important are going deep into pov and character development.

Vonnie Davis said...

Oh, Lynne, you're always so supportive. Thanks, as always.

Vonnie Davis said...

Nancy, different fonts for different pov's. Simple, yet effective. Whatever works for any of you is right for you. I try stepping into my character's body and mind and go from there. I don't write as Vonnie; I write as my heroine or hero.

Vonnie Davis said...

Using the senses is paramount to drawing the reader into the experience, isn't it Melissa? Don't we use our senses--the bird chirping outside, the hushed drone of a TV in another room, dinner cooking in the oven, a tag irritating the back of our neck, shoes that pinch out feet, or the pain of a sinus headache? Our senses affect our real lives and should affect our characters, too. This, too, is part of pov.

Vonnie Davis said...

Jannine, all those classical authors I studied who so expertly used omnicient pov. Arrgh! Doen't work in modern literature, doesn it?

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks for stopping by, Anita.

Beth Trissel said...

Excellent post, Vonnie. Well said. :) Something I've given a great deal of thought and effort to over the years as well. I was clueless also at the start of this writing craze/journey.

Vonnie Davis said...

Beth, your writing is so lovely I can't imagine you were ever clueless. Yet, I've read that the learning curve of a good writer is continual. Thanks for stopping by.

Kathy said...

Oh dear you mentioned GMC as a truck mine was POV I was military so POV meant Privately Owned Vehicle .
Thanks for the tips they are great. And thanks for posting a great blog.

Kathy said...

Oh dear you mentioned GMC as a truck mine was POV I was military so POV meant Privately Owned Vehicle .
Thanks for the tips they are great. And thanks for posting a great blog.

Karen Cote said...

Vonnie! I loved this! Such a fabulous resource for a writer. You spelled it out simply with an "aha" moment of what you were trying to express. I know this is only the tip of the iceberg on what you can share but what a quality read.

Thank you Terry for hosting our Vonnie!

Karen C said...

Interesting post, Vonnie. Gives me, as a reader, something to think about - especially for those books that don't immediately grab me.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

My stomach clenches remembering my first attempt at writing. I had NO IDEA what POV was. I was reading those old Harlequins where they didn't have POV and loved them. What did I know??? I could write volume on that subject. :)

I gave my wonderful first story to a dear friend - thank goodness she was born with a great deal of patience because she read through at least ten pages before giving up on me. This was her comment verbatim: "You have four points of view in one five sentence paragraph and one of them belongs to the rock." Yes, it is repeated often and we all laugh because now I know what POV is and only sometimes mess up. It has become a point of pride for me to not mess it up, but nobody is perfect. ;)

Great blog, as I expected when I saw your post to come and visit, Vonnie.

Jinny B said...

I know you write wonderful pov Vonnie, but you also explain things so clearly. Thanks so much for making it make sense! Excellent post!

Misty Dietz said...

As always, a great post, Vonnie! POV, when nailed, is what totally makes a book! :)

Vonnie Davis said...

Kathy, POV can also mean a military acronym for a vehicle? I had no clue. That's priceless. Thanks for sharing. I'll remember that.

Vonnie Davis said...

Karen, Karen, Karen, you're always so full of compliments. Thanks. I hope I gave you an aha moment regarding pov.

Vonnie Davis said...

Karen, I'm an avid reader, too. I want to feel what the pov character feels. If he or she is angry, I want to be angry, too. Study the books you really enjoy. How did the author draw you in?

Vonnie Davis said...

Oh, Paisley, you made me laugh outloud. Calvin, who was napping in his recliner, jumped. That story is so priceless. I've read your work and you've learned pov quite well. Yay you!

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks, Jinny, I hope I helped in some small way. Put lovely Jinny aside when you write and become that hunky hero or the fiesty heroine.

Vonnie Davis said...

Misty, I so agree. POV is important to learn and use well. Thanks for stopping by.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Poor Calvin. I was checking to see how his healing ribs are doing.

You made me chuckle with your reply. One thing for certain, I have definitely learned to laugh at myself over the years. This one will follow me forever.

Hugs!

Vonnie Davis said...

Thanks for asking about Calvin, Paisley. His broken ribs are healing from his fall. Now he has shingles. He's one of the few men who stays in a good mood, even when he's hurting.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Oh no. Sorry to hear about the shingles. I just got a vaccination against them yesterday. Gentle healing hugs to your guy.

Celia Yeary said...

Vonnie--I know I'm late, but had to say: I wrote a blog a couple of years ago titled "Just When You Thought You Were Safe," and it was learning about POV. Did you know there are probably a dozen named POVs? Some are combinations, etc. but it's enough to drive a sane person crazy. I did learn the basics, and now when I read Nora or any other author who gets by with mixing them up, I just get annoyed. Thanks for a great piece of advice.

Cathie Dunn said...

Great post, Vonnie and Terry.

Only just spotted this through the Twitter feeds, and had to share it. It's spot on.

Terry Odell said...

A belated thanks to Vonnie and everyone who commented and shared the post. After teaching a month-long workshop on POV for Savvy authors, I understand how important it is to master this tool.