Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hiding your POV character

What I'm reading: The Eagle Catcher, by Margaret Coel.

Thanks to Sharon for those wonderful insights into the inner workings of a Navy SEAL.

I recently read a book by a very well-known romance/romantic suspense author and it gave me another look at what a writer can do with Point of View. Deep Point of View means the reader sees and knows only what the character sees and knows. Yet it's possible to deliver only the information that the author wants to disclose while still being in that character's head.

First, it's a testament to this author's skill that although I knew I was being set up, and had a pretty good idea of the final twist, I wasn't tempted to stop to analyze the 'hows' or look for clues or slipups as I read. But once I got to the end, and my suspicions were confirmed, I went back to see whether the author had in fact, "cheated" in her use of POV.

And, no, she hadn't. Which is probably why she's a best-selling author. And if you'll leave a comment, I'll enter you in a drawing to win my copy of this "mystery" book so you can see for yourself.

I don't normally like spoilers, but there's really no way to demonstrate the author's technique without giving away some major plot points. I won't name the book or the author, but you may recognize it if you've read it. If not, and if you do read it, I hope I haven't given too much away. As I said, I figured it out very early on, and the story is still a good one regardless of whether or not you know the 'truth.'

The major storyline revolves around a set of identical twins who are very close. Almost on a whim, they've changed places for a night, so Twin A is pretending to be Twin B. Twin A is murdered, and Twin B sets out to solve the crime.

Having read enough mysteries, I had a very strong hunch that Twin A was really Twin B, and that all would be revealed. Which it was, but not until almost the end of a 550 page book.

So, how did the author do this while maintaining deep character POV? First, the twin was not the only POV character in the book. There were numerous others, including the hero and quite a few others. But whenever it was the twin's POV scene, the author NEVER used her name in dialogue tags, or internal monologue. Each of these scenes would begin with another character mentioning the twin by name, or some other way to ground the reader in whose scene it was. How was this done? Here are some paraphrased examples.

"Can I get you anything, Jane?"
"No, thanks," she said.

"Jane, why don't you take this extra chair?"
She accepted with a nod of thanks.

"Good afternoon," the pleasant voice on the phone said.
"My name is Jane Doe."

You'll notice that another character is responsible for setting up the scene, establishing the POV character. After these openings, the character's name was used only in direct dialogue, when spoken by another character. Otherwise it was all pronouns. So the reader never saw the character thinking of herself by name, which avoided that sticky situation of being in a character's head and having the character "lie" to the reader. Of course, that didn't stop the character from lying to other characters, but that's part of a character maintaining a deception, and isn't "wrong" or "cheating." As far as the reader was concerned, there was no reason to wonder whether this was Twin A or Twin B.

Of course, the author also didn't go into any introspection on the part of the twin, so one never saw thoughts like, "she hated lying about who she was, but…" Yet there was no spot in the story where this seemed like the author was skirting the facts. It's not right to play coy with a reader, and this book was an excellent example of being "fair" while hiding the truth.

Don't forget. I'll send my copy of this "mystery" book to one lucky commenter. Winner announced this weekend.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Interesting! I don't think I've read this one. I love books with fair twists (and mysteries, of course), so it sounds like a book right up my alley.

Jenny Milchman said...

POV is one of the things that's most often shuffled with (shall we say) even by really terrific authors, so I always appreciate a recommendation where the author plays fair with the reader.

Love to learn which book you mean!

carl brookins said...

"Deep character POV." Never encountered that label before. Looks like First Person POV in disguise.

I've never worried too much about POV and the way it's handled by a writer IF however its used serves the story well. A friend wrote a dynamite mystery using multiple POVs in which two of the characters were predator birds. Fascinating and extremely well done.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - it's more suspense than mystery (not my preference), but the POV lesson is there, loud and clear.

Jenny - I was clueless about POV until I started writing; I think "typical" readers (and we know authors don't read like "typical" readers) aren't bothered as much by POV, if they even recognize it. But poorly handled, it could result in an, "I didn't care for the book" even though the reader doesn't know why.

Carl - Deep POV is virtually the same as 1st. In fact, if you're checking, you should be able to substitute "I" for "He" without losing anything. The book in question had multiple POV characters; without them, I don't know if the author could have pulled it off as well. But birds? That one might be a sticking point for me. Haven't found many animal POV books that I could get lost in.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I understand not wanting to give away the story... but I'd love to see how the author pulled this off. A difficult accomplishment!

Take care,

Sandra Sookoo said...

Nice post. Have never heard of this book before, but know exactly what you're talking about. I did it in my only mystery and it's harder to do than most people think lol :-)

Sherry Gloag said...

==Not entering the contest==
I, too, assumed you were talking about 1st person pov, but admit I'd never heard of Deep POV before either. It sounds challenging.

Terry Odell said...

June, you're entered in the drawing, so maybe you'll find out first hand.

Sandra - there's a LOT about writing that's harder than most people think!

Sherry - Deep 3rd is almost the same as 1st.

Anonymous said...

As long as the twists make sense, those with surprises make the best books.

Warren Bull said...

Talk about both challenging and fun. It is truly a hoot to write. My personal favorite read-aloud short story has never failed get applause at a signing or a reading. But I've never tried writing an entire novel like that. It reminds me of the classic movie "Sunset Boulevard."

Terry Odell said...

Kay - yes, that's why I went back to see if the author slipped. And it's always a good thing when the reader goes back and says, "Of course. How did I miss that!" For authors, that's the hard part.

Warren - thanks for stopping by. The author used a fair number of other POV characters, which made it "easier" to keep her secret hidden.

Nina Pierce said...

I love those kind of twists, especially when the author pulls it off very well. Sounds like an excellent read.

Carol Kilgore said...

I think I know the author, but I haven't read this book. I like the concept of playing fair and hiding the truth. It's difficult. I'm still learning.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

This interests me in particular because I've written a full draft of a new mystery novel and there are several points of view. It can be tricky to work with.

The novel you're describing doesn't sound like one I've read, so I hope you eventually identify it for us.

Christine Ashworth said...

Deep POV has been explained to me as a way of getting under the person's skin and allowing the reader to feel/understand their emotions, but without limiting the entire book to 1st person.

When I took a draft of my novel and used deep POV with my two primary POV characters, it strengthened the novel and made it more accessible.

And I'd love to know which book you're talking about!

Paul Hansen said...

Deep POV sounds intriguing. Would love to see how the author actually did it.

I don't have an URL. My email is:

Terry Odell said...

Nina - this author definitely knows what she's doing.

Carol - we're always learning, aren't we?

Jacqueline - since I started in romance, I learned to deal with more than one POV. Once you understand POV in general, it's a matter of transitions.

Christine - I prefer 3rd person, whether it be single or multiple POV characters. And definitely deep (also, I believe, called "close.")

Paul - Come back on Sunday and I'll announce the winner (and the name of the book). And you shouldn't be required to leave either a URL or an email -- those should be optional.

Bruce Schindler said...

This was very informative. Like Carl said, I hadn't heard the term. On the other hand, in my one published novel, by trying to minimize the amount of "Chuck said" perhaps I unknowingly approached it. Sounds like a great read.

Terry Odell said...

Bruce - I think I've heard 'close' POV. At any rate, it's how I write, and my preferred "read" as well.

These comments have made me think it might be a good idea to do a POV post next week. I'm going to be giving a workshop on POV at the Emerald City Writers Conference in October. Good to review my notes.

Maryannwrites said...

Can't wait to have the mystery revealed on Sunday. Sounds like a book I would enjoy as I like the twists, too.

Thanks for another look at close, or deep POV. I have gained a greater understanding of it via your posts.

Jemi Fraser said...

I haven't read this one - sounds like a great read. Pulling off the twist is a major accomplishment - that's not easy to do! :)

Sharon Hamilton said...

Great post, Terry. I'd bet the farm this author is not a panster! Very interesting premise and book. Adding it to the TBR pile right now.

Terry Odell said...

Maryann - glad you're finding my posts helpful.
Sometimes I figure if I know it everyone else must, too.

Jemi - there's a LOT about this work that isn't easy!

Sharon - I'll bet she plots. I haven't been able to do that yet.

Cheryl Wright said...

Hi Terry, I've known of the term 'deep POV' and read quite a bit on it. But I've never heard of it being used in this way.

Very interesting...

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

This sounds so much like Nora Roberis in her other persona JD Rboo for Mysteries. She uses POV skillfully.


Terry Odell said...

Cheryl - I think Suzanne Brockmann coined the term to describe the way she writes. I think that's where I picked it up.

Julie - Robb write more in an ominscient POV. And no, it's not her book in my example.

J.Q. Rose said...

Now you have stirred up my curiosity about this book. Anxious to read such a story with this twist. Thanks...

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

Interesting topic. Staying in deep pov is difficult, can't imagine staying in and keeping a secret! Wow, sounds like a very skilled writer.