Thursday, June 15, 2006

through a lens darkly

POV 101

I usually avoid talking about writing basics because every story is unique and what might not work in one could very well work in another depending on how it's handled. I HATE to say something should be done a certain way, especially now when one of the biggest problem in publishing is that too many books are the same, but that's another topic for another day.

I've been seeing a lot of what I consider viewpoint mistakes in some otherwise good writing. Many people think they get and understand viewpoint when they really don't.

This is pretty basic stuff - you don't want to say your viewpoint character is ugly and lazy unless he thinks that about himself. Otherwise you're introducing the opinion and viewpoint of somebody who isn't even in the book. Or he could have the thought that his sister say's he's ugly and lazy. There are ways to get it in there just as long as it comes from him.

Some beginners tend to step out of viewpoint in the narrative, which can be jarring for the reader.

Ack. This is such a broad statement. That's the problem, because there are so many exceptions. One example: I sometimes employ a technique that probably has a name. I open the scene as if viewing it through a camera lens. I start with a long shot, then move in closer until I'm in the viewpoint character's head. Once I'm in there, I stay there.

Ack. Not always. In PLAY DEAD, I sometimes ended a chapter by moving the camera back out of the viewpoint character's head to suddenly focus on a group of girls jumping rope and chanting.

If you're having trouble with a scene, if it seems flat, you might not be utilizing viewpoint. How can you personalize what's going on? Once the depth of the viewpoint is found your problem is often solved.

Another thing I've been seeing is fantastic deep viewpoint - with a random sentence that's way outside the viewpoint. Watch out for those sneaky things.


Stephen Blackmoore said...

This is why I tend to do first person. I always screw up something in the POV otherwise. Of course, not every story is best told like that.

anne frasier said...

i'm really getting into first person. never did much of it until recently. i've heard of people who write in third, then check their viewpoint by mentally changing it to first as they proofread. i've also heard of people writing it in first, then changing it to third in order to keep the viewpoint solid. sheesh. no thanks. :D

Sandra Ruttan said...

Although I was scolded by one person for pov shifts within a scene written in third person, I have adopted the rule, but bent it slightly. I'll allow one change in a scene, if it's a very clearly defined change.

But there was a book I read once, where someone referenced what was happening upstairs. And it totally pulled me out of the story, because the pov character was downstairs, and hadn't been upstairs. So, how did they know? Now, if they'd said that the people had gone upstairs to do X, or that they were supposed to be upstairs doing X, fine. But to say they were upstairs doing X without being there smacked me between the eyes.

Still, right now, I'm at the "isn't that reassuring" stage. I prefer reading author's debut books right now, too, so I don't feel so completely hopeless about my own debut effort.

Tami said...

Great post Anne! I am one of those writers that has a problem with viewpoint. I have to keep rereading my work to make sure I don't pull away too much.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the advice about POV, Anne. I am going to go back over my stories and I am sure I will find cases where I have committed this infraction without even realizing it. arggggh! :)

anne frasier said...

sandra, sometimes a scene just calls for both viewpoints, especially if it's highly emotional. like you, i try to make it very clear but i've had people gripe about it. i'm thinking of using a timespace next time. now the upstairs business -- that's just wrong! :D

tami, i don't know if writers ever get over that. i always have to kick myself in the butt and make myself go deeper when i'm just skimming the surface of the scene.

jeff, the good news is that it's easy to fix. ;)

Kelly Parra said...

I open the scene as if viewing it through a camera lens. I start with a long shot, then move in closer until I'm in the viewpoint character's head. Once I'm in there, I stay there.

That is such an awesome visual! Wow...I don't know how I do it but your method sounds better. =D

emeraldcite said...

Thanks, Anne! Actually, I was just thinking about this subject concerning something I just started. I think your advice helped me solve a problem...

anne frasier said...

kelly -- thanks! i'm a visual person and i think that's where that method came from.

emeraldcite: yay! that's good to hear!

jude said...

Interesting stuff.
I sometimes do the same - external then focusing in on a particular character but I'm not sure editors like it, based on a couple of comments I received. What do you think?

anne frasier said...

jude, i've never had an editor say anything about it.
i used it more when i was writing what a thought was literary stuff. i think with anything like that you have to be careful not to overdo it and you might not want it to be obvious. but of course that depends on the story!

with thrillers, i often just describe the scene then jump into the viewpoint character's head.

jamie ford said...

I open the scene as if viewing it through a camera lens. I start with a long shot, then move in closer until I'm in the viewpoint character's head. Once I'm in there, I stay there.

As I understand it, it's called 3rd person cinematic. It's what I do a lot, (I write commercials all day, so it's a habit I've been trying to break).

I'm doing another rewrite and trying to stay in 3rd person deep. In the current draft I bounce in and out and it's just not working for me.

anne frasier said...

3rd person cinematic!

thanks, jamie. i had a hazy memory of reading something about it years ago, but couldn't remember if it had an actual name.