POV Part V - hoW to write from one perspective

Posts in the Five W's of POV series:

Writing from one perspective has a lot to do with pacing. By adding the reactions, thoughts, emotions, personal opinions, and observations of one character to prose, you make your readers a part of the story. They can now identify with this character. They understand how they think and what motivates them, and how they are going to react. 

Take a look at this paragraph I wrote in first-person for my coming book Never Forget:

I took another step, careful to avoid the colorful leaves strewn across the forest floor. My brown cotton skirt was balled into my hand so that I didn't make any extra noise. I held my breath. My heart raced wildly in my chest. I figured that he'd had to hear that, but he didn't move. He just sat against the tree at the edge of the woods, humming a familiar tune. I grinned. Maybe this time I'll actually surprise him. When I was just about to jump out from my hiding spot to surprise him, he calmly said, "You might as well come out, Barra. I know you're there."

I started with a line of POV action: "I took another step..." You could use your character's action or a non-POV's action. 

I followed this with a reaction to the action: "I held my breath. My heart raced wildly..." This line should be in the POV's viewpoint. 

Then came a line of thought: "I figured that he had to hear that..."

Followed by a line of more action--this time the non-POV's: "...he didn't move. He just sat there ... humming a tune."

Then another reaction, again it is the POV's viewpoint: "I grinned."

Followed by another thought: "Maybe this time I'll actually surprise him."

Followed by another non-POV action: "...he said, "You might as well come out..."

See the pattern? Reactions and thoughts following actions. Actions can be performed by anyone, but you can always see what the POV is thinking and feeling by their reactions and thoughts. 

But how do you express non-POV's? This paragraph could be an example:

     Mr. Smith frowned at Lucy. He obviously wasn't happy at her picture. But she didn't care. It was her picture, after all. Her art. And if he thought something was wrong, he could just go hang himself. In fact, she told him just that. 
     "You don't like it. Get over it."
     He opened and closed his mouth like he didn't know what to say. Then he turned and walked to another student. Lucy smiled and turned back to her work. Hopefully, that meant he wouldn't bother her again.

I just made that up on the spot, applying action followed by reaction and action. First, I wrote it in first person, then I switched it to third person. You get a hint of what the teacher is thinking based on his actions and the POV's reactions. But in real life, that is all we really know about what someone is really feeling or thinking, from their actions and our opinions.

Now as the author, I know that Mr. Smith actually loves Lucy's work, he loves being a teacher, and he loves art. He remembers the encouragement his own teacher gave him and wants to be that kind of mentor to his students. Especially Lucy because she reminds him of himself. She's just as bitter and cynical as he once was... But he has this nasty habit of frowning as he studies art. It's his "concentration" face. And he doesn't know how to overcome his own shyness to give to someone else what he received from his mentor. But he's determined to try.

If the art teacher was a significant character in the story, then you can switch POV's for the next class. Or when he goes home and talks to his wife. Or maybe he visits his childhood mentor who gives him some wise advice.

And if he isn't a major part of the story, you can have another scene in that same classroom and Lucy learns that she misjudged him. All from Lucy's perspective because he's not important enough to be a POV.

Writing Assignment
I'd love to hear from all of you. Please leave a comment to write a possibility for the teacher's perspective or a new scene from Lucy's. It will be fun to see all the different possibilities.

1 comment:

  1. Something unexpected about POV

    I was considering writing a book on the topic of POV. One of the odd things that I got into in the introduction was an automatic connection between POV and the concepts of descriptive writing.

    One might hesitate to see the connection, but once I got into the thought, I found POV and descriptive writing inseparable. One way to see this connection is with an experiment: Ask anybody to turn their head and describe what everybody is wearing in the room.

    Next, have them turn around and describe what any one person is wearing.

    In the first case, people don't recall much, if anything. (When I did this to myself, I couldn’t remember one thing). Some might recall more than others.

    In the second case, people can describe a lot more, but the interesting thing is how they do the describing. For example, if you were to ask me what a person was wearing, I'd be rather general. I don't know cashmere or tweed. I'm not inclined to say the word fuchsia. The style or brand of shoes wouldn't even occur to me.

    And, most telling, I'd not consider the clothing description to be a very fruitful explanation of who I was looking at. Clothing changes. People are much more interesting. If I am a POV, being effected by another person, the clothing is probably not why.

    Now, let's get down and dirty: If I was a male vampire, suddenly confronted with a foe who is seconds from launching herself at my chest with a wooden stake, what would I observe? How would my descriptive writing fare? How much time do I have to devote to it. I’m about to be impaled, so think fast!

    If I'm more inclined to note that Alice is a bit mousy, gullible and rash in judging me just because I'm a vampire, (during the quiet moments when she’s not trying to put a stick in me) then I wonder why the thread count on her blouse suddenly becomes something I am dealing with while she is tossing holy water into my face, hoping to blind me so she can pierce my heart without too much trouble?

    On the other hand, maybe I'm a sheet merchant, and thread count is everything to me, even more important than my life?

    Ninety percent of what I read is overly descriptive (or more accurately overly descriptive about the wrong things). I think that truly getting into a POV, however, is really all one needs to consider while policing this illness. That calls for a general reduction in the tendency to blab endlessly about the décor of every room or character and in particular, realizing why the POV isn't going to go there as much as the predictable writer.

    Consider this: Can you tell me the eye color of the ten people closest to you at work? If you can do half of them, you’re either a good guesser or way more superficial than most of us. And if you can do this trick, then you have a very unusual POV character whose super character skill is eye color observation.

    See the way your POV sees. Know how your human observes the world that passes before his or her senses. Be real, not writerly. Doing so is almost sure to reduce the number of details mentioned, but those that are mentioned will have greater significance to the actions, thoughts and dialogue of the characters presented to the reader.

    Oh yes, and that is just one more reason to establish and stay tight to a POV character in any given portion of your novels.

    Gary Wedlund


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