Writing Wednesday–I’m stuck on POV


I know, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again… POV is hard.

I have a thing with POV. Maybe it was because in my first couple of contests, I got thoroughly dinged on my POV, and I realized just how hard it is. Oh, the comments were lovely: “You head hopped a lot. I love your writing, and it didn’t bother me, but you can’t get away with this,” and “Here’s the rule. Only the greats can break the rules.” And you know what? Those contest judges were right. I head hopped. A lot. So I get it. POV is hard, especially when you’re a newbie writer and just trying to figure things out.

Deciding whose POV to write in is harder still. Here’s what I mean: you want to write from the perspective of the person who has the most to lose in that moment. Even if you have an emotionally tense scene, where one character’s heart is breaking, but the other has more to lose, then you need to write it from that character’s perspective.

Say Bob is moving away for a new job and leaving Alice behind. While it’s hard for the person leaving, it’s harder still to be the one left behind. So while it might be tempting to write this from Bob’s point of view, don’t. Bob might be sad, but he will have new experiences to shape him, and that can be really exciting. Alice might be sad, and she will have a hole where Bob once was. Who stands to lose more? Is it Bob or Alice? Having been on both sides of this issue, I’d argue that this is harder for Alice. Your opinion may be different, and that’s cool. Just make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’re golden. Just make sure that once you start the scene, you end it in that same person’s perspective.

From the moment we first decide we want to be writers, we’re told that multiple POV shifts per chapter are bad. Given that, I find the number of books from big name publishers where there are four or five perspective shifts in a chapter interesting. In the beginning, we’re told to do some sort of break to let the reader know that there is a POV shift coming, but lately I’m seeing less and less of that, even. A paragraph from her. A page from him. Back to her for seven paragraphs. Maybe three or four paragraphs from the POV of the dog. Or the dog’s cat’s uncle’s brother-in-law’s mouse’s POV. (Yes, I know, I go too far)

I’ve read the big names–you know, the ones who can get away the omniscient POV–and I find it a little jarring even then, but I can follow it. But if you’re not in the hands of a master, the shifts are downright disturbing. Especially with so many of them.

Right now, I’m reading a romance novel (of course I’m reading a romance novel–when am I not reading a romance novel?) where, in the second chapter, the POV shifted 7 times. It made me nuts, (nuts enough to go back and count). The POV shifted twice in a single page, and really, it was just both characters ruminating on the relative attractiveness of the other. (He: super hot. She: well, she’s just been wounded, so not so much. At least in her estimation. In his, he can see that she’s pretty beneath the bruises)

Do I need to know that both parties think the other is attractive RIGHT NOW?

No. One character can wait. That’s just my two cents. Also, how much ruminating on relative attractiveness can one do? By the third chapter,  I’ve begun to weary of hearing about how sexy she thinks he is. I get it. Either jump his bones or think about something else. At this point, I’d be happy if she thought about the weather.

No, seriously.

In any case, I’m sure this is very clear, but I’m not a fan of omniscient. Doesn’t mean my way is better. But with so much head hopping, I feel like I’m being told what to think about the characters. She thinks he’s sexy, and thinks about it a lot. Ergo–he’s sexy! But I want to see the sexiness. I want him to demonstrate how sexy he is in the way he handles things both large (heh) and small (aww). I want to understand why she thinks he’s sexy, and if we’re constantly jumping to his POV, it’s hard for me to see that. Sure, one could argue that this is a matter of telling, not showing (and it is), but it’s also a matter of not allowing me to stay in a person’s head long enough, and spending too much time with internal thoughts, for me to see the sexiness through the eyes of the POV character.

That’s what I want out of a book. I don’t want to be told to love a book boy. I want to fall in love with him because of what he does, and how the heroine sees him.

The nice thing is, in writing, there is no “right” way or “wrong” way. There is simply a matter of taste, which changes with each generation. After all, we’re still forced to read James Joyce, right? Gah, I hated Ulysses. Stream of consciousness made me want to vomit. I wonder, if James Joyce queried now, would he be picked up? Or would he wind up in the slush pile like the rest of us?

Just wonderin’.

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