Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What a View

Let me start by saying thanks to all who jumped in on My Town Mondays. I am more than pleased at both the quantity and quality of posts. I encpourage all of you to go through the links in the previous post and read about the various places and topics. I hope even more of you dive in this week.


I took the above shot of a mule deer doe just down from my house

So what is on my mind today?

POV, or point of view for those of you who are not writers.

We make a lot of choices when it comes to our writing. Most of us have multiple ideas in our heads, but we must choose that one idea to run with. Then we must pick where to set the story. Where to begin -- where to end, because as writers we no far more than the slice of story that make sit onto the page. Or at least we should.

I'll bet anything that Janet Evanovich can tell you plenty of things about Stephanie Plum's childhood that has never been mentioned in her novels. Or that Harper Lee knows what Scout grew up to become. (Lord knows she's had plenty of time to think about it, but that is another post for another day)

But of all those choices. POV is the most important. Through whose eyes, is your reader going to look? Imagine Evanovich's novels if Lulu were the POV character. Or Ranger. Totally different books. And would To Kill A Mockingbird be a classic if Boo Radley had been Ms. Lee's vehicle to describe the town. or Scout's father? No, that story worked so well because we looked at racism through the filtered view of a child.

And POV is just as important when writing third person. Look at this picture I took of a recent building being torn down.

Imagine this is the backdrop for a scene in one of your stories. You have four different potential POV characters. A young boy of eight, an elderly woman in her sixties, her man in his mid thirties, and a girl in her early twenties.

Let's hit the surface stuff first. The young boy will think it's neat as will the man in his thirties though his excitment will be a bit more subdued. The older woman may feel nostalgic if she knew the building had any dealings there and the young girl might just be indifferent.

But let's up the ante. This building used to be a department store(true story). Let's say the elderly met her husband there back in the early sixties while working in men's fashion. If she were the POV of this scene it would feel sad, nostalgic. Unless, her hubby went on to cheat and divorce her for a girl twenty years his junior. So then when this elderly woman went in to the coffee store nearby she was rude and belligerent to the young girl behind the counter because of her jilted memories the sight of the old building stirred.

Let's change and say we are in the young girl's POV. There she is minding her own business at work when some old lady comes in and starts griping at her for no reason. Deciding she's had enough the girl quits on the spot and walks out. She pays little attention to the building being torn down nearby until she notices the film of dust on her brand new car. Cursing the construction crew she races out of the parking lot mad and distracted because she's just quit her job and now she won't be able to make her car payment. What she need is some tunes, so she reaches for a CD in the passenger floorboard.

Cut to the young boy. He's standing just off the curb. His mouth is open as he watches the big ball swing into the steel and concrete. His smiles increases with each puff of dust as pieces of the building rain down. He never sees the car swerve toward him.

Jump over to the the man in his thirties. He's waiting for the bed of his dumptruck to be filled so he can drive off and dispose of the rubble. Occasionally he glances in his rearview mirror to gage progress but the novelty of demolition has long since worn off . Unlike the young boy he sees over near the sidewalk. The man watches the boy for a few seconds but his real focus is on his vacation which starts in six hours. Man is he itching to sit down at the poker tables. This time when he boards the plane to fly home from Vegas he's going to have money left in his pocket. All those hours of watching Texas Hold'em on TV will be worth it. Maybe that will get his wife off his ass. He could take out the garbage anytime, but learning the ins and outs of poker, that will pay dividends once he got to Vegas.

In a novel you could use these each of these to build upon the other and to increase suspense. The trick would be to order them in a way that builds reader interst and to choose which character needs to reveal which pertinent facts.

But what if you are writing a short story and you can only use one POV to tell the story of how the boy happened to get run over?

The elderly lady is still in the coffee shop smugly drinking her latte after chasing the young girl away. She doesn't even know the boy has ben hit and the boy's POV really wouldn't add anything but the facts to the story. That leaves the man and the young girl, but again the man adds nothing except maybe his daydreams, and unless the boy getting ran over somehow ruins his vacation there's not much story there. So in this case the best POV would be the girl and through the use of dialogue and character interaction we could reveal nearly every bit of the facts I stated above. Maybe the reader will not know the exact motivation behind the older woman's belligerance but done the right way they will have an idea, and the guy in the dumptruck's daydreams could be brought out. Maybe he and the girl talk at the hospital or something.

My point is that in choosing the right POV the author can fully show the complete story. But sometimes you don't want the reader to know everything. In that case choose the POV that only knows what you are willing to let the reader in on.

Artful use of POV will make your story come alive, add the needed suspense, and engange your reader so think about the view you want to give your reader. It just might be the most important factor in fiction.

Thoughts on the subject?


cher said...


The Anti-Wife said...

These are all great examples. This is then next topic in my online class, so your post is very timely.

Lexi said...

Wow! A most excellent post, Travis!

SUV MAMA said...

Yes, excellent as always, T.

I love John Irving for this very reason- his use of multiple POV's.

When done artfully, it makes for a fantastic read. When done sloppily, it makes for a hard to follow, confusing sttry in which you never are able to identify with one POV or another. You are simply lost in the content.

Anyway, I identified with your characters POV's. You rock.

Travis Erwin said...

Cher- Howdy back

Anti-wife- I'll be checking your blog for more on hte subject

lexi - Thanks. I always feel like I've rattle about nothing when I blog about the craft of writing.

SUV - Irving is one of my favs. Novels don't get any better than A Prayer For Own Meany

Penelope said...

This is totally random, but there are people who believe that Truman Capote actually wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" and allowed Harper Lee to take credit.

Personally, I don't buy this. Capote was too much of an egoist for such a thing to be logical. Plus, he didn't have the attention span to write a novel.(Yeah, he did "In Cold Blood", but true crime isn't the same.) It would take away from his time at Studio 54.

Anywho, I'd love to see a book told from Lula's point of view. She rocks.


Travis Erwin said...

Penelope - Yeah, I Knew about the Capote rumor. That's partly why I said that is another post for another day. And I'm sure a Lulu novel would be entertaining, but it would still differ from the Plum series.

Mom In Scrubs said...

Well Said, Travis!

From a medical POV, I would say POV::STORY as BRAIN::BODY

You can gimp along without both, but the quality is gone.

A heart can still beat and the rest of the organs can generally function. But without a brain, can you call it "life?"

You can have a character sketch, you can have a plot. But without the POV, there isn't any direction, really. Can you call it a "story?"

Waxing philosophical here....gotta lay off the Viognier.

Oh! I gave you an award, no strings attached!

Patti said...

for me pov is driven by the conflict and who drives that conflict with the most drama/comedy/car.

shifting pov = very tricky. my first novel has it in spades and i am still trying to find a way to make it work flawlessly.

Melissa Marsh said...

Fascinating post, Travis. I loved how one setting (the building) could be used so differently for everyone involved.

Personally, I stick to one POV per scene when I write - it's how I'm most comfortable.

Josephine Damian said...

Penelope and Co.: I confess I've never read "Mockingbird" but did of course read "In Cold Blood."

IMO, I hear two different "voices" in that book: Capote's and Lee's - so I believe it was a collaboration - someday I'll read the two books back-to-back and see if the two voices are there in both books.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Excellent post, Travis. As writers we need to pick the POV that's going to give us the most bang for our buck. Not always an easy thing to decide, but when you hit the right POV, you'll have something really special. =o)

Josephine Damian said...

For me POV was the most difficult thing to understand when I switched from screenwriting to novel writing. I think one big reason my first novel was rejected was that it had multiple POV's.

I agree that it's the most important decision a writer has to make, and they need to think through the POV choice before even starting to write.

Brooke said...

When I was first married I lived in an apartment and my downstairs neighbor WAS Boo Radley...he never came out and lord did we try to make him.

Probably didn't work because I wasn't six but twenty-six at the time but it still made for some great blog posts. I miss my Boo.

Britta Coleman said...

I've never heard that rumor about Truman Capote and Mockingbird. I've read In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's, which to me varied greatly in style and tone. I don't doubt that Capote could have pulled off Mockingbird, but I hate to think of Harper Lee not crafting that masterpiece.

Sarai said...

Good topic I struggle with the POV and usually end up in first person. I want others to see and feel the way my main character does. That and writing an intersting 3rd person is very hard.

Lana Gramlich said...

Interesting notes on POV. Lovely photo of the deer!

Ello said...

This was an excellent post! I think multiple POVs also depend on genre. If you are writing a thriller, then multiple POVs are great. But if you are writing a coming of age novel or other slower literary types, sometimes you want only the one POV and you want only the one perspective - like To kill a mockingbird - which is my favorite book of all time. And also, I prefer that if we switch POV it is done in a very clear delineated manner, like different chapters by different characters. I hate headhopping within a chapter. I think you need to be very careful as to how it is all done.

Titania Starlight said...

Great blog, Travis.
Thank you for stopping my my blog and commenting on the passing of my dog, Loki. Much appreciated.

The My Town Mondays sound very interesting. Have anyone from Mississippi yet? :o)

Love the deer pic.

Charles Gramlich said...

Excellent post. I struggle with POV often so it's nice to see sound discussion of it.

Shauna said...

Wow. Great stuff. I've thought about POV before, but never quite that indepth. Thanks. It's something that'll stick with me for later.

ChristineEldin said...

This is hard for me. I wrote my first book in first person, and it came out so easily.
Then my second book had two main characters and I wanted to do a sympathetic third POV, but couldn't choose which character. I shelved it for now, and am writing a book in third person POV with one main character.

Your examples are awesome. That's a story in itself. You should write it!!!

Danette Haworth said...

I've got to echo the comments of others: excellent post, great examples, and nice shot of the deer.