Thursday, April 24, 2008

Point of View (POV)

A lot of new writers have trouble with POV. Figuring out just what it is and how to use it well. It is a hard thing to grasp. If you are like me, you’ve read books with head-hopping. (Head-hopping is when you are in one character’s head/POV then the next paragraph you are in another character’s head/POV and then back again.) I often hear, “What’s the big deal if it is a good story? I can follow it and enjoy the story.” And this is true. The story can be fine, BUT . . .

You are missing out on a great opportunity. When you hop from head to head, the reader doesn’t get a chance to emotionally connect with the character. BUT when you climb inside one character’s head and play a scene through from just that one POV, the reader gets to know that character and the reader’s emotions built with the character’s. You will have the reader trying to talk the character out of a bad decision. “No! Don’t open that door!”

When you head-hop the reader doesn’t get to lose herself in the story, forgetting she is sitting on her couch. One of the reasons we read fiction is to escape. One of the reasons we write fiction is to help readers grow closer to God. When you can connect with a reader emotionally through a character, you can help that reader learn and grow in a relatively painless way. Strong emotions help us change.

I had several fans write me about my first book, Newlywed Games, and how it convicted them about their own lying or half-truths. We all know that lying is wrong. It’s a commandment in the Bible. But when the lie helps someone else or our self and it isn’t really hurting anyone, what’s the big deal? We get numb to lies. People can tell us over and over not to lie to no avail, but when we get emotionally attached to a character and hurt with them, it changes us, the reader.

So when we can do all we can to get the reader to emotionally attach to the character, God can use that to change that person, to know Him better, and to draw closer to the Lord.

Head-hopping is only one POV problem. A distant POV is another. This is when you describe a scene or play out a scene as viewed but you the writer. It’s all surface stuff. You need to crawl inside the character’s skin and become them and show what they are feeling and thinking, and have them interact with the environment. A character must think, speak, feel, and act. The character must behave how the character would behave.

I have read numerous samples where an adult child (the POV character) thinks of their own parent by their first name. Unless it is a dysfunctional family, most people think of their parents as Mom and Dad or a variation of those. So when a character thinks of their parents by their first name or even worse as Mr. or Mrs., I am no longer attached to that character. Now if the family is really dysfunctional, then they might call a parent by a formal or first name, but you have to show that.

Think of POV as like looking through a camera lens. You can only see, feel, touch, hear, smell, taste, and think what your POV character does. Think about real life. In real life YOU are the POV character. You can only see, feel, touch, hear, smell, taste, and think what you can experience. The same is true for your characters. But your POV character can make assumptions as to what another character is thinking or feeling. If you want the reader to know what the other character IS thinking, you can have your POV character guess correctly. But you can also throw the reader off by having the POV character guess wrong. You can also let the reader know what the other character was thinking by making the next scene from that character's POV and have him/her reflect on what happened in the previous scene.

Also facial expressions can give away what someone might be thinking. In a movie, a character looks sincere and you are convinced they are a good person, but then when the other character isn’t looking, the camera shows the character’s expression change from sincere to wicked. And we, the audience, knows the truth, and we yell at the screen for the other character to “Lookout!”

So crawl inside one of your characters, I mean really get inside their head. Close your eyes and think about that character and what makes them tick. What were they doing before this scene began. What are their hopes and dreams? What do they want? Then read that character’s scene as though you are them. Be and actress/actor. Make sure everything in that scene is wholly from that character.

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