Wednesday, July 21, 2010

It's a Matter of Perspective

Okay, kids. This editor is cranky. We're going to go over Point of View today, AGAIN, and this time, I want you to pay attention. Because I'm getting mighty annoyed at seeing the same mistakes over and over and over again.

When you are writing in a character's point of view, you must remain in their head and see only (I repeat ONLY) with their eyes. This doesn't mean their eyes can suddenly sprong out of their heads like Roger Rabbit's to view themselves. No! No, no, no, no! Their eyes must (I repeat, must) stay in their heads and see only what they are capable of seeing.

But I do that, you tell me.

Ha. Guess again. You tell me that your character's eyes widened. That their mouth drew into grim lines. That their shoulders hunched and their hair bounced. You don't think that's a point of view break? Then, we're going to do an exercise together.

Sit in your chair. Are you? Make sure you're not looking in a mirror or window or computer screen or scything pool or anyplace where you might get a glimpse of your reflection. Okay? Ready? Good.

Now, tell me. What is your mouth shaped like? A bow? A tiny smile? A pouty frown? Do you know? Are your eyes wide? Narrowed? (They might be crossing, if you're still trying to see what shape your mouth is taking.) How are your shoulders? Is your hair--especially in the back of your head--bouncing. (Hey! No cheating! You can't touch it. Eyes only!)

So--what do you see? Anything?

I can see my hands, typing, and my arms. Out of my peripheral vision, I can see my shoulders (sort of--they're these blurry shapes). I can see some of my hair in my face and in my eyes. I can look down and see my fat legs and my feet. BUT, I can't see anything else of myself.

When you are writing, and you're in a character's point of view, you can't suddenly start describing things that character cannot see. Or hear, for that matter. You have to put yourself in that character's head and see through their eyes, the same way you see through your own eyes.

But why, you cry. That's not fair!

Sorry kiddos, it is. The thing is, I know of more than one publishing house which requires that a scene be written only from one character's point of view. So suck it up. Them's the house style rules and they exist for a reason. Because most of us suck at writing multiple pov and the reader feels confused and rather like a tennis ball bouncing from person to person.

Speaking of confused...I've discovered that most of us learn by doing. So I'm going to continue this on Friday, when I'll give you an assignment to share with the group. You'll be doing a little writing. But what you'll need for this assignment is a piece of chocolate, like a Hershey's Kiss or a Dove square. (Or--if you're one of those healthy people--a piece of fruit.) Okay?

Class dismissed. See you Friday.


  1. Will look forward to the exercise. POV is a huge deal, I know. But some people never grasp it.

  2. Why must you post these things while you have one of my MSs for edit?!

    Ach, paranoia! ;-)

    Adam, who thinks he may be a lil guilty of this...

  3. The only ones that worry me are things that I know my body is doing, even though I can't necessarily see it. For instance, your example of narrowing your eyes. I know fully well when I'm narrowing my eyes. I can see I am because my vision narrows too. So if you don't say "I stared at her through narrowed eyes," what else could you say? I also know when I press my lips together or pull a face, because I feel it. Doesn't that count, or do you have to say, I feel my lips press together?

    After all, we often write things like "My heart was racing," when we feel it, not see it. Thank goodness, that's one thing I do not want to see.

    Obviously, you can't say your hair is bouncing behind your head, but, you could say you feel your long ponytail brush your skin, couldn't you?

    Where do you draw the line?