Saturday, May 21, 2005

Pesky POV Problems & CURES

Point of View - The VOICE of Fiction

First, the rant...

A Story's Voice DOES NOT belong to the Author!
A Story's Voice ALWAYS belongs to the Point-of-View CHARACTER!!!
There... I feel better now.

Seriously folks, the Voice of a Story is ALWAYS the Point of View Character's voice. If the POV character is sweet and innocent, then the story should read exactly that way, using phrases and descriptions that reflect THAT Character's opinions of what they see.

Same goes if the POV character is a hardened criminal. The text should have a cynical bite - and nasty language - that reflects the inner thoughts of that character's world view.

Anything else is AUTHOR INTRUSION.

But I don't Like using those FILTHY words!
The biggest complaint I hear on the Erotic Romance boards: "But I don't like the "c" word or the "f" word, or describing sex that graphically!"

If you don't like the language and twisted freak-a-zoid stuff that belongs in the thoughts and dialogue of a hardened criminal, or the sexually explicit thoughts and language that writhe in the minds of most jaded sex-obsessed Heros - DON'T WRITE IN THEIR POV!!! Okay?

Sex or No Sex?
Make an executive decision.

Either you CAN comfortably write sex, and the 4-letter dialogue that goes with it - or you CAN'T. It's that simple.

If you don't like writing graphic enough SEX to make an Erotic Romance sell - then Don't Write It! Go write Young Adult fiction! It sells just as well as Erotic Romance and sometimes better! (Except on the internet.)

I am NOT going to talk you INTO writing Sex. I already have plenty of exceedingly talented competition. I'm cool with NOT having one more author competing with me. (Translation: Can't write sex? GOOD! More for me!)

Doing POV RIGHT!
POV = ATTITUDE + ACTION
When you are in tight POV, (the Reader preferred POV,) everything the character sees and experiences should be flavored with that character’s Attitude.

If Oscar the Grouch is looking at a bed of roses, what is going through his head is not going to resemble what would be going through Big Bird’s head. If you are in Oscar’s POV, the way you would write the description of those roses would reflect how he saw them.

Attitude Alone (AKA - Internal Narration):
Oscar could not believe that someone had the gall to drop his comfy garbage can in the middle of a disgustingly bright mound of flowers. At least they were roses. He could almost stand something that closely resembled a heaped snarl of barbed wire, if it weren’t for those eye-searing explosions of hideous pink. To make matters worse their stench was overwhelmingly sweet. He just knew that it was going to take a whole week to get the smell out of his can. He seriously considered heaving, just to have something more comforting to smell.
(Boring. NOTHING is happening.)

But, Oscar would not sit there and contemplate the roses; he would make faces and say something snotty.

Attitude + ACTION:
Oscar the Grouch popped out of his trash can. Serrated green leaves waved among slender and barbed branches around the mouth of his home. He gasped in horror. “What is this disgusting mess?”

He leaned out and looked around in disbelief. "Oh ugh, I'm surrounded. Somebody put my trash can in a revolting pile of... What are these? Roses?” He could almost stand something that closely resembled a heaped snarl of barbed wire, if it weren’t for those eye-searing explosions of hideous color. He curled his lip. “Pink, I hate pink.”

“Oh, eww! The smell!" The stench was overwhelmingly sweet. He slapped a fuzzy green hand over his fuzzy green nose. "It’s gonna take me a week to get that out’ta my can!” He felt his gorge rising. “I think I’m going to be sick. At least it’ll smell better.”
(Not quite so boring this time, eh?)

There is only ONE legitimate reason to Change POVs: SUBPLOTS
A Subplot is a story thread - with it's own Protagonist and Antagonist - within the main story. When you have a large cast of characters, you will end up with more than one story thread going on. Only then do you need POV switching to show the full scope of the story. When you have another whole story being told within the first, a story that the main POV character may or may not ever be involved with, another POV character becomes a necessity.

Jane Austin, Steven King, Robert Jordan and Terry Pratchet are authors that use multiple subplots – multiple stories within one bigger story, and even they stick to ONE POV per subplot. When they bring all the characters together in a story’s final confrontation, they use the first POV Character (that is not killed by the villain,) that appears in the book.

9 times out of 10, the very first POV character is usually someone dealing with the Antagonist – the villain of the piece, and they usually end up dead. The next POV character is (normally,) the story’s leading Protagonist.

A story with an otherwise weak plot can be (and often is,) bolstered by adding more characters; subplots. The larger the cast, the longer the story. A long-running TV series, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, is a prime example of Subplots run amok.

If you decide to go the Subplot route - Remember: every single Subplot you add – every minor story within the larger story – MUST have their problems resolved, one way or another, to bring the overall story to a conclusive end. If the writer does not, the Readers will hate-mail that writer to death with: “But what ever happened with…?”

When you Actually Need more than one POV --
How do you know - Who’s POV?
- When you have more than One POV character in a scene?That’s easy. Every subplot should have a single POV Character. If you have more than one POV character in a scene, figure out which subplot you are in and use the POV character for that subplot.

UNLESS your Leading POV character is in the scene. Your Leading POV Character is ALWAYS in the Lead, in every scene they occupy, no matter what.

Example: In Buffy The Vampire Slayer, every scene that featured Spike and Drusilla was always filmed from Spike's POV. Spike had the bulk of the camera time. UNLESS Buffy was sharing the scene. Buffy was the Leading POV Character for the series, so she had 90% of all the camera time no matter who she shared a scene with.

The Romance
- POV Predicament:

Heroine AND Hero's POV

There are a great many Romance books that have both the Hero’s POV and the Heroine’s. As far as I’m concerned, the only time you need both is when the Hero has his own story going on, his own separate subplot.

"No POV Switching!?!
- But how will the Reader know the Hero Cares...?"
A skilled writer can SHOW that the Hero loves the Heroine without resorting to posting the Hero's POV.

Writers that Cannot Show the other characters feelings enough to inform the reader from the outside - without resorting to a head-hop - don't have enough DESCRIPTION in their fiction. All the body-language cues are missing.

Having Two POVs just to show how much they care - is CHEATING!!!
I don't care if they do it in all the print paperbacks! Just because it's Published, and in Print, doesn't make it RIGHT! HELLO! It's STILL CHEATING! I have no problems Showing the feelings of my Non-POV characters. If "I" can figure out how to do it without POV switching - so can everyone else. Damn it.

Doing POV WRONG!
Pesky POV Problems
The Horrors of Head-hopping
Head-hopping is when the Point of view changes, and changes, and changes, and changes...sometimes every few paragraphs, sometimes every few sentences. Obsessive Head-hopping normally happens for these reasons…

1) The Author is still at the learning stage.
The most common reason for obsessive head-hopping is that they don’t even KNOW that they are head-hopping.

Dead Give-Aways:
1) Every character’s opinionated view is presented without any form of scene breaks, (often in the same paragraph.)
2) Poor grammar skills.

My advice to Beginners: Write in FIRST PERSON, until you know how to STAY in that one person’s head, then attempt Close Third person. Once you know how to STAY in one person’s head, POV switching will be much easier to master.

Don’t rush into Third Person POV or - multiple POVs!
Handling one POV is tough enough. Seriously, I know a lot of published authors who have a rough time with sticking to one POV. Taking one step at a time will save you a LOT of grief in the long run.

2) Emotional DETACHMENT from the Official Lead Character
A lot of obsessive head-hopping is caused by the author’s emotional connection to a character that is NOT the protagonist – the official lead in the story. When the author becomes fascinated by a character that is not the official lead, they will often pop in and out of their ‘favorite’. They simply cannot bear not being in that person’s head.

Dead Give-Aways:
1) No real subplots - no secondary stories about different but related sets of characters.
2) The POV characters are narrowed to only 2 or 3 people – and they are all involved in ONE plotline.
3) The official lead character does not affect the plot in any major way.
4) The second (and preferred,) POV character defeats the Villain – not the official lead character. This makes the second (and preferred,) POV character the Protagonist, the Official Lead.

This is more often than not a Romance novel problem. The author becomes enamored of her Hero - and forgets that the Heroine is supposed to be in the lead. This is also the BIGGEST cause of TSTL (Too-Stupid-To-Live) Heroines.

My advice for those In Love with their Hero's: If you like the Hero so much that you cannot stay out of the Hero's head - Write the whole thing from HIS POV. DON'T Use the Heroine's POV! A Romance told strictly from the Hero's POV will sell very well indeed! BUT - you STILL have to have a Heroine worthy of him.

3) The Author thinks they are Enriching the story.
The author is attempting to provide the reader with a ringside seat to BOTH sides of the story. This shows up in Erotic Fiction of every stripe.

Dead Give-Aways:
1) Only the two main characters have a POV.
2) The POV switch happens without breaks, one successive paragraph after the next – from one end of the story to the other. (Him – Her - Him – Her…)
3) Events are often repeated; displayed in one POV and then the other.
4) Its deliberate. The author did it on purpose.

This problem normally takes a very firm publication editor to fix – because the author will often REFUSE to fix it for any other reason. They did it on purpose and don’t see anything wrong with it.

The number one excuse to the editor: "But, I'm being Creative!"

My advice for the Creative types: Creative Writing works ONLY in Literary Fiction - not fiction you intend to actually make money off of! Sorry people, but Literature DOES NOT SELL. (Not enough to pay the bills anyway.) Either give up on trying to write Popular Fiction and just go Literary, or read a few more Popular Fiction books to catch a clue as to what the Publishers are actually publishing.

4) The Author thinks they’re making SUSPENSE.

The author is convinced that the entire cast MUST be revealed to the reader. The reader spends the rest of the story popping from head to head viewing the Unfolding story. Unfortunately, by POV hopping, peeking into each of the character’s heads, it does not take much effort for the reader to guess how the story will end by the third chapter.

Dead Give-Aways:
1) No real subplots.
2) The entire plot and every characters’ motivation, including the villain’s, is revealed by the third chapter.
3) Its deliberate. The author did it on purpose.

My Advice to the Suspense addicts: Stop giving away all the goodies! Why should the reader bother continuing to read a story they already know the ending to? Make the reader BEG to know what's going on! Clues, Cues & Misdirection! That's what you should be giving them!

I have heard loud cries of – “So what if they know it all falls apart? They don’t know HOW it all falls apart!” You are missing the point that when the reader knows what's going to happen ahead of time, the reader is NOT SURPRISED. In fact they are Distanced from the characters' joy and pain – not Participating in it – because they already know what to prepare for.

Look at it this way –
- Someone leans close to you and says: “Watch this, I’m gonna yell Boo in that kid’s ear!” They yell, the kid jumps. And you do — what? You smile, maybe you laugh.

- Someone else leans over and grabs a different kid, yelling: “TICKLE!” And you -- jump out of your skin, maybe even shout, because it was totally unexpected.

See the difference?


NOT-Knowing, creates Suspense and Surprises the readers.
Giving it all away, creates BORED READERS.

Bored Readers = POOR SALES

Head-hop Proofing
FIRST - Learn how to Stay in one POV.
Oldest and most reliable trick in the Book: Write it in First Person POV then do a Search / Replace. “I” = Character’s Name at the beginning of a paragraph. He/She – Her/Him, everywhere else in the paragraph. You only need to use a character’s name once per paragraph. “My” = her/his.

How do your characters figure things out in a story when you use only one POV?
Use the main POV character’s power of observation – just like YOU do when you want to know what’s going on. Eavesdropping is a tried and true method of uncovering secrets!

Pick ONE Protagonist, Please!
You do NOT need to tell the story from inside ALL the character's Heads!
When you write a story with multiple POVs, you ADD a Protagonist to the story - and EACH ONE MUST have their story completed. (If you don't, the Hate-Mail will come pouring in.)

Once upon a time, telling a story with ALL the characters POVs was perfectly acceptable. Take a look at the original "Dracula". It was all diary and journal entries from the entire cast - except Dracula. That worked for the turn of the century. Guess what? The Century has Turned AGAIN! That kind of writing doesn't work for the modern reader! Not anymore.

Why not? Because it's CONFUSING to the Reader. Read 'Dracula' Again, or better yet, find a friend and ask their HONEST opinion of the Original 'Dracula'. You'll see what I mean.

Katie MacAlister of "The Corset Diaries" can get away with using a diary style, because she's SKILLED - and guess what? She uses ONE POV for the whole book! (So there.)

My point?
- If you Can't do POV switching Right - Don't do it until you CAN!
If "I" can figure out how to do it - so can You.

Morgan Hawke
~~~~~~~~~~~~
www.darkerotica.net

6 comments:

  1. Great article! I used to be more immune to POV flaws, but now I'm finding myself growing more and impatient...

    Reading the sex part made me wonder... what if you want the style to be lyrical and poetic--say, darkly poetic, in the vein of Edgar Poe -- yet erotic -- how do you write explicit sex yet keep it lyrical? The four letter words might be raunchy, worldly, straight-forward, blunt, edgy, but poetic they ain't....

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  2. -- how do you write explicit sex yet keep it lyrical? The four letter words might be raunchy, worldly, straight-forward, blunt, edgy, but poetic they ain't....

    Lyrical Sex???

    Sorry D,
    - I suspect that your only hope is a really good thesaurus and (hopefully,) a talent for metaphors.

    Morgan

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  3. My god, Morgan, you really DO know your stuff! As a reader, I've thought the same things when reading lesser quality works...why a character would act out of character, an evil one's afraid of filthy words, etc. As a writer, it may take a while to hone my POV skills but at least I'll agree with a reader/critic that points out I was messing it up. ;)

    POV does seem to be one of the most confusing facets of writing for authors, and you managed to break it down simply and understandably. I'll remember to refer other writers to this entry for a solution or understanding.

    And...I'd have to say any words or ideas could be made poetic if written well enough. Writing is always full of challenges. ;)

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  4. Not lyrical sex, but lyrical voice... imagine Tanith Lee or Edgar Poe... how would they write explicit sex?

    Though Tanith does write sex, not mentioning body parts. Kind of like LKH, "he spread his knees, flaunting himself."

    I guess maybe that's the way. Because at the same time, I don't like milder expressions, I like the four letter words. All the shafts and roots make me snicker.

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  5. Lyrical sex...

    In that case, I think a study of Tanith Lee is definitely in order. Time to break out a few of her paperbacks and go "phrase-hunting" with a highlighter! The Books of Paradyse and the Tales from the Flat Earth ought to do it!

    Morgan

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  6. Interesting article. (The following comments are not meant as argument, just discussion. After all, if a theory can't hold up to a little discussion, how can it develop?)

    If all those "rules" work for you, great, more power to you, even if they aren't really rules as such (regarding shifts of POV, see Virginia Woolf, Thomas Faulkner, and James Joyce).

    I'd quibble on the definition of "voice." There is definitely an authorial voice in every story, it's what makes Hemmingway different from Fitzgerald, Poe different from Lovecraft, or Tom Clancy v. David Morrell. But, I agree that there is also the character's voice, which is influenced by the author's.

    Just some thoughts.

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