Point of View, Part II

Dear Puzzled,

Once you begin to see the possibilities for using POV to control the flow of information to your reader B which in turn enriches your reader’s experience B you can write the kind of books that draw people in and keep the pages turning. The kind of books that make good authors into New York Times best-sellers.

One of the first things to learn as you develop your skills in using POV is how to establish the POV character, the camera character, in any given scene or in any given sequence of events within a scene.

1) In many cases this is a real no-brainer. In the simplest terms, you give the name of the POV character and link him/her to an action as soon as you can in the scene.
* Jake Slade clasped his hand around the ivory butt of his Colt revolver and strode toward the teller’s window at the back of the Wichita Savings and Loan.

2) If you choose to set a mood or engage the reader with a short description before you identify your POV character, you establish him/her essentially the same way.
* The dress was perfection. The richly embroidered amber silk drifted in graceful tiers from the banded empire waist. The wide neckline exposed an alluring expanse of ivory-smooth neck and shoulders and the spectacular diamond necklace that encircled the wearer’s slender throat.
With a grim smile, Aurillia St. John tugged the neckline even lower.
“Well, my lord thief,” she whispered. “If this get up doesn’t attract your attention tonight, nothing will.”

Once introduced, the POV character will maintain a consistent VOICE, ATTITUDE, and PERSONA throughout the scene. He/she will probably maintain that voice throughout the course of the story, except when that character makes significant transformations. (Think Eliza Dolittle.) No self-respecting fur trapper — once established — will be caught dead thinking about his libido or saying “My bad.”

3)Maintaining POV throughout a long and complicated scene can be a bit trickier. Still the techniques used for establishing POV still apply. You’ll need to reestablish POV…
* After a long description
* After a period of introspection or internal monologue.
… and how would he ever be able to face himself in the mirror if he swindled this little old lady out of her money, no matter how good the cause? Will took a long drag on his cigarette, ground it out beneath his shoe, and approached the house across the street.
* After a long section of snappy dialog where A) a minimum of tags are used to indicate who said what or B) where pronouns have been used repeatedly to indicate who is speaking. “Never again!”she vowed, looking up at the trapeze still swinging crazily above them and thinking what might have happened if there had been no practice net beneath them when they fell.
“Have you lost your nerve?”
“I haven’t lost anything. But I’ve got to consider the risks — especially now that I have these new responsibilities.”
“Your sister’s kids, you mean?”
“I can’t pretend having to care for them doesn’t change things.”
“Then you’re really quitting the act?”
“How can I do anything else?”
Lily saw Steve’s eyes turn that shade of steely gray that meant he didn’t want to hear any more about this. Still, she reached out to the man who’d been her lover, her friend, and her mentor for the last four years.
He jerked out of her grasp and stalked away.

4) To handle multiple POVs in the same scene with style and grace, you should:
* limit the number of characters who will carry POV in any given scene. To my mind, two is optimal. Three POV characters is pushing it, and if you have four or more, you have a melee and not a cohesive scene.
* don’t pass the POV back and forth too many times.
* know why you’re changing POV, why it is important to tell the next bit of the story from someone else’s POV.

5) I think there are at least two simple ways to pass POV without jerking the reader out of the story.
* Have the first POV character address or in some other way hand off POV to the new POV character. (I think of this as the “pass the potatoes” technique.)
From: BRIDE OF THE LION/Elizabeth Stuart
As they crossed the hall Robert found himself hesitating a few paces from Jocelyn Montagne… “Your father is outside the castle gates. Is there aught you would have me say for you?”
Joslyn shook her head. (Name, verb, see?) How could she tell Robert de Langley that her father would care little for any word from her?

* Establish neutral ground between one POV and the next. This is usually be done with a line in narrative voice. (For those of you who know how to double-clutch a standard shift car… this is the same thing.)
First POV:
She’ll never understand, Brett thought. He turned and strode away.
Narrative/Neutral territory:
A chill breeze ruffled the grass of the sheep meadow.
New POV:
Nancy took two steps after him and paused. If only he would try to make her understand.

So “Puzzled” … I’m hoping that in your POV, you’re beginning to feel a bit more comfortable using this fabulously effective writing tool.

Next time, we explore how you decide on a POV character or characters to pique a reader’s interest or to deliver the most emotional impact in your story.

May the muse be with you —

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