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Sep
13
2014

POV: More than pronouns -- by Megan Carney

One of the most important lessons I learned about point of view didn't come from a textbook. It came from Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey.  This lovely book completely changed my point of view on well... point of view. :)

Early on we learn to identify the point of view in a book by pronouns. Later, we debate the relative structural advantages/disadvantages of first person vs third person vs omniscent, etc.

Slightly more advanced discussions will focus on common mistakes, like violating point of view by describing something outside the narrator's awareness. (e.g. "She didn't notice the man with the knife creeping up behind her.")

But what I haven't heard many people talk about, and what I think Mahaffey's book so aptly demonstrates, is that point of view is also about agency.  That how you describe a scene can put the narrator in control of their body (and make the reader feel things more directy), or make them distant from their own actions. 

This distance works in Mahaffey's book because the main character struggles with multiple personality disorder.  Holly often finds herself inside her own body, but unable to control it.  As I read the book, I noticed how differently Holly's actions are described when she's in control of her body vs. when her other personalities have taken over.

 To clarify the point, let's look at an obvious example of how to show someone else is in control:
She sashayed my body to the counter, retrieved the menu, and sauntered back.

A little further in the chapter, we see how this technique translates when control shifts mid-paragraph:
She ceded control [of my body].   A marker that something has changed.
My knees buckled.  Clearly shows she is not in control of this action.
I dove forward to catch my body just before it went down.  We know Holly is in control again because of the "I dove".   
When I felt the ground under my feet, I bolted through the kitchen toward the back exit.  More language to demonstrate that Holly is in control with "I felt" and "I dove"

And another example of when Holly is not in control, just to drive the point home:
My hand reached for the plate.  The woman grabbed my wrist.
Note how both of these sentences show the narrator observing the actions of someone else, though in the first sentence it's her own body she's describing.

There are other times when you might want distance between the narrator and their actions, aside from Holly's unique situation.  Like when a character doesn't understand why they are doing something, but they are doing it anyway.  Or for when an action is reflexive or compulsive. Or perhaps, if you're doing supernatural fiction, an otherworldly force has taken hold of the narrator.

Just make sure your character is as active (or passive) as you intend them to be.

Posted by Megan Carney 13 Sep 2014 at 00:11
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Responses to this blog

Imjustdru 14 Sep 2014 at 07:56  
Good points here. I'll have to keep that in mind when I dust myself off start writing again.
Peggyc 14 Sep 2014 at 10:36  
As a newbie, I have been struggling with POV, and have taken more than a few "hits" in crits for getting inside a head other than the narrative POV "allows" ... your post is very helpful in establishing a better handle on this topic. Thank you!
Milana 14 Sep 2014 at 10:47  
Pretty good points. Set Pov's are difficult to handle sometimes.
Cspark 14 Sep 2014 at 11:07  
The only problem I have with POV is sometimes I describe how my MC looks and her expressions. My defense is that I know when I'm smiling, I know what my face is doing even if I can't see it. I know how I look when I do things because other people have told me, or I have seen it in a mirror at some point in my life. There are things that, for the sake of the pacing, you don't want to take the reader out of the action to explain that 'I knew that I looked feral because I happened to catch myself looking in a lake while doing it a month ago' you know? And still, people seem to think that the POV has to be wholly outside of the narrator's body, as if you're looking out their eyes, but anything you aren't physically seeing yourself do shouldn't be mentioned.

"I crouched almost immediately, my fingertips touching the ground in front of me, and I growled, my long teeth along with my shining violet eyes, reflective much like a cat?s, made me look positively feral. The wolf looked at me calmly, its mismatched eyes connecting with mine. It seemed to look past my eyes, so much so that I didn?t immediately notice that one eye was soft amber and the other an icy blue. When I did, my gaze softened. "

Does not need to be

"I crouched almost immediately, my fingertips touching the ground in front of me, and I growled, my long teeth along with my shining violet eyes, reflective much like a cat?s, made me look positively feral. I knew I looked feral because I could see it in the animal's eyes. The wolf looked at me calmly, its mismatched eyes connecting with mine. It seemed to look past my eyes, so much so that I didn?t immediately notice that one eye was soft amber and the other an icy blue. When I did, my gaze softened. I know it softened because..." Well you get the idea.




Milana 14 Sep 2014 at 14:51  
Cspark, I think you're absolutely right. It sounds pretty silly the other way, doesn't it?
Bethanne80 16 Sep 2014 at 17:51  
Cspark, I totally see your point. But I can also see why critics would complain. The phrase, "Made me look positively feral" — It feels as if the MC is showing us this through someone else's eyes. Or like she's looking in a mirror and describing herself. And, most people who were in a tense situation wouldn't ponder upon the reflective quality of their eyes. And that's why critics are complaining, it feels as if she's directly taking time to ponder her appearance. You might try shifting your approach to describe her feelings instead (Made me feel positively feral), as that's more what most people would be dwelling on in such circumstances. Just a suggestion. Good luck.
Cspark 16 Sep 2014 at 18:15  
Bethanne, that's a good idea. I'll consider doing that. You can read the rest of the story if you want (At least the first chapter). I have it up.
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And thus the Cinders were made into flame, and the passion was made flesh.
-Cs-

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