Friday, October 28, 2011

Going Deep

As we talk about POV (point of view), you may whine. You may grumble. You may pull out your beloved copy of Sense and Sensibility and say, "But Jane head-hopped!" Or you may reference some book that sold gazillions of copies last year and say, "Look here! This author did it too! What do you have to say to that, Stephanie?"

And I will tell you, "Yeah, that's true. But ... you still shouldn't."

No disrespect to Miss Austen intended.

I'm not going to talk about omniscient narrators - *wincing in embarrassment and fear* -because I don't understand them.

There, I said it. I feel better having confessed.

The Gossip Girl books and the Luxe series are both done with omniscient narrators. I don't understand why it works or how it works or what makes that different that head hopping in 3rd person. And I'm not even sure if omniscient POV improves the books, because part of me thinks I would be much more emotionally invested in the stories if I felt like I was sitting inside Serena's or Elizabeth's head, rather than sitting behind a camera on their shoulder.

These are the cameras I'm reminded of when I'm reading omniscient books. Those giant ones from the 80s that the men had to carry on their shoulders.

If any of you understand omniscient and want to whip up a guest post, I will happily host you. Please. Educate me on why this would ever be a good choice. Okay, except for that one scene in The Help, in which the POV switch was very well done.

Wait, I said I wasn't going to talk about omniscient, didn't I?

Moving on.

Let's instead start our conversation by talking about deep POV (point of view). What is it? What makes it so special? How do I achieve it?

Here's the opening paragraph of the dandelion story. This is how to not write:

New school clothes and make-up could not hide the girl's nervousness.  She stood in the doorway in a short black skirt and clutched her backpack straps with both hands.  The girls chin length, coffee colored hair fell softly into her eyes.  With a casual and swift movement of the right hand, she pushed the hair behind her ears and reached for her backpack straps again.

There you have it. That's Stephanie Hines writing circa 2000. Or '99. One of those. I'm itching to edit it, but I opted to copy and paste from the original document.

Let's choose to ignore the abundance of description and focus on the POV. And don't look at where I missed an apostrophe. Or that adverb....

The big rule for POV is thou shalt tell each scene from the POV of only one character. That means if you want to share something from the POV of another character, you must end your scene and start a new one.

The above paragraph is at least focused on Paige, my main character. High-school-me earns points for that. But this reads like you, the reader, are watching Paige through a video camera. To write deep POV, we must instead be watching the world through your POV character's eyes.

If I were to rewrite the opening of this book, I would just scrap most of the above. Since my focus right now is showing you the difference of deep POV, I'll instead transform what I originally wrote.

As Paige lingered in the doorway of the classroom, thumbs hooked in her backpack straps, her racing heart seemed so loud in her ears, she was sure everyone could hear. Why had she chosen heels today? Her knees would have been wobbily enough in sneakers. But of course it had been a very long time since she'd worn comfortable shoes.
She wanted to tug at her skirt hem - it hadn't seemed so short in the store dressing room - but she forced herself to stand up straight. He might be here, and there was no way she'd give him the satisfaction of knowing how tight the knots in her stomach were. 

Okay, so I didn't get in the thing about her hair, but I think there's enough for you to see the difference.

When I was deepening the POV, you know what struck me? When you write in shallow POV, you don't have to think much about what your characters are feeling. In the original version, because we were hovering outside of Paige, all I felt I needed to express was that she had made herself up pretty, but still looked nervous. 

When I went deeper, I was asking questions like "What is making her nervous?" With about 20 seconds of thought, I decided she was unsure about the clothes she'd picked (I'm sure I'm not the only girl who thought an outfit totally worked in the dressing room, only to feel weird wearing it in real life situations.) She's also apprehensive about seeing her old boyfriend.

The deeper version shows us two additional things that I like - we get a hint about who Paige has become (she's not a girl who wears comfortable shoes), and we know she's got some pride issues with the guy (she doesn't want to give him the "satisfaction" of knowing she's scared).

We have a tendency to write shallow because it's easier. Not only do we not have to think through how our character is feeling, we don't have to experience it ourselves. 

We're going to talk more about POV next Wednesday. On Monday, Amy Deardon, author of The Story Template is our guest. She'll be talking about "story pillars" and is giving away a copy of The Story Template, which is a wonderful craft book. You won't want to miss it!

Have a great weekend everyone!


  1. I can have a bit of trouble with which tense/person I'm writing in. I have improved and I like 1st person. I think I might need to make sure that my MC isn't a base off of me like you were saying the other day. And work on my plot in the big picture. I have gotten a lot of things that I need to change through these past few posts. Thanks so much for doing posts like this that really makes us think Stephanie :) Sierra
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Cause You Are!)

  2. Hey Stephanie! Loved the post, as usual. I wasn't exactly sure how omniscient POV was defined, as I'd heard of it, but was never quite sure what it was, so I looked it up and, lo and behold, I've done it! Actually, I'm doing it in the manuscript I need to start work on again (I took that 6 weeks break). This manuscript has six MCs (although I realized that I was only super attached to one, so I'm rewriting it to make my favorite MC THE MC). Anyway, I don't skip from POV to POV, which is third person limited. Instead, the reader gets a little bit of everybody's feelings, thoughts, etc.. So the omniscient POV is best used when you have an ensemble cast and even though one person is your MC, you feel it's necessary to get feelings from other characters. At least, that's the way it's SUPPOSED to work. The trick is making sure you make it clear who the main character is.

    Hope that helped a little!

  3. I read the title and thought, "oooh, this is going to be good!" And I was right! :) I was just thinking the other day that I wished there was a "POV for Dummies" or something. That's something I think I left out of my blog post the other day, because I have learned a lot about it since my high school days (when I was a die-hard "camera" writer), and I still have a lot to learn. I read another short story I penned in HS just last night and noticed that I was in the head of my MC one moment (one Long moment) and then omniscient (describing something she "never noticed..."). I have to laugh at the irony of reading that last night and then having this post today, but, hey, great timing! :)

    By the way, the copy of Sense and Sensibility that I picked up at a library sale has been beckoning from my bookshelf. Maybe I'll wait to read it until I understand POV a bit more and won't find myself "copying." :)

  4. oh my gosh when I was reading the beginning of the post I was like, oh I don't do that...then I read the example
    I didn't even know it was a problem! I thought my writing was 'creative'

    thanks for the great post, Stephanie!

  5. Stephanie, one of the manuscripts I'm in the middle of starts out with the MC being three years old. Is it okay to start out with the POV being from the adults until she's old enough to put cohesive thoughts together?

  6. I think this is why some people dislike third person - perhaps they've only read a "shallow" POV. I think third person can be just as deep as first person if you do it right.

    I used to think that using only one POV through the whole book was boring. But what struck me about the Hunger Games after I read it was, "She only used Katniss's POV through the whole series! And it's not boring at all!" I don't think people should be obligated to try and master multiple people's POV unless they really want to.

    1. I completely agree - multi-POV has to be done well, and each character has to have their own voice. I'll take "Dreaming Anastasia" by Joy Preble as an example. There are 3 MCs (in book 1 at least) who are from different historical periods, so Anastasia (yes, Romanov) sounds different to Anne (present day) who sounds different to Ethan (a strange mix of both) which is something the author did really well. I recommend this book!!!!! Xoxo

  7. Sierra, glad they've helped! It's been really fun for me :)

    Becki, that makes sense, since both Gossip Girl and Luxe are ensemble casts. Regarding POV, it's widely accepted (and encouraged) to have multiple POV characters in a book. You just don't want to do it in the same SCENE. So, yes, that's fine. Though for fun, you might write it from the MCs POV too and see which you like better :)

    Rachelle, oooh, it's so good. And, who knows? Maybe it would be an interesting compare and contrast with Julie Klassen, who writes books set in Jane Austen's time period, but with the modern preference of deep POV.

    Tessa, I'm sure your writing is creative! POV is a very tricky skill to master. I still find myself fumbling at times.

    Ellyn, I completely agree with everything you said. Every story and every writer are different and should do what works for them!

  8. Okay, I was thinking that you didn't want to have multiple POV's in the whole book. My bad. Hmm, interesting concept. "Life from a three-year-old's perspective."

  9. I know of one author in particular who has POV down really well. Chris Fabry's books are incredible.. Everyone here should read at least June Bug. Just be warned that his other adult books deal with some rougher issues.

    Becki - you should check out June Bug by mr. Fabry in particular. The first POV introduced is that of a 9-year-old girl all in first person. It's amazingly done. Another book to look at would be The Boy in the Stirped Pajamas which is all from the perspective of a child. The author uses his ignorance of certain things to tell the story in a very intriguing way.


  10. Hmm, I'll see if I can find it. I know how it would sound from a three year old's perspective, but that's also the trick. Three year olds can make themselves understood, but there's not a whole lot of room for finesse (if you know what I mean).

  11. Jordan, those are great recommendations. To Kill a Mockingbird does the same thing. I think it's tricky, but the results can be wonderful.

    Becki, if you would like to borrow my 3-year-old for research, I'd let you :) Especially today, since I've said "share with your brother," about 500 times...

  12. Hahahahahaha...actually, I have four younger sisters, ranging in age from 8 to 14, and two younger brothers, 5 and 2, so that's not a problem. It's the fact that I have no clue how you would get a intelligible book from a three-year-old. :D
    We have the same sharing problem, only it's not really in our family. We have a new family at church, and they have a little girl. Well, my baby sister, Anna (pronounced AH-nuh), used to be the youngest girl in the church, so my baby brother, Noah, doesn't know what to make of the "new girl," who's one. So he tends to get the "no girls allowed" type response. (We're still working on that.)

  13. Hey.. I know I'm a bit delayed on this post, but I only checked up on your blog today for the first time. It's pretty interesting. I was wondering if your examples about Paige were from an actual book you're writing or have written. This is the furthest back I've read, but so far I've seen you've mentioned her a few times. The little I've read has fascinated me. I've got the whole Skylar Hoyt series and I'm really eager to read more of your work. Do you have any other books planned?

  14. "Anonymous," thank you so much for asking! The examples are from a manuscript I wrote back in high school. I talked about it more in this post:

    The Skylar Hoyt books are currently my only published books. Hopefully that'll be changing soon, so stay tuned :)

  15. When I was starting my book, I accidentally head-hopped out of my main character's head during a crucial scene. After someone pointed this out to me, I re-wrote the scene, staying in my MC's head. The scene became much more powerful.
    It's one of those drafts where I can see my writing improving as the story goes on. ;)