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Author Topic: Point of View -- Part 2  (Read 6126 times)

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Bob Mueller

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Point of View -- Part 2
« on: October 18, 2006, 05:52:14 PM »

 Date:         Thursday, May 06, 1999 02:06 PM

BookMarc #26
Point of View--POV--part 2

In working within a subjective POV, first or third person, we know and show what's in the POV's head through narrative and internal dialogue, and if done well the two are seamless.

I watched him knot the fishing line through the eye of the hook. I thought to myself, how well he does this with one hand.

Notice how this goes from narrative to thought, but it is hardly seamless. "I thought to myself?" Who else you going to think to? But leave it all out:

I watched him knot the fishing line through the eye of the hook. How well he does this with one hand.

There is no ambiguity here. Only First Person could be thinking that second sentence. It works equally well in third.

He stared at the miniature tree, peeled end pointed at him like a stick.
So what was this, a joke?
He shifted to the wild eyes glaring back at him.
What could you do with a three-foot bonsai tree?

Notice how we can shift from the first and third sentence narrative to the second and forth sentence internal dialogue. We don't have to say, "he thought," and in fact "he thought" would be intrusive, like our reader is so stupid we have to instruct him. I maintain that in handling subjective POV well, we never have to say--he/she thought. Worse yet would be to put it in italics. Even in omniscient POV you can get away w/o 'thought' by juxtaposing some action or identifier just before the internal monologue.

"Ah," Harry said, "why would women think you're handsome?" This guy was a conceited fool, what with his square jaw and olive face.
"I didn't say they did," John shrugged. Maybe not handsome, but from the look in women's eyes there was no doubt he had plucked a few heart strings.

Is there any doubt about who is thinking what?
So just by proximity to an action, dialogue, or tag we can identify who is doing the interior monologue. Let's get back to first and third person subjective.

I debated whether to tell her, then shrugged. "I had to kill him."
Sally was filled with horror.

How does First Person know Sally is filled with horror? And what does "filled with horror," show us anyway? Let's redo the second sentence and add a third.

Sally's eyes opened wide, jaw clenched so tight it dimpled her chin as she drew back from me.
I must horrify her.

Now we can see Sally's reaction, rather then being told, and First Person's interpretation it, which leaves a question because it could be wrong. When we SHOW what is happening, we engage the reader, yet too many times writers will tell because it is easier. They don't have to use their imagination. Or because, consciously or not, they don't trust their reader. What's even worse is to show it and tell it. Either way, this will wear over the course of a novel, producing a less satisfying and slower read. When we engage our readers, wrap them tightly into the story at all times, dare them to put it down, by it's very nature we are giving them a faster read.

The above example holds for third person subjective as well. Go back to the first sentence and change 'I' to 'He.' Third Person can not know what's in another person's head. If Third Person can read a person's mind one time, why not all people all the time? What he can do is interpret her reactions, but unless she tells him, he could be wrong. This limitation is also an advantage. An argument, a bit of humor, a dangerous situation can all be brought about by the protagonist misinterpreting another's action. Do it otherwise and you're cheating your reader and taking a chance of making the story unbelievable.

The corollary also holds true in first and third person subjective POV. We always have to let the reader know what POV is thinking. Linda Barnes does this well in her Carlotta Carlyle mystery series. If our POV knows pertinent facts and hides them till the end, the reader is going to feel cheated. Stuart Kaminsky wove a marvelous first person yarn in A Fatal Glass of Beer, but in a minor point at the end, First Person makes a plan w/o telling the reader what it is. He did so to heighten the reader's suspense and enjoyment of the finale, but it would have been less obvious to know the plan and wrap the suspense around its possible failure. When a devise is obvious, it's intrusive. When it's intrusive, it impedes the flow like a rock in a brook, and if it's flagrant it becomes annoying. Do you want your reader to come and journey with you again?

In BookMarc #27 we'll take up multiple POVs.

Copyright Peter E. Abresch BookMarc February 13, 1998

Sometimes it takes therapy to put the past behind you. Other times, it takes a 20 gallon trash bag and a couple of cinder blocks.
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