Today we’ll continue with POV (point of view) concepts. If you haven’t read Part 1 you’ll find it here. Let’s dive right in:
Peter and Annie held hands as they stared into one another’s eyes. They both knew their love for each other would overcome Peter’s addiction to cheeseburgers.
As he reached for the half pound Thickburger, Annie said, “Don’t…you don’t need this. I love you.” He sighed and placed his hand back in hers. He cried. She slowly brushed the tears from his cheek and kissed him softly there. It only made him cry that much harder.
Ok. Besides making the reader vomit, what’s wrong with this passage? For starters, if the author is writing from a third person perspective, how can he/she convey knowledge belonging to both characters? The second sentence tells the reader both characters believe their love will overcome Peter’s addiction.
What about the rest of the passage. Nothing’s wrong with it as it stands, but if you look over the whole paragraph again, other then the author inferring their profound love, the rest of the sentences only convey action or dialogue without letting the reader know whose head we are in. Can the reader tell whose point of view the story is being told from with just this limited information? He/she may guess, but truthfully, no. Let’s try and fix it. First we’ll tell the story from Peter’s POV:
Peter and Annie held hands as they stared into one another’s eyes. He knew she loved him more than anything and because of that love, he was sure she would help him overcome his addiction to cheeseburgers.
As he reached for the half pound Thickburger, a craving stronger than any he’d felt before overtook him. He thought he might even kill for just a bite.
Annie said, “Don’t…you don’t need this. I love you.”
He sighed and placed his hand back in hers. He cried.
She slowly brushed the tears from his cheek and kissed him softly there. It only made him cry that much harder.
Not great, but workable. Let’s try it from Annie’s POV:
Annie held Peter’s hand and stared into his eyes. Her love for him was so strong she knew in her heart he’d be able to beat his addiction, if only he would let her help.
His gaze shifted from hers and the wanting look in his eyes frightened her as he reached for the cheeseburger.
“Don’t”, she said. “You don’t need this. I love you.”
He sighed, but placed his hand back in hers. She thought she saw a hint of anger just before he began to cry. She slowly brushed the tears from his cheek and kissed him softly there. It only made him cry that much harder.
A little better I think.
Just because we want to be careful not to confuse the reader doesn’t mean we never shift point of view. There are times when the message cannot be conveyed from a few lines of dialogue or body language alone. It just needs to be set apart so the reader knows the shift has happened. Usually acceptable practices are a new chapter, a shift in time, or a break in the chapter represented by 3 asterisks or 3 to 4 spaces.
Another problematic issue involves how many different POV’s you want to have in the story. Too many will often lead to overload on the reader’s part as they try to keep track of all the characters. Usually getting into 4 or 5 characters heads is plenty to tell the story. Be careful with more. You could lose the reader.
On the other hand staying inside only one character’s head (third person limited or first person) can be quite beneficial, though a little creativity is needed to get certain information to the reader. J.K. Rowling loved this point of view and used it in her Harry Potter series exclusively. She rarely left Harry’s head, but with her own world and all its charm at her disposal, she could create certain aspects that allowed the reader to recieve information to help the story along. For instance the invisibilty cloak. Harry could evesdrop on any conversation or action she deemed necessary to propel the story forward. Normally a different POV would need to be used for the information to get to the reader. Pretty cool.
I love the line from ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ when they talk about ‘the code’, how it’s more a set of guidelines than actual rules. So true. Poetic liscense lets the author pretty much do whatever he/she wants, and if it serves the story, so be it. Many authors abuse POV and are very succesful. When I see a famous author make what is considered a POV error, it is hard for me to decide whether they are being lazy, have no idea they’ve made it, just don’t care, or have an editor who lets it slide. In either case, if it propels the story is it up to me to be critical? I think not. The story is the story. Unfortunately, as a rookie writer, I must obey the guidelines along with making the story the story. At least until I become good enough at this to break the rules and not care.