Friday, October 2, 2009

The Great POV Switch...

The other week I did a post on writing exercises and the Saskatchewan Romance Writers’ private blog. A couple of months ago I posted an article on point of view. Well, I finally got my act together and managed to post another writing exercise to jump-start everyone into fall writing. And low and behold, the exercise was about POV!

Hayley, who part way through her manuscript made the bold decision to change from third to first, inspired me. Her story, previously in third person, was very, very good. With one simple change, it became fabulous. Her main character, Alkaia, leapt off the page. Hayley’s telling of the story was enriched by the change in POV. Now I need to tell you that Hayley writes fantasy and that genre lends itself very well to first person. And the story was Alkaia’s story to tell – there were no other main characters with their side of the story to share (although she has a wonderful male character that is a large part of Alkaia’s life). I, along with others, gave her two thumbs up and waited eagerly for more snippets to come our way.

So I posted the following: "…take a scene (500 – 700 words) and rewrite it in first person." I asked those who wanted to participate to post the original scene written in third person and then the first person perspective so we could all see the differences. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew, as any good teacher does, that you must lead by example. So here’s just a portion of my contribution (Fred, by the way, is Gillian’s faithful dog):

(Third Person) Listening to the rhythmic beeping, she tucked the mask back against her eyes and waited for the minute and a half alarm to end. She thought about Mac. When the room grew silent, with the exception of Fred’s muffled snores coming from the side of her bed, she flipped onto her side, snuggled further into the warmth of the covers and thought about Mac. One more flip, back onto her stomach, her hands pushing the pillow out of the way, Gillian sighed heavily. She tucked one hand under her thigh, the other against her head, her fingers snarled around her bangs, but the man still invaded her thoughts.

(First Person) I fitted the mask back over my eyes and waited for the rhythmic beeping, a minute and half of it, to end. My mind wandered to Mac.

I grunted and flipped onto my side, snuggled further into the warmth of the covers, reveled in the silence once again. And thought of Mac.

One more flip, back onto my stomach, pushing the pillow out of the way, I inhaled deeply and let it out in a big whoosh. I wiggled into my favorite sleeping position, one hand tucked under my thigh, the other against my head with my fingers snarled around my bangs. But Mac still invaded my thoughts.

As you can see, I did some slight editing while I switched POV. Would I have done that in revisions of third person? Yes, but not to this extent. I could not believe the difference in the scene, in the tone, in the character’s voice. And, for the first time, I understood fully what people mean when they say "Deep POV". I was in there, right in Gillian’s head, reacting to the events.

The very talented, and generous, Lesley-Anne McLeod also participated in the exercise. Lesley-Anne is an Honorary Chick and writes Regency Romance. She also keeps all us Saskatchewan Romance Writers in line during meetings (we are known to fall off the agenda train now and then). She chose to use a short story that she has posted on her website under "Free Stories". I eagerly read her post and with her permission will copy a portion of it here.

(Third Person) Jane had no doubt that he had the intention of speaking with her. She sighed as her nephews retired prudently behind her fashionably flounced muslin skirts. He was the last gentleman in the world she wished to see. For she had encountered him yesterday as well. And then, as now, her boisterous nephews had brought danger to the gentleman's three children.

(First Person) I could have no doubt that he had the intention of speaking with me. I know I heaved a sigh as my nephews retired prudently behind the fashionably flounced new muslin skirts of which I was inordinately proud. Despite his appeal, he was the last gentleman in the world I wished to see, for we had encountered him the previous day as well. And then, as now, my boisterous nephews had brought danger to the gentleman's three children.

As I commented to Lesley-Anne on the blog, I loved the story the first time I read it, but written in first person it is much more intimate. Here’s what Lesley-Anne had to say about the experience:
I really enjoyed changing this extract from one of my website's free stories over to first person. It felt very good to be in Jane's head; the whole scene seemed fresh and alive. I can see this exercise being very helpful when one is stuck in a scene, or just stuck period--with a block. It's a remarkably fresh perspective.

So, People of Blogland, I urge you to give this exercise a try. I was amazed at what I discovered, both in my writing style and POV perspectives. I know I’ll use this method again when I revise or, as Lesley-Anne suggests, when I’m blocked. Have any of you tried to switch POV? What kind of tips do you keep in the back of your mind to bring your writing into a deeper POV? For those that write in first person, what do you like the most about it and what about it limits you?

Janet (who is still having issues with formatting - sigh)


Hayley E. Lavik said...

Janet, as you know, when I made the switch to first person pov, things absolutely exploded. One of the big things, I think is that it broke down the line between my sardonic voice telling the story, and my character's sardonic voice within the story. That shouldn't be a big difference, but it really is. A snarky third-person narrator making comments on the situation pulls the reader back a step, or it did in my case, whereas the character snarking on her own situation draws them in, and I loved the sense it gave of her own hindsight on the experience.

The other thing I've found is it really allowed my own style to come to the fore. I've never been a fan of the italicized thoughts style of writing, or the ....., she thought, style. I tend to jump a bit between narration and internals (you've seen the extreme of it in that Lorelei tale on my blog) and first person smoothed all that out, so there was never any confusion over who was saying what.

Now, all that being said, I don't think first person is the answer for everything, and I don't know what I'll do when I move on to other characters, especially when it calls for settling into a male psyche. I think each story has a best pov, it's just a matter of finding it, whatever crackles best and blends with the author's style. Now that you've done this exercise (and you didn't mention the strength you found in Gillian ;) do you think you will take these new discoveries into third person, or switch pov to first?

As for keeping in deep POV, I think my tip is don't picture a camera in your head! I used to be bad for that, staging my scenes as I might in a movie.. and of course I've ranted about how movies infect writing before. The thing is, if you're picturing a scene in your head as though you're the camera filming it, then you're instantly picturing your character. She can't see herself, she doesn't know if her hair is glowing in the firelight. Once you get rid of that, and get comfy right there in her head (and his head), it becomes so much easier to see what they see, feel what they feel (and not go beyond that) and think of the sort of metaphors they'd come up with, rather than what sounds lovely to an author (also something I was bad for).

And in that spirit, I do hope to join in on your exercise this weekend and rewrite one of the scenes on the beta blog from the other character's point of view, which is also hugely valuable for making everyone their own independent person in a scene, rather than vehicles for the protag's plot :)

Lu said...

Hi Janet!

I often switch to 1st person when I'm working on my rough, "puke it onto the page" draft. It allows me to get into the characters heads, and really experience their emotions. And how they respond to others helps me "learn" their character. I also find that I can better develop the characters distinct voice.



Karyn Good said...

Great post today, Janet. Things have been a bit crazy here this week and I haven't gotten around to posting my own 1st person pov test run.

I read something once that suggested getting past a block by having the pov character write a diary entry which I thought was an intriguing idea!

Very much liked the examples you posted. Great work!

Silver James said...

Ah, Janet...*sigh* I have this wonderful story. The first part of each chapter is 1st person POV, my MC commenting on her current situation before a hook phrase triggers the story back into the 3rd person POV and the broader view. I've been told to rewrite the whole book in 1st (based on three chapters). The problem is, I need other POVs to move the plot and at one point, my MC is out of commission, unconscious. Mixing POVs is a huge NO! according to various industry professionals. I'm slowly switching it over to strictly 3rd POV. That said, I'm going to do a free read (once the book is sold--note I said *once* not *if*) that will be all in 1st POV and talking about the MCs backstory.

That said, this is a great exercise and I plan on trying it one of these days. LOL!

Janet C. said...

I love that you mention the whole 'camera in your head' theory. I, too, believed that was the best way to write - watch the scenes unfold and narrate them. Now that I've done this exercise, I realize you have to be 'in character' for deep POV. A camera angle is a step back, removed, from the action/emotion/intensity. I will definitely keep that in mind as I move forward in this manuscript.

That being said - I will write it in third person POV because I have a leading male that needs to be heard as well. To carry a story in first person, as you attest to, makes it difficult to manuever the other characters. And Silver's comment further down the page reminds us how hard it is in first POV if that first person is not in the scene :)

I'm not a fan of the thought style or italicized - but I believe you can achieve a 'thought' process in third person. When I rewrite this scene, I will include most of what I have - which is basically all Gillian's thoughts as she tosses and turns in bed.

And I'm glad you mentioned the author's style. I think that's what I strive to find in my writing - my voice. Anyone interested, Hayley sent me a great link about voice that really is interesting - check it out here
Made me reconsider my definition and how to go about getting it.

Looking forward to your contribution, Hayley ;)

Janet C. said...

I hear ya, Lu! I found the same thing with this exercise. Now, I'll be doing the same thing as you in "puke it on the page" drafts.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope the start of KIA is going well (decided not to join this year). Talk to you soon.

Janet C. said...

A diary sounds interesting, Karyn. I know I've done diary type exercises with Muse where she just writes where she thinks things should go. Never thought to do it with the character.

Can't wait to read your post over on the SRW blog :)

Janet C. said...

Silver, I know how busy you are these days, so thanks for coming by and chatting.

I think if done right, any format works. For example - The Mermaid's Chair by Sue Monk Kidd is written in first person for the female lead and third for the male. Confused me for the first chapter, but once I got into the rhythm, I loved it. And it worked because the heart of the story is hers to tell. His is related and woven through to move the plot forward and bring growth to the female lead, but his is not as important as hers thus third person. Again, I believe if done right (and I know you'd do it right - perhaps wait until you're more established, Kidd already had a few books published and a faithful readership, the bring it forward).

Good luck with the writing this weekend - see you at brunch :)

Karyn Good said...

It's up, Janet. Take a look and see what you think! Had my doubts, but I learned something. It does help to temporarily switch POV!

Ban said...

Silver -that wouldn't work if say those 1st PoV sections were journal entries ? What about more than one 1st PoV ?
The story I'm working with over on BB is 1st but told through the PoV of two MCs.
That story BTW, was never intended to be 1st PoV - It just turned out that way when I started writing ... Hayley's right, sometimes the story itself dictates how it needs to be told. My main WiP, the fantasy, could never be told from 1st, there is too much going on and too many PoVs ! It would be a mess !!! Personally, I've always loved 3rd but I can't deny I've developed a huge appreciation for 1st over the past several years, which is good because it seems to be on the rise, esp. with YA novels.

Janet C. said...

Hey, Karyn! I went over and had a read - also commented. I really think this is a tool all writers should use either when blocked or to check for deep pov during revision and before sending it out. I may have to go back to those pesky first three chapters of Lady Bells and do a rewrite - maybe a piece of the puzzle will fall into place.

Really glad you tried it - there's one thing to doubt, but another to apply and then make a decision about the merits of a strategy :)

Janet C. said...

Hey, ban - jumping in here although I know you were chatting to Silver. You're right, YA in first person is huge. I don't think I've come across any YA writers' blogs where the authors are using third person. Perhaps catering to the ME generation?

And Hayley is right - the story should dictate how it needs to be written. Yours, Silver, may just need to be written that way. I would hate for you to rewrite it in third and lose the heart of it.

Karyn Good said...

I would definitely apply this strategy again. No question! Just finished switching the POV back to third person and feel quite good about how that snippet turned out!

Helena said...

Great boot to the behind, Janet! I still want to get in on this week's exercise, but it's been kind of a strange week with a bunch of stuff going on here.

I did a conversion from first person to third in one of my short stories a while back. I'm tempted to use it as a re-converted POV back to first person to see how it goes. It has been revised quite a bit since it was in first, so maybe it should go back. I'll see what I can do.

You always get us thinking, Janet. Really good topic today.

Jana Richards said...

I Janet,
I haven't had a chance to try my hand at the exercise yet, but I hope to soon. I'm amazed at the results you and the others are getting so I need to check it out for myself. I read the first chapter or so of Hayley's manuscript and her character just jumps off the page in first person. It really was the right decision for that book.

I've got to keep in mind the idea you and Hayley have about the "camera" and deep POV. You don't want anything to distance the reader from the characters, especially in romance. Deep POV is crucial, and I'm not sure I always achieve it.

Thanks for the tips.

Janet C. said...

Excellent, Karyn. I haven't yet rewritten my scene back to third, but I know it will be that much better after having tried my hand at the exercise ;)

Janet C. said...

Looking forward to reading it, Helena. What I got from this whole thing is that switching something around - whether from third to first or vice versa - can help tighten and strengthen your writing. You just need to be open to the exercise and possibilities.

That's my job - make you think ;)

Janet C. said...

I hope you get a chance to do this exercise, Jana - I think you'll be amazed at the results.

The camera thing is really the 'aha' moment for me today. Don't we all strive for deeper POV? And anything that gets us there is a good thing.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'm wandering back a bit late, and very exhausted, but just wanted to say I don't think first person pov limits an author to just one narrative character. The ideal is probably a single pov character, but I think an author can just as easily do alternating chapters or other clearly separated sections in opposing points of view. The challenge is just to find ways to make the shift clear. Then you can still write while your heroine or hero is MIA.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Excellent post, Janet.

The only time I've written in 1st person was for the eHarlequin writing challenge. Not only did I write in 1st person, but for some reason I wrote it from a male's perspective - a male on a mission. He was kind of a nerdy adult Boy Scout. The thing was, it didn't dawn on me to tell anyone that I was writing from a male's POV.

Later, after the judging, Vince said I should've given some indication that it was a male's POV b/c he had a gender issue with it. But the other readers - all women - said they knew it was a male's POV from the start. Weird, eh?

Anyway, my choice of POV is 3rd person although I like some 1st person POV.

And I even read about a person who wrote in 2nd person POV but she said was very difficult and boring because everything was 'You this' and 'You that'. Now that would be weird.