Thanks so much to everyone who fearlessly posted their work this past week! We hope you learned a LOT! I know I did! Toni will be in later this evening/Saturday morning to answer any questions – so make sure you ask!
Toni McGee Causey’s The Art and Soul of POV Tips and Tricks
Want words of wisdom? We got ’em! Too big for a tattoo, but print it out next time your WIP needs a POV fix!
I think of text without any setting/visual cues as the equivalent of my reader being forced to wear a blindfold. Sometimes the word count limit forces me to go over a page or section multiple times until I can find a way — usually simply through choosing just the right verb — to convey the imagery. It might be as easy as saying someone walked across the carpet instead of floor, or they glided across the linoleum or they stomped across the ancient flagstones… all of those are floors, but each of them conjures a completely different type of location.
I also try not to repeat that detail again unless needed, once I’ve set it up… *unless* the scenes using that location are really far apart in the text and the reader will probably have forgotten. Even then, I try to use other descriptors to jog their memory.
I prefer to do what I think of as “seeding” the text — giving out the imagery on an as needed basis, as we move through the scene. Basically, in the same way you’d move through the world – you don’t see all of the rooms of a building at once… you see them as you move through them, and you’re used to orienting space that way. You are also used to then mentally accumulating all of that imagery in your mind to form a “whole” concept of that building, in spite of the fact that you only saw it in pieces. Description in text works the same way — you can drop bits in as you go, as long as you’re keeping the reader oriented in that place in that moment — and you’re golden.
Likeability. I’m going to change that word on you, because I think the word itself–likeability–is part of the problem. It implies that all of our heroes/heroines/minor characters have to be likeable, and then where’s the conflict? We end up working so hard to make them likeable, that we don’t have versatile, unique characters.
Instead, think of the idea of empathy. We want to have empathy with the characters, to be able to identify something about them that resonates with us–so that we can step in their shoes for the short moments we’re reading their POV. And empathy doesn’t mean they have to be likeable–it just means that we have to understand where they’re coming from, their motivations, their goals.
Obviously, you can’t elucidate all of the goals and ideals of a character the first moment we meet them, but we do get them by layers. Brushstrokes, if you will. So what we need to see from their POV is their attitude or their perception of the place and *within that* attitude or perception, we need to be able to identify that, feel some empathy for it.
Every character thinks this story is about them. They may be minor, but in their own life, they’re the main character and everyone else is minor. I have to remind myself of that sometimes when I’m tempted to just do a brief character stroke and not go to the trouble of making them unique.
I like to say that characters come fully formed, but that’s never true; I’ll know what kind of character I want to write about, and I’ll know a bit about the world that character is going to live in. Those two things–the kind of person and where they’re from, their socioeconomic background, their level of education–are sort of rapid-fire decisions. What makes them come alive, though, is a combination of attitude, losses, goals, and shame.
Their attitude about the world is often formed by the other three: what they’ve lost/won, what their goals are, and what they’re ashamed of. Attitude is one of the best tools when you’re thinking about how a character is going to view that scene. Are they cocky? shy? resilient? defeated? etc. And most people are rarely just one thing, they’re several, but there’s usually a key to who they are, a key way of being in life that’s their default, and once you hook into that, you’ve got the soul of the character. Once you have the soul, everything else is details.
When I’m looking at a scene, though, I want to see *just* that scene, and if I read the scene in the order of the story, I start assuming some things are on the page that aren’t. So I pluck out the last scene and read it and see if it’s clear? are the senses represented in some way? (not all of the senses are appropriate for every scene, but I try to make sure that I have grounded the reader in some reality that feels tangible) I’ll look at cadence of the dialog–does each person sound like themselves and only themselves? I want to make sure they don’t all sound alike or have the same verbal tics. I’ll then make sure that the physicality of the scene makes sense–that they went from point A to point B in a clear way, not muddled, and that the reader can follow that action in their mind’s eye. I’ll then look for repetition of beats–have I gone over any of this information before, earlier in the scene? (later, I’ll do this for the whole story) I’ll read it out loud and watch for how smooth it feels, are their repetitive words, etc.
Another trick is to print out just one character’s scenes at a time and read them and *only* them, in order, to make sure their emotions and motives and actions track and stay in character. I tend to do this on the screen now without actually printing it out, but I have been known to print out sections and use a highlighter just to make sure a certain point was tracking and wasn’t being repeated…. or undone by accident.
Most of the time, if you’re narrating what had happened… you’re putting a sense of distance between the reader and the character’s action. The reader isn’t *in* that moment, experiencing it. They’re hearing about it (already completed) and they don’t get to experience it, which means they feel a slight (or even great) disconnect between themselves and that character. Which means they’re no longer closely identifying with that character… which means the tension isn’t going to feel as important… which means they can put the book down more easily. I love showing–the action of the story. I try to view every scene as an action scene, and show the conflict as it happens, not as someone is reflecting on how it happened.
The metaphor trick I’ve learned is to write the three or four (or five or six) metaphors that spring to mind in a scene and then later, go back and pick the most powerful one. I try not to do too many per scene–one or two powerful ones, a couple of smaller things that evoke strong imagery sprinkled in.
Remember, as your character walks through the world, build it for us.
Join us on Monday when Mystery writer Al Leverone discusses his journey to publication.
Bio: Toni McGee Causey is the author of the critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling “Bobbie Faye” novels—an action/caper series set in south Louisiana; the series was released last summer in back-to-back publications, beginning with CHARMED AND DANGEROUS, GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS, and WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON. While pursuing an MFA in Screenwriting, Toni had scripts optioned by prominent studios and, just this year, produced an indie film, LA-308, which now has offers of distribution pending. Toni began her career by writing non-fiction for local newspapers, edited Baton Rouge Magazine, and sold articles to places like Redbook and Mademoiselle. She was recently a contributor to the anthology Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, as well as Killer Year: Stories to Die For. She has had several of her blogs syndicated nationally from the group blog, “Murderati,” and she can also be found at “Murder She Writes.”
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