I’m very excited to welcome back New York Times Best Selling author VIRGINIA KANTRA. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I read the first book in her Children of the Sea series. I had the opportunity to read an advance copy her new release CAROLINA HOME-it’s so good I’m going to have a hard time waiting for the next one! Today Virginia is back with Part Two of a series on Point of View. Don’t worry if you missed Part One-you can read it here.
In my April guest post Who’s on First? about the basics of point of view, I emphasized that in writing there is no “right” and “wrong.” There is only “works” and “does not work.”
In first person point of view, readers experience the story through the eyes, emotions, and experience of the narrator, the “I” of the story. Third person point of view allows the reader to view the action through more than one character. Its broader camera angle is great for scope and action. Close third person point of view (often called deep POV) combines the emotional intimacy of first person point of view with the convenience of third-person omniscient point of view. The main advantage of deep POV is that the writer can choose different viewpoint characters at different moments of the story to deliver maximum emotional punch. Switching POV allows the reader to experience the story from different emotional angles.
There are no hard and fast rules for when to switch POV. However, a writer might choose to change the viewpoint character
1. To give the reader a “witness” to the action. (The viewpoint character must be present in the scene.)
2. At moments of high emotion, when the emotional stakes change. (Which character in the scene has the most to gain or lose?)
3. To reveal information, strengthen motivation, or create sympathy by putting the reader in the viewpoint character’s heart and mind, revealing thoughts and feelings that would otherwise be unexpressed.
In CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT, Orson Scott Card writes, “trading view points requires a clear division – a chapter break or a line space. The limited third-person narrator can never change viewpoints in mid-scene.” (Card, 155) Obviously, Mr. Card does not share my attitude about “No rules.”
I admit that I change POV less frequently now than when I began writing. Any time you switch point of view, you ask the reader to disengage from one character and engage with another; you risk losing the reader. Fortunately, the same points in the story that call for a point of view switch – a change in time or setting, a pivotal emotional moment, the revelation of an insight or secret – also make great scene and chapter hooks. The line space or chapter break prepares the reader for the switch.
Using the viewpoint character’s proper name and quickly establishing his or her frame of reference and dominant mood makes the emotional transition easier for the reader.
Compare these three chapter openings from my upcoming Carolina Home:
Matt Fletcher didn’t go looking for trouble. Most times, it just found him.
His life was changing around him, slipping away like the sand of the Carolina coastline, and there wasn’t a damn thing he or God or the Army Corps of Engineers could do about it. But a day working on the water gave him something to hold on to. Sweat and salt cured everything in time.
They were talking about her like she wasn’t even there.
Fine. Taylor stared at the plate of cookies until they blurred. Her throat ached. It’s not like she wanted to be here anyway. She wanted to be home in her little blue bedroom in the house she shared with Mom.
But she couldn’t think about her mother without crying. She swallowed hard.
The period bell buzzed. Released from their seats, Allison’s students rose like a flock of gulls, more interested in flight than the consequences of Hester Prynne’s doomed passion for that weed, Dimmesdale.
At sixteen, they were still blind to the connections between their own struggles with conformity and identity and poor Hester’s fate.
It was Allison’s job to help them see.
Each of the above examples is prefaced by a chapter break. Each uses the viewpoint character’s proper name and draws on that character’s experience and emotions to create a connection with the reader.
There are times, however, when the dramatic action of a scene calls for a point of view shift, where a break or line space would look awkward and interfere with the scene’s flow. Many writers manage to switch POV mid-scene quite successfully without angst or line spaces.
How do they do it?
Guideline 1: Use distancing action.
In Character A’s viewpoint, the reader sees/experiences the scene through the eyes of Character A. (The camera is mounted in A’s head.)
When switching POV, pull the camera back to a “security camera” view of the room/scene to establish setting, action, and distance before going in close with Character B.
Guideline 2: Pass viewpoint, literally, with a glance.
Guideline 3: Use proper names.
Guideline 4: Use anchoring verbs (tags like thought, felt, etc).
Guideline 5: Establish the dominant mood of the viewpoint character as quickly as possible.
This means, of course, that you, the writer, must be very clear in your own mind how that character is feeling/reacting to what is going on your story. Go back and read the last bit you wrote from that character’s POV. Or, if you are introducing the character, take the time to get to know him.
Read the example below (from my recently released e-book, The Comeback of Conn MacNeill) to see how these elements are used to switch point of view within a scene.
Conn cleared his throat. “Hurry up, or it will get cold.”
She regarded him a moment longer, and then one corner of her mouth dented in and her smile slowly spread. “I guess it’s up to me to warm things up, then,” she said, and closed the distance between them.
She smelled of soap and woman. The placket of her robe brushed his jeans. He could glance down the V in front and see where her smooth, golden chest rose to plump, pale breasts. His jaw tightened, his whole body tightened, in a downward spiral of need.
“Dinner,” he reminded her. His voice was hoarse.
Val drew back and studied his face a moment, his glacial eyes half-hidden beneath heavy lids, his stubborn jaw, his compressed mouth. A band of intransigence loosened around her heart. You decide, he’d told her last night, and this afternoon she hadn’t made up her mind. But his determination now to restrain his own needs, to consider hers, gave her the courage to take the next step.
“Dinner,” she agreed. “Do you want it before or after?”
Here’s the same scene, with the elements identified for you.
Do you need to use each and every element in the exact same order every time you change point of view? No. But if you or your critique partner, your editor or your readers have trouble identifying your point of view shift, see if applying some or all of these guidelines help.
How do you feel about point of view changes? Have you ever changed point of view within a scene? What works for you, as a reader and as a writer?
Join us Monday, when author H.P. Mallory discusses self-publishing.
New York Times bestselling author Virginia Kantra has written over twenty books of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance. She is the winner of numerous writing awards, including Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award and two National Readers’ Choice Awards. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of three kids, she is a firm believer in the strength of family, the importance of storytelling, and the power of love.
Her favorite thing to make for dinner? Reservations.
For excerpts and more, visit her at http://virginiakantra.com.
And on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/VirginiaKantraBooks
- Who’s On First? The Basics of POV with Virginia Kantra
- Tips on Writing Deep POV by Barbara Wallace
- Mastering POV
- Toni McGee Causey POV Workshop – Final Wrap up!
- Point of View: Channeling Elvis with Peggy Webb