Copyright questions come up often on the blog, and I happened to hear this astonishing report on the radio. Click to listen and be amazed: http://www.onthemedia.org/2013/mar/08/happy-birthday/.
The title of this post is a tongue-twister. Try saying it ten times fast.
In November two questions came in about POV. In the first, unsocialized homeschooler wrote, I’m writing a novel with a goal to get it published. It’s set in a fantasy land, and it’s in third person. However, each chapter (or half chapter or something–I don’t like writing in chapters until the end of the book) the POV switches. One chapter it will be told in one person’s point of view, the next minute another, while still in third person. How can I make each narration stand out? Both characters have very unique personalities. (Okay, okay, they’re not that unique, but they’re different from each other.) However, whenever I switched POVs, it seems like it could be narrated by the other.
I’m doing something similar in my revision of the book formerly known as Beloved Elodie now known as I-Don’t-Know-What. In my earlier drafts, I switched first-person POV back and forth from my human character Elodie to the dragon Meenore to the ogre Count Jonty Um. But I found that I wasn’t communicating the ogre clearly – he kept seeming unintelligent, which he isn’t. So I switched to third person, but not omniscient. If Elodie is in a scene, the POV belongs to her. Otherwise, it’s either Meenore or Jonty Um, all in third person, and the book is working better.
The narrative voice is the same from chapter to chapter, but the star of each is the POV character. For example, Meenore often challenges Elodie to solve the little puzzles that add up to the big one of the mystery. Usually doesn’t get the solution right away, and she feels under a lot of stress. Here’s an example:
“…Lodie, how did I conclude some calamity had befallen the Oase or the high brunka?”
Elodie felt the familiar pressure of her brain being squeezed. “Er… Masteress, you sang so that someone might hear us. Er… You knew brunkas have especially sharp ears. And a brunka came. Wasn’t that what you expected?” Her coming couldn’t mean anything! “Er… Um…”
Most of this is dialogue with only two sentences in narration. Take this one: Elodie felt the familiar pressure of her brain being squeezed. It’s a plain sentence, no particular personality coming from the narrator. But if the POV character weren’t Elodie, the narrator wouldn’t have said a word about what’s going on in her brain. I don’t mention Meenore’s feelings or the state of ITs brain when IT questions her, although I can guess what they are: pride in her abilities and mischievous pleasure in making her struggle.
Here’s another example, this one from Count Jonty Um’s POV:
A winter hare hopped across the snow to the right of the brunka’s cottage. Master Canute would warn the humans, who would flee the mountain if they could, and they’d drive their herds and flocks along with them. His Lordship clasped his hands and squeezed until they hurt. The wild beasts wouldn’t hear the warning or understand it if they heard. They’d stay here and die in pain and terror.
Again, the language of the narration is straightforward. It’s not the way he would tell it himself, because the ogre mind is different from the human mind. But the narration does reflect his concerns. The other character in this scene, whose thoughts I can’t reveal since I’m not writing from his POV, wouldn’t be thinking about the fate of the animals on this mountain.
So, sounds like you’re doing it right, unsocialized homeschooler. If you’re working in third person, the narrator’s voice should be the same throughout. If you want the voices to change, first person is the way to do it, and you might want to reread my posts on voice.
If you stick with third person, then I suggest you focus on the thoughts and feelings of the POV character in each scene, and be scrupulously careful not to stray in narration into the thoughts and feelings of anyone else. These non-POV guys can say what they’re thinking and feeling in dialogue and they can show it in action, but the narrator should never reveal their inner workings. The narrator who isn’t omniscient is allowed into only one head and heart at a time. Or possibly two heads, if you’re doing it that way, for example if you have a duo working together.
If your characters’ specialness isn’t showing through, you may not be shining your authorial spotlight on their unique ways of reacting to situations, whether or not it’s their POV turn. Meenore, for example, is always clever, and always reveals ITs cleverness in dialogue. Count Jonty Um is always shy and says little and is aloof and dignified. If I keep these traits in mind, each of them will stand out on the page, and Elodie will too by contrast.
So I’d suggest thinking about your characters’ distinguishing characteristics in every scene. If the moment belongs to your POV character, look for ways to bring the other guys in, doing what they do most, reacting as they do.
In the second question, Michelle Dyck wrote, How do you choose which character’s POV to use in a scene when more than one choice could work? I know that a good way to choose the POV is by evaluating which character’s experience in the scene would be the most crucial or interesting, but what if two characters’ POVs are that way? In the scene I’m working on right now, my two MC’s are faced with the same big decision, and although their thought patterns and emotions vary, both of their experiences are quite similar. I’m not sure which to choose.
It’s nice when you can just pick to please yourself!
That’s one option: Which will be the most fun to write? Which interests you the most?
There are other questions, too. Who has the most unexplored corners, which you can most easily investigate in his or her POV? Simply, whose turn is it? Have you been in Jack’s head a lot lately and you need to shift because the reader is getting too accustomed to being in there? Can you tip the balance in the scene so it isn’t quite so equal, and the choice will then become obvious? Can you split the scene? The first part goes to one character; then there’s some kind of natural break, and you shift to the other.
Here are two prompts:
• Your story moves from the home of one of your three characters to a museum to a row boat in the middle of a lake. The three have a common enemy, which can be anything, a former friend, a wizard, an assassin, Frankenstein, a virus, whatever you choose. And the three have different strengths and different weaknesses – different personalities. Write a scene in each location. Try it two ways, in third person alternating POVs and in first person alternating POVs. If you like you can add a fourth scene, from the POV of the antagonist if it’s a character, which you would also write in third person and in first.
• Return to the rowboat scene. One of your three characters has drowned. The remaining characters have to decide what to do next. Try it from the first-person POV of one and then the other. Then switch to third person. You are allowed to row them to dry land if the row boat is too confining.
Have fun, and save what you write!