Thursday, October 04, 2007

POV and secondary characters

Been thinking as well since the last bout of Drunk writer talk and Maureen’s great post on Wednesday.

In romance, or women’s fiction, where deep POV is a given, how do we underwrite the big emotional scenes? Especially those wonderful black moments.

Sometimes the most affecting black moment is when we see the devastation, and the emotions, but we aren’t in the character’s head. Which sort of goes against one of the more simple POV rules. The POV of a scene should be the character who has the most to lose.

But those big dramatic scenes, if the writer has done their job effectively, we know how the character who faces the black moment will feel. We, as readers, have been anticipating this moment, and seeing it, slightly removed, rather then going through each and every thought in the character’s head, can be more powerful.

So how do we do this?

One thought I have is through our secondary characters. They can give us a POV that is slightly removed. They can show us the devastation.

But this only works if the setup to that big scene has given the reader a really strong understanding of the stakes for the main character, what they have to lose, and how it will affect them.

Then we don’t need to tell the reader what they’re feeling. We just need to show the reader and she’ll fill in the blanks, doing a much better job of it.

Just a thought. One I might try and play around with more in the next WIP.

5 comments:

Maureen McGowan said...

It's a tricky thing, to be sure. In movies and TV the filmmakers/writers have the advantage of the actors and what they can do and let's face it, it's easier to show a great scene with visuals than to describe it. (On the other hand, novelists have the advantage of describing emotions, getting inside a character's head, if they choose to.)

I think doing the scene from a secondary character POV can work, especially if the secondary character is highly sensitive to the main character's emotions and would be the type of character to notice the subtle little heart breaking things. But it's a risky choice. (One which I'm sure Sinead can pull off... but risky none the less.)

To be honest, I'm still not 100% convinced it's possible to do a "grilled cheese scene" in anything but omniscient POV, which would feel out of place and strange in a book written all in 3rd person limited POV... In a purely omniscient POV the narrator can notice important details no character would...

I'm going to have to read that Laura Kinsale book Molly loves so much (If she'll ever trust me to borrow it.) Based on what she's said, maybe the trick isn't omniscient or switching to a secondary character. Maybe it's just pulling back a bit. Staying in POV, but not telling or showing every emotion, and then trusting the reader to feel the emotions without being told what to feel.

I think my experience writing in first person has helped me explore this a little. Not saying I know how to do it... just that I've had to play with it. In first person POV, it starts to sound really corny and false if the character describes all their emotional responses. It makes the character seem way to self-aware or worse self-obsessed.

I'm rambling now... but maybe the issue isn't POV at all. Maybe it's just choosing that perfect situation/scene that will be a perfect metaphor for what's going on in the character's head. Like sharing a grilled cheese, or watching ice cream melt... Something to symbolize the emotion rather than dumping it out too obviously.

Sinead M said...

Maureen, you're so right, it is picking the perfect, non-obvious way to describe their emotions.
The only way to figure this out is to try it and see how the critique group reacts.
It's easy to re-write a scene in a different POV and I figure you guys will tell me when I've gone astray..

Molly O'Keefe said...

You know I think it's like advanced beginner writing. It's the next step up from what we've been doing - which is the pat POV scenes - which there's nothing wrong with that - but thinking there is another way to do it and that there's something we can play with to make the reading experience better for the reader is the next step.

I think POV is one of the best tools we have as a writer for upping tension and drama - but it's so tricky. And sometimes I feel like I get it and sometimes not.

We are young, not yet Jedi.

Missed Friday night lights -- PVR'd it - but how was it????????

Maureen McGowan said...

I haven't watched it yet, Molly. Still have a few episodes from last year to get through first. Can't wait.

Sinead M said...

Friday night lights was great.. not sure I love one of the storylines.. it feels a little too soap operaish.. but I have faith they'll do something amazing with it..

But good stuff....

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