Wednesday, October 03, 2007

POV, grilled cheese sandwiches and Friday Night Lights

So, I just saw the grilled cheese episode of Friday Night Lights that Sinead mentioned in the comments when we were talking about perfect scenes a few months ago. I agree with her. That scene, that entire episode, was a work of art.

I’d already teared up twice during that episode before the oh-so-lovely grilled cheese scene. There were several big moments in that episode, but here are the two that particularly slayed me. First, the actual fight scene between the two brothers. That scene just killed me. There’s so much hurt and guilt and devotion between those two brothers and it makes me wonder if I could do the right thing, the unselfish thing, if put in the older brother's situation. And then Tim wants so badly to blindly love his father in spite of his desertion. This character trait is such powerful way of showing that, in spite of his toughness (and oh-so-hunky-good-looks), Tim's still a little boy inside. The second moment for me in that episode, was when the congregation started digging into their pockets to give money to Smash, not knowing it’s to pay for his illegal steroids. The look on his face. Unbelievable. Yet he says nothing. Does nothing.

But back to writing, POV, and grilled cheese sandwiches. When this episode was mentioned before, I commented that the scene sounded much like one from the movie Big Night, and after seeing the scene, it still does. It’s the TV version of the same scene. Somewhat shorter, somewhat less subtle. But it does its job just as beautifully, showing the viewer everything without one line of dialogue.

What I’m pondering after watching it, is how to do a scene like that in a novel—particularly in commercial fiction. It’s not that hard to imagine it in a literary novel because of the omniscient point of view. To me, a lot of the beauty of that scene is that we aren’t in either brothers’ points of view. I think that makes it more equal, less like one of them “won” or “gave in” or even apologized. Tim coming back and simply sitting down is in many ways his apology and the older brother offering half the sandwich is his. And accepting the sandwich and sip of beer is an acknowledgment of sorts that Tim knows how his big brother looks after him.

Would this scene be as powerful if we “heard” their internal thoughts? If their emotional thoughts were spilled out all over the scene in garish display? I personally don’t think so. And this is why, in my opinion, the idea that all books need to have deep points of view all the time is wrong-headed. I think we have to choose when to pull back from our characters and just show the scene without necessarily writing down all the thoughts that go with it. If we’ve done a good enough job of creating characters, then the characters’ actions will speak for themselves. (A girl can dream, right?)

My fellow drunk writers both write romance and I started out writing romance, too. And in the romance genre, deep point of view is considered a powerful tool -- like the key one must hold in order to unlock the great novel door. And for good reason. I mean, most readers of romance want the experience of being in the characters’ shoes, in their heads, in their hearts. And deep point of view is a fabulous way to create this vicarious experience for the reader. So, what I’m wondering, is a subtle scene like the grilled cheese scene in Episode 8 of Friday Night Lights possible in the romance genre? Forget romance, in any genre/commercial fiction book that uses focused points of view? This is what I’m pondering right now.

Thoughts anyone?


Molly O'Keefe said...

Oh! I've got thoughts! I;ve actually been thinking about this alot lately with the current WIP -- I feel like I'm overwriting the stupid thing and it's so maudlin at this point. Everyone is walking around practically bleeding through thier eyeballs and I feel like the really big scenes are getting lost in the mix.

I agree with you about that scene in Friday Night Lights and I think that subtle deft touch on all the big emotional scenes is what makes that very emotional show stand out. That and every once in a while Tim takes his shirt off. That helps.

My favorite romance author - Laura Kinsale does the exact same thing with her books and big emotional scenes - she pulls back and trusts that she's given the reader enough to know what the character is thinking and how terribly painfully they are hurting in whichever big emotional scene is at play -- my favorite is The Shadow and The Star when Samuel tells Lita to leave - that he's book passage for her and that should she need anything she only needs to write. He tells her this in a restaurant and the whole time he's breaking her heart and we're in her POV she is very carefully studying lime sherbert melt in her dish. It's amazing.

Abby said...

Oh man, Maureen - you have so hit the nail on the head with this post.

My answer? Yes, it CAN be done - but we are taught never, never to do it. Only the rebellious types even try it, and you have to be really good to pull it off, and you have to accept that you'll get low contest scores if you do it.

There is so much crap out there - a lot of writers don't trust their readers to get anything, and yet they still get published. I hope there's room for a writer who can pull of this kind of subtlety.

Anonymous said...

Amazing post... and so thought provoking. It's been in my head as well, and I agree..
Depending on the kind of book you want to write, pulling back for some of the key scenes, writing them in the POV of an observing character, these can really work.
If the setup has been effective.

M. said...

somehow, it's always about the food. sad? popsicle melting. happy? a perfect chocolate covered strawberry. angry? toast burns. crisis? pot boils over.

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