Monday, July 14, 2008

Minor POV marker

I was reading last night, and you know how you can never read normally again once you start writing yourself? You keep noticing lines you'd write differently. Anyway, I came across a line that made me stop and think, "POV shift," and it wasn't (it stayed in the earlier POV), and I wondered why I'd thought viewpoint shifted.

Anyway, here's the line. We're in Mike's POV, and Judy is the other character. So we've been inside Mike's head as he sprawls on the easy chair. Judy's in another part of the house.

When Judy came out of the kitchen, Mike was watching golf on the TV.

I thought that was in Judy's POV. But it's not-- the next line is in Mike's thoughts:
Mike looked up and wondered what was annoying her. Oh, right. Golf. She always complained he was wasting his life, golf at the club, golf video games, golf on the TV.

I think the one line (in red) seems out of his POV because... well. Why? The verb "came out" is part of it, not sure. Would "emerge" be better? I guess "came out" somehow seems like it's happening IN her, not like he's observing her. Also he's watching TV, so for a second, I have to wonder-- how can he see her coming out?

So... lousy lines, I know, but I want to keep things simple. Do you read that as "out of viewpoint"? Or am I just compulsive?

And if you were going to fix it so that it was clearly (but not obtrusively) in his POV, just so there's no "bump" felt by the reader, what would you do?

Would it help to flip the clauses so that "Mike" is first?

While Mike was watching golf on the TV, Judy came out of the kitchen.

Mike was watching golf on the TV when Judy came out of the kitchen.
Given that it's a stupid line... what would you do?

I know it seems like a little problem, if a problem at all. But the passage is in "deep POV" (notice the Oh, right. Golf. in the next paragraph, which is in his voice, so "deep") and I think when you put your passage in deep POV, that doesn't allow much leeway-- EVERYthing happens from inside his head.

Oddly enough, I came across this same issue, and it was also about going through a door, so I wonder if entries and exits from a scene (which are often the point you can change POV effectively) are especially dangerous. The sentence was something like:
Officer Coleman pushed through the door and out of the office.
If you (I mean, the viewpoint) were Lt. Juarez sitting at the desk watching the officer go, you'd write that line differently than if you were Officer Coleman leaving the office and the lieutenant behind.
Officer Coleman left and the office door swung shut behind him.
(We're seeing through Juarez's eyes, and we don't see the officer go into the hallway, rather just the door closing.)
Officer Coleman pushed through the office door and into the empty hallway.
(We're in the officer's body, so we end up in the hallway.)

Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm compulsive. I guess lines like the Judy one indicate an insufficient grounding in the deep POV. If the writer can't write entirely from the POV character's perspective, how is the reader supposed to "become" that character?

(BTW, I do NOT think deep POV is the only or even the best way to go, just that, if you're in it, be IN it.)

So if you were revising/editing that Judy line, what would you do to make it in Mike's POV?


Wes said...

To me the problem is the sentence starts with a clause about Judy, thus giving the reader a head-fake. I'd go with solution number two: "Mike was watching golf on the TV when Judy came out of the kitchen."

Anonymous said...

Or we could add a little more...

Mike heard Judy's explosive exit from the kitchen and reluctantly lifted his gaze from the TV screen.

Edittorrent said...

I like those, and Wes, I like the "head fake" term. That's exactly it.

Edittorrent said...

The introductory adverbial phrase reads like a transition. So even though you've been in Mike's point of view, up until this moment, the transition might make you want to jump somewhere.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Yep, it's because Judy's listed first. It's the way we think of sentences -- because Judy is first, we expect things to shift into her perspective. Just as the last word tends to resonate in the reader's mind, the first signals where the sentence is heading.

Jordan McCollum said...

I think that starting with a clause about Judy can be confusing, it isn't necessarily. Part of the problem here is that the clause about Judy is talking about an action that started in another room from Mike.

"When Judy walked in, Mike looked up from the TV" is a bit better, though I think in if I were writing the paragraph, I'd probably flip it, too:

Mike looked up from the TV when Judy walked in the room. [one or two gestures that show she's annoyed.] What was with her? [glance back at television here or after the next sentence.] Oh, right. Golf. She always complained he was wasting his life--golf at the club, in video games, on TV.

Dave Shaw said...

"Mike heard the kitchen door slam and looked up. Judy stood glaring at the TV. He wondered what was annoying her. Oh, right. Golf. She always complained he was wasting his life, golf at the club, golf video games, golf on the TV."

Just a thought. :)

Ali said...

I think it depends on context. Say Mike and Judy are on the verge of a Big Moment and are interrupted by a phone call Judy decides to take. Say Mike's been waiting for her to come back, and he's scanning the newspaper headlines, perusing the bookshelves, jotting down notes for his novel, all the while listening to her inane conversation with her best friend who Mike hates. Then I could see something like, "When Judy [finally] came out of the kitchen, Mike was watching golf on TV." Since the focus has been on Mike waiting for Judy, I think it'd work for me. (Whether it's the best option, though? Not so sure.)

But, in most cases, if we're in Mike's head, his first thought is going to be the golf he's watching. His second thought is going to be Judy coming out of the kitchen. And that's the order the sentence has to be in.

Ian said...

Ugh. Headhopping. Didn't we do this already here? ;)

"Mike looked up from the game to see Judy slink out of the kitchen in thigh-highs, a smile, and nothing else. She had a beer in one hand, a bag of chips in the other, and a container of onion dip with bacon tucked inside the elastic of one stocking. At least, that was what he would have liked to see. Instead, she wore the expression which meant he was about to get honey-doed."


Edittorrent said...

Ian, yes, but it's inadvertent headhopping, and since there's nowhere that says, "Judy thought..." it's not immediately clear what's wrong. I think there are many of these little stray non-POV moments if the writer hasn't firmly parked herself in one viewpoint.
All to easy!

Edittorrent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edittorrent said...

Sure, context is all, Ali, but trust me, I can read context, and the context made that sentence stick out as a break in POV. Notice that you had to modify it (adding the exasperated "finally") to make it fit even your own scenario of what it could be if the writer had that context. :)

But I get your point-- It really is easy to see the POV break when I isolate it this way. Can you see it in your own passages and paragraphs and recognize what the problem is-- when it's a perfectly plausible sentence which fulfills the most important function of a minor sentence, moving the scene action on? That is, it's fulfilling the basic function-- can you see where it also interferes with another function? That's the real test of revision. Can we find similar sentences in our own prose and know what's wrong and how to fix?

Anonymous said...

You can't possibly get inside Mike's head while he's watching TV. Watching TV is what people do when their brains are turned off. Doubly so if it's golf for crying out loud. Good grief! There's nothing going on in that head, so of course you expected the POV to shift.

Kidding aside, how about:

Mike glanced away from the golf game on TV to see Judy come back into the room.

Edittorrent said...

Need more beer.
I can putt better than that.
Wish Tiger was in this tournament.
How come Judy doesn't call for some pizza?
Need more beer.
Alicia channeling Mike's POV

Anonymous said...

Could it be that reader's are so used to identifying the speaker of a line of dialogue (Judy said) that when reader's see a person's name they automatically think they are now in that person's character?

Of course, this all gets somewhat garbled when you try to make sense of a sentence where the antecedent is....well shoot...I hate it when I get into that hole.