Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Opening in deep POV?

Janw said:

We have just gone through this issue of indicating the protag's last name in the opening sentence and decided not to, but instead to include in the reply by the person they are addressing. Rationale: in deep POV, we don't think of ourselves with our last name. First maybe, but not last.

here is our sample:
‘Michael’s gone!’ Julia screamed into the payphone.
‘Calm down, Mrs Stewart. She’ll be with you shortly.’



Deep POV can be a great tool for getting into the character's experience—but it's not right for every author, every book, or even every moment in a book that does utilize deep POV. It's a tool, not a rule, and I'd say it's best for certain types of moments in certain types of books (written by certain types of authors).

The point of deep POV is not to convey information or guide a reader through a plot, but rather to give the reader an interior experience of a character's perception and personality. True deep POV is pretty close to stream-of-consciousness, which can be notoriously difficult to read. In fact, deep POV can result in really cryptic narration-- try figuring out what's happening in some of the Leopold passages in Joyce's Ulysses. The reader has to relinquish any need to understand, in fact, and just give into the experience. That's great when you're probing the psychology of a character, not so great when you're trying to set up a scene so the reader can figure out what's going on.

I think experimentation can help with this—always keeping in mind giving the reader the best experience. So I don't think that necessarily means deep POV all the time, in every line. =POV= doesn't necessarily mean it's always deep; in fact, a lot of skillful writers travel up and down the POV ladder depending on the needs of the scene at that moment. POV has a lot of variations, and it's often hard to determine what's right for any given passage. And that's going to vary a lot, which is why (in my humble opinion), it's best not to commit to one approach ahead of time unless you write the same sort of book all the time and are comfortable that your one approach is right for this type of book.

So what type of book works well in deep POV? Character-oriented, character-journey books, about people with interesting psychology, and particularly interesting perspectives on what's happening. But in many books, deep POV can get claustrophobic and uninformative. Again, what's the effect you intend to have on the reader? In a mystery, a primarily intellectual experience, deep POV probably won't work as an approach to the entire book (though in the passages of the sleuth perceiving the murder scene or working through the problem, it could be very interesting—getting an idea of what this character sees and how she thinks). In a suspense novel, where the overall purpose is to get the reader to feel suspense and dread and fear along with the character, deep POV in much of the book can be helpful.

What I see a lot of is scenes opening in a "shallower" POV, so that basic facts can get established (where we are, when we are, who we are), and then at moments of high emotion or action, the POV gets deeper and we get more of this person's particular experience.

Narratives are constructs, and the reader is likely to accept or even expect some of the narrative conventions like scene settings and last names at the beginning of a book or scene. So I wouldn't automatically commit to "deep POV" for every passage in every book. It's not necessarily more "right" than another POV approach, though I think it's probably more right in certain situations. Is this one of those situations? That's the author's job—figuring that out—and different authors will have different answers.

‘Michael’s gone!’ Julia screamed into the payphone.
‘Calm down, Mrs Stewart. She’ll be with you shortly.’
So… well, if you don't mind, let's deconstruct the opening above. Let's say you have decided to go with deep POV here, because you want to give the reader the deeper interior experience. So who is your POV character? That of course is essential. I think it's Julia.

Let me say this—I don't think a deep POV passage should open with dialogue. Why? Because the point of deep POV is to give the interior experience. Dialogue is exterior—anyone standing in the room (or on the other end of the phone) can narrate that. Only Julia can tell what's happening inside her. So I'd say, if this is a deep POV passage, start inside her, not outside her.

For example (I'm just making up the situation—I'm sure it's not your story. :):

It kept playing in Julia's head. Michael's gone. Michael's gone. Michael's gone gone gone gone Michael's—the words all running together till they didn't make sense. But then, none of this made sense, the open door, the winter sun pallidly streaming in, the winter breeze blowing in, Michael's mittens on the porch, his little footprints in the snow, obedient little footprints, leading down the driveway till they met up with tire tracks and disappeared.

She found a phone in her hand and blindly, automatically, punched in 911. Just as the dispatcher answered, the words came out, and they still didn't make any sense. "Michael's gone!" she heard herself screaming

If you do that, then we're not wondering, "Who is Julia?" We'll know that WE are Julia, that we are inside her. Julia doesn't narrate "straight"; she narrates as she perceives, and in a moment of panic, she's perceiving in glimpses and flashes.

Even in deep POV, however, you can set the scene, because the character is perceiving that—we know it's winter, that it's daytime, that it's been snowing, that Michael is a child, that this is a house with a porch. So you CAN set a scene in deep POV… it just takes more doing, more sneaking in of detail, always through the perceptions of the POV character.

I like how you use the dispatcher's response-- ‘Calm down, Mrs Stewart. She’ll be with you shortly’—to sneak in information about her last name. That's good use of dialogue to give us what deep POV doesn't do well—conveying facts.

As for names, I've seen deep POV scenes where the character never uses her own name—just refers to herself with the pronoun (she). This is one reason deep POV can be useful in villain passages, because you can plausibly go through pages and never use the POV character's name. (If you want to keep the gender hidden, consider first-person – I—for those passages. It's a bit of a bump when most of the book is in third-person, but that variation is becoming fairly common in suspense novels.)

Complex stuff!! :)



PatriciaW said...

Okay, I give. I admit to being thoroughly confused about deep POV. I'm writing romance. I hear many romance writers talk about how one must use deep POV, that that's what editors want. Then I read lots of romance books and I don't see so much deep POV. When I do, it feels contrived and at times, humorous when I know that wasn't the intent.

The best books, to me, are those where I'm completely unaware of what whether the POV is deep or not. It probably moves around but the author does it in such a way that it just feels right. (As opposed to jarring.) I'm betting, as an writer, that's pretty hard to achieve though.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the examination, Alicia. I get what you're saying. I think I'll leave it as is and see what happens. Yes, Julia is the POV character in the opening scene. She is what I'm calling our focal point character in the book. Hers is the most psychologically disturbed in the story -- all ups and downs emotionally, eratic behaviour, and her dreams are what are exposed from each night.

I can't wait to get this one finished!! arrgghh!! Another day of editing/negotiating tomorrow morning.


Edittorrent said...

I know what you mean, Patricia-- I don't think deep POV is actually all that common. I went looking for examples of it when I wrote the POV book, and I found a lot of "good POV," where I thought the POV was very effective, but "deep POV" was pretty rare, at least as I define it-- where the narration is confined to the perspective of one character AND told in her voice.

It's only one POV approach, and I do think it's effective, done well, in books centered on one character. It often feels like "first person," but without the snark. :)


Anonymous said...

Had meeting with my co-writer today and shared your response. At least we're thinking about POV better now! Thought you might like to see the final version. By looking back, we saw what was missing: the reader has no clue who Michael is or his relationship to Julia. d'oh! Now they will:

‘Michael’s gone!’ Julia screamed into the payphone.

‘Calm down, Mrs Stewart. She’ll be with you shortly.’

Julia bristled at the matter-of-factness of the receptionist's voice. ‘I don’t care if she’s with the Queen. My husband is missing. I think I’m losing my mind.’

Anyway, we got through another section, chopped a flashback to try and put it elsewhere, and ended the opening 'chapter' with what we think has a much better springboard to keep reading.

At the end of the session we felt really good, that we had achieved something and wanted to cuddle the new text! God Bless Critters and professional editors who share! [that's you two, in case you missed it]