Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Third Person POV--Part 2

Before we move on in this topic, I’d like to respond to some comments/questions from yesterday.

Stuart made an interesting point about introducing words in his science fiction that nobody on earth would understand without an explanation: “It can be frustrating to get the right amount of context around the word to convey the meaning without people complaining that you haven't explained it in detail . . . That is probably why you see a lot of sci-fi and fantasy written in removed to pseudo-omniscient third person. The author has more leeway to define terms without breaking character.”
Then Jennifer’s question, arising from Stuart’s comments: “. . . use of jargon or any kind of specialized terms or knowledge in close POV. Obviously, the character isn't going to think or say the definitions, so I'd love some ideas on how to get meanings across while remaining true to the character.”
Stuart is right—if you’re writing about another world, in which many things will need to be explained, it’s much harder to write in close third person and explain things effectively. If you explain everything, you can easily find yourself constantly jumping from the character’s POV into the author’s narrative voice. Or, if you try to explain through other means such as dialogue, it’s likely to sound contrived, because the characters wouldn’t feel the need to discuss the meaning of things they already know.
If you do want to stick with close third person POV, and you need to explain numerous things, there is a way to do it effectively by inserting narrative sentences into the character’s POV. These sentences can flow naturally, particularly if you’ve delved deeply enough into the POV to give the reader the full view of what the character’s thinking. Sounds almost counter-intuitive that the deeper the POV, the more natural the insertion will appear, but I do think it’s true. Here’s an example of how I tried to do this during a crime scene investigation in Eyes of Elisha. The tech and detective have just approached the body (found in a canyon), with the tech speaking his observations—some obvious, some not—so the detective (POV character) can write everything in his notes.
“She must have been here at least twenty-four hours.” Hal peered at the stage of fly larvae on her face, then leaned back. “Obviously a jogger. Shorts and running shoes.”
Not a good sign. Joggers rarely carried identification. “Look at the right shoe.” Reiger pointed. “She’s got one of those little fabric cases on it. Maybe we’ll find something there.”
They continued their survey of the body and surrounding area, being careful not to touch the corpse itself. Legally, a coroner’s investigator had to be present.
“I gave the coroner’s office an hour’s lead.” Reiger bent for a closer look at a broken twig. “I don’t know who they’re sending.”
“Mm.” Hal wrinkled his nose as a breeze tousled a strand of the victim’s blond hair. “Probably find lividity stains on her backside. Must have been killed up there and then sent rolling. I doubt she’s been moved since, other than by animals.” His voice was grim.
Lividity—the flow of blood to the lowest point in a body, due to gravity—caused brownish-red stains on the skin. It was a clear indication of the body’s resting position soon after death.
“Man,” he muttered, “there’s not gonna be much to autopsy here.”
Certainly no chance for a liver temperature probe, Reiger thought. Sometimes it took a while for creatures to smell remains, but they hadn’t seemed to waste any time here. Most of the tissue between her neck and groin had been eaten. That meant no proper weight for either the body or major organs.
Dear Lord, Reiger prayed, help this poor woman’s family.
Knowing that I would have quite a few scenes of detective work and crime lab investigation in which things would need to be explained, I tried to introduce these characters from the very beginning with a fully developed POV that shows all the smells, sights, textures, etc. they encounter in their work. Then, with this foundation, the explanatory sentences were inserted where they’d flow best, and where they’d most appear as the character’s actual thoughts. Sometimes the inserted sentence is followed with dialogue that picks up on the explanation, to better give the sentence the feeling of remaining in the character’s POV:
They continued their survey of the body and surrounding area, being careful not to touch the corpse itself. Legally, a coroner’s investigator had to be present.
“I gave the coroner’s office an hour’s lead.”
It wouldn’t work for Reiger to tell Hal that they can’t touch the body until the coroner’s investigator shows up, because Hal already knows that. But to insert that piece of knowledge for the reader, followed by Reiger’s telling Hal that they have an hour’s lead until the investigator gets there, makes the inserted sentence feel like Reiger’s thoughts as they’re observing the body without touching it.
The explanation of lividity works here, I think, because it’s inserted in the middle of Hal’s observations, again as part of Reiger’s thoughts about what Hal is saying. When Hal is done speaking, Reiger goes on to think about the liver temperature probe, picking up on his previous thought about lividity.
Lynetta’s question: “I’m writing in close third person. My protag is a young woman who often says the opposite of what she's thinking. She thinks sarcastic and proud thoughts but speaks in a more formal tone with exaggerated politeness and humility, as she was taught. The story, I think, is much better if I can sprinkle in some thoughts as she's thinking them (in the present tense). I've seen this done sometimes,where the author puts the thoughts into italics. However, I've also read editors frown on italics. Do they make an exception in the case of present internal thoughts?”
This is a very good question and one that authors commonly face. As you can see from the above excerpt, most of Reiger’s thoughts have been kept in normal type. This keeps his thoughts in third person. When you move to italics, you’re writing the actual thoughts, and must move to first person. For example, look again at the first sentence in the penultimate paragraph:
Certainly no chance for a liver temperature probe, Reiger thought.
As opposed to making this an actual, italicized thought:
I sure won’t have much chance for a liver temperature probe.
Editors frown on the latter technique for good reason. Too many actual thoughts slow down the action. And they’re far more jarring, because (1) they change type face, and (2) they switch POV from third person to first. Too many italicized thoughts is kind of like seeing those annoyingly jarring camera shots that are so popular on TV nowadays. The reader’s jerked back and forth. I do include one italicized thought in the above excerpt, but I do this rarely and only to give a greater effect to the thought. If a lot of the character’s thoughts were like this, the italics would lose their effect.
Bonnie’s question: “Is it acceptable to show multiple points of view if it's done during dialogue, as in stating their emotions for the particular things they are saying?”
If you’re meaning head-hopping, no. Stick with one POV per scene. The writing will be harder to do, particularly when you want to show the emotions of all the characters, but when you take the time to do this right, the scene will be much stronger. Hopping into someone’s head to express an emotion ends up in “telling” writing. But when you have to stick in Mary’s head and still display John’s emotions, you have to show us. You’ll be forced to use voice inflection, body language, facial expression. These things flesh out a scene far more than a sentence that tells the reader how a character feels.
More thoughts/questions? Tomorrow, more on the subject of close third person POV vs. removed third person POV.
A final note. Please visit the Charis Connection blog today to read the post about an editor's viewpoint regarding Christian publishers and their decisions about what is published.


Anonymous said...

It seems that most everyone in the publishing industry these days really harps on POV--specifically, one POV per scene. Yet, I've noticed that some well established authors (Lori Wick and Frank Peretti come to mind) do what I consider to be head-popping. They switch between the thoughts and views of different characters freely and, if I might add, rather seemlessly. It doesn't jar me at all to read their work.

Now, I tend rather naturally to stay in one POV, so it's not a big deal to me. But, I wonder why the industry is so dogmatic on this issue when some very successful authors appear to run right over it.


C.J. Darlington said...

Thanks for sharing about character's thoughts in italics. I was going to ask you a question about that. I try really hard in my writing to avoid having thoughts in italics myself, and I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Pretty much every book I read has at least some thoughts in first person in italics.

I remember reading an article years ago that talked about an effective way to get a character's thoughts into the story without actually writing the thoughts verbatim in italics. They said, right before you give the thought, have the character perform some sort of action, preferably having to do with their face or their eyes, and then have the thought.

For example: John stepped out of the jeep and knelt to examine the ground. He fingered a clump of the moist red dirt, glancing up the narrow road. They were getting away.

That line "They were getting away" is clearly John's thought, but not in italics.

Stuart said...

Interestingly I've had people try to get me to insert thoughts in italics in my crit group ;)

Good thoughts there Brandilyn. And a nice example, though the lividity did feel a bit to dictionary to me, though if that's how the character thinks all good.

Always interesting to see how different authors handle the same issue in different ways and then steal the bits and pieces from each that mesh with your own style the best. :)

Unknown said...

Thanks, Brandilyn. I love concrete examples. I think what I took away from this example is that the "explanation" part was tied closely to what the characters were doing. It flowed naturally and seemed to be a logical extention of what they were thinking. And it was just enough to get the reader through the scene, not a whole lecture on the history of forensic science.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Thanks, Brandilyn, that cleared up a lot of issues for me...I'm workin' it. But I do have a few (very few italic thoughts) I'm going to try your examples to remove them.

...and Stuart...Hal Weiss is from the forensics lab, "lividity" is a normal part of his vocabulary...and actually thinking about it there is no other word to describe the sedimentary blood pooling's forensics!

Stuart said...

it wasn't the word Lividity that felt dictionary, it was the explanation of the word that felt pulled out of a dictionary :) It doesn't feel like a natural thought to me (maybe just because of how I think).

If this had been in one of my books I most likely would have written it like:

“Mm.” Hal wrinkled his nose as a breeze tousled a strand of the victim’s blond hair. “Probably find lividity stains on her backside. Must have been killed up there and then sent rolling. I doubt she’s been moved since, other than by animals.” His voice was grim.

Reiger nodded, envisioning the brownish-red stains left by the blood settiling in the lowest point of the body. Lividity would clearly indicate that the body had rested in its current state since death, which judging from the victim's may be the only thing her body told them.

“Man,” he muttered, “there’s not gonna be much to autopsy here.”

ok so maybe that's worse for understanding what lividity is, and definetly more wordy, but it feels more natural to me. And it helps me feel more connected with the character straight through.

But that just shows the difference in style between me & Brandilyn. ;)

Pammer said...

Both blogs are great! Very informative. I think what you did with the POV and descriptions in Eyes of Elisha works because I devoured the book (between chasing phantoms with my 9mm) and never noticed a POV bobble, and believe me, those I notice. :0)