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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

POV shifts - How to make them seamless!

By Zee Monodee

Hey beautiful people!

It's the last Wednesday of February, so this means my spot on the blog. Was wondering what to talk about and then it struck me that recently, I've been noticing quite a lot of POV shifts in books. The editor in me didn't need more to get all worked up, so there you have the topic and post for today - POV Shifts and how to make them seamless.

Ever watched table tennis? Yup, ping pong. Or even, tennis. Like a really long exchange between Federer and Nadal on the beaten red ground of Roland Garros French Open. Ball goes front, comes back, goes front, comes back. You move your head first to follow the exchange. Then your head grows tired, and you only move your eyes. Then you brain starts to rebel - your eyes are moving so much, it's got to be motion sickness! And you throw up.

In a story, badly done POV shifts that look like a ball exchange between these two tennis hunks makes you probably wanna throw up right away. How do you not throw up then, and also too, rework this sad state of affairs?

It comes down to a simple thing - POV. Whose POV are you in? At worst, ask the question, whose POV should you be in?

Writing, especially romance where you will mainly have your scenes with your Hero and heroine (H/h for short), is not a tennis game, nor is it ping-pong. Yes, the dialogue has to flow, and that's an exchange. But going back and forth between the characters' minds will tend to make your reader sick with mind motion sickness.

The thing is - when your reader is reading your story, she is identifying with a character, with the lead in your scene. She is putting herself in that person's shoes, in that person's body, in that person's head and consequently in his or her mind.
Stand up and talk with someone. Look at where you are standing, and then look around you. This is exactly what it should feel like for your reader, and to do this, you as the writer have to be in one character's place, spot, shoes, head.

You may go, but I'm writing this and it would be so much better for the story to show what is going on in the other person's mind.

All right - this can work, but not when you are going back and forth between two minds like a tennis exchange between Federer and Nadal! You can, and I repeat, CAN, do away with the POV shifts by seamlessly integrating the information into your lead character's POV.

Let's take an example that has a POV shift. (Shameless plug, but these are taken from Storms in a Shot Glass, my upcoming romantic comedy with Decadent Publishing)


“Jane,” he [Michael] said, “I’m sure you know half the business Vista Standard Bank handles comes straight from my clients.” He paused for effect. “As their lawyer, it wouldn’t be hard for me to tell them to take their accounts elsewhere.”
He had to be joking! Jane thought. One long look at his hard-jawed face and she knew he wasn't kidding. Don't flinch, don't show him how much he's affecting you. “That’s blackmail,” she said softly.
“I don’t want it to come to that, but I will if I have to. Think about it, Jane. Deflect a few calls, invent a few excuses. It doesn’t take more than that.” Michael kept his gaze on her, studying her. He needed to get her into a tight spot so he'd have her cornered.
Jane was flustered under the steady perusal. This one was a shark and he had sniffed blood. Damn it - he was a right, bloody arse!


So yes, here, we see the interaction between the H/h. Yes, you are giving me what's going on in their heads, the crucial happenings in this scene.
Take a look at the same scene, with highlights.

“Jane,” he [Michael] said, “I’m sure you know half the business Vista Standard Bank handles comes straight from my clients.” He paused for effect. “As their lawyer, it wouldn’t be hard for me to tell them to take their accounts elsewhere.”
He had to be joking! Jane thought. One long look at his hard-jawed face and she knew he wasn't kidding. Don't flinch, don't show him how much he's affecting you. “That’s blackmail,” she said softly.
“I don’t want it to come to that, but I will if I have to. Think about it, Jane. Deflect a few calls, invent a few excuses. It doesn’t take more than that.” Michael kept his gaze on her, studying her. He needed to get her into a tight spot so he'd have her cornered.
Jane was flustered under the steady perusal. This one was a shark and he had sniffed blood. Damn it - he was a right, bloody arse!


I dunno about you but these colours kinda made me want to give up my breakfast.
Now in this scene in the story, it is Michael's POV. He is the lead, and not only that, the scene belongs to him. Let's rework this from Michael's POV only.


“Jane,” he said, “I’m sure you know half the business Vista Standard Bank handles comes straight from my clients.” He paused for effect. “As their lawyer, it wouldn’t be hard for me to tell them to take their accounts elsewhere.”
Jane paled and her lips tightened in a nervous gesture. But she didn’t flinch or gasp, and for that he gave her credit. This girl had balls.
“That’s blackmail,” she said softly.
“I don’t want it to come to that, but I will if I have to. Think about it, Jane. Deflect a few calls, invent a few excuses. It doesn’t take more than that.”
She stared at him for a long time, her narrowed gaze travelling over him before coming back to rest on his face. He wondered what was going on in her head, but like any good legal negotiator knew, you should never betray what was going on in your head. So he simply allowed her to peruse him while he settled back and took small sips of his coffee.
As the seconds ticked by, perusal turned to disbelief and finally to something remarkably like spite on her features. Her lips pursed to a tight line, stretching the skin over her cheekbones and making her bone structure appear formidable as the soft shadows in their secluded corner played upon her face.
Michael didn’t flinch, not even when she opened her mouth and said calmly,
“You’re a bloody arse, you know that?”



Basically, these two scenes are telling me the same thing. But in the second one, the POV of the character who is not the lead is integrated into the main POV. Yes, I'm not going into Jane's head. I'm not getting a chance to see what's happening with her-- Wait a second! You're wrong! Because I am seeing what is happening, with Michael's eyes. I am getting an interpretation of the scene from his POV.

And this reworked version is not just telling the reader what is going on. It is showing. Jane may have been thinking, don't flinch, Don't show him how he's affecting you, this is shown, through Michael's eyes, as such: Jane paled and her lips tightened in a nervous gesture. But she didn’t flinch or gasp, and for that he gave her credit. His next thought then, in deduction, is: This girl had balls.

See how this gives your reader a stronger handle on the hero? We are not just seeing what is happening but we are getting a whole other view of it when his perception is brought forward as the lead. POV shifts do not allow for this depth into a character and persona because the POV shift makes you skim the surface and relate only what is happening.

Here's another bit that has been reworked: Jane was flustered under the steady perusal. This one was a shark and he had sniffed blood. Damn it - he was a right, bloody arse!

Okay, she thinks him a shark. She's flustered. She thinks him an arse. How the heck do I show this if I am not going into her POV, you may ask.

Well, think of this - humans are not robots. When we think, some of it reflects in our body language. No human being is totally impassible. Something has to give this person away. You can hold a poker face for just that long, and maybe too, another body tic is working you up and you are hiding it.
When you are interacting with someone, you are not talking to a static poster. You are dealing with a human being. And a human being always shows non-verbally, through body language and other such gestures, what is going on in their head.

And from your lead's shoes, this giving away gestures get to be interpreted. What Jane was thinking above, is relayed through how Michael comes to figure out what is going on in her mind:


She stared at him for a long time, her narrowed gaze travelling over him before coming back to rest on his face. He wondered what was going on in her head, but like any good legal negotiator knew, you should never betray what was going on in your head. So he simply allowed her to peruse him while he settled back and took small sips of his coffee.
As the seconds ticked by, perusal turned to disbelief and finally to something remarkably like spite on her features. Her lips pursed to a tight line, stretching the skin over her cheekbones and making her bone structure appear formidable as the soft shadows in their secluded corner played upon her face.


(This bit, as an aside, also gives your reader a visual description/image of how Michael is seeing Jane, and it gives you setting and atmosphere, too. All this was not present in the POV shift version. Plus, too, Micahel is a lawyer, who negotiates corporate mergers. See how he thinks like one here too, with the bit about how a good negotiator knows to never betray what was going on in his head? All this was absent in the blow by blow version, denying your reader a deeper view into who Michael really is and how he thinks.)

And what she actually thought, use it. Dialogue conveys what you cannot convey through a POV shift. When you go in her head, you see she is thinking of Michael as an arse. But Michael is not a telepath; he cannot go into her head. So how do you put this across? By using dialogue:

Michael didn’t flinch, not even when she opened her mouth and said calmly,
“You’re a bloody arse, you know that?”


Think of yourself in a conversation. Use your senses. Use your intuition (and let me know if you happen to be a real mind reader!). Interpret things. Yes, it is easy and terribly tempting to shift POV and give a blow by blow, ping pong account of what is going on in each character's head.
But by doing so you are limiting yourself to skimming the surface. Sticking to one lead allows you to delve deeper into the character, to explore his or her psyche, to see things as he or she is seeing and experiencing.

That's the experience your reader is looking for - this "in his/her shoes" bit. Not a ping pong match that can give you mind motion sickness, or worse, make you give up on the book because it is shifting too much and leaving no room to get into a character's head.

Clear as mud? Any questions, just holler.

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

19 comments:

  1. Good to be reminded of this. POV shifts was the first glaring error I found in my beginning writing. I tend to change my POV when I start a new scene. How often should you do that without it becoming like a ping-pong match, too? I like to keep my readers informed as to the POV of both hero and heroine but don't want it to be too jerky. Should I rather do a couple of scenes with the same POV before I move on or does it not matter?

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    1. Kathy, a good rule of thumb is to have at least one page (or the equivalent, about 25 lines) in one POV. Scenes can be different POVs, but it pays to stay in one character's head for as long as possible. Hope this helps :)

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  2. Thanks for this Zee. I love how easy it becomes when you show us the two different POVs! This makes it so much easier to see the scene should be in Michael's POV. You're a good teacher!

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    1. LOL! Thanks, Mandy. I don't think I would fare well as a teacher in real life, but I love imparting knowledge I myself have gleaned along the way. Paying it forward, in a way :)

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  3. Wow, this is good. I think I need to read through it every time I finish a manuscript. "Head-hopping" is definitely one of my sins;-) Like Kathy said, especially in my earlier writing, but now I`m on a mission to go through everything with a fine toothcomb. Thanks Zee, brilliant post!

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    1. Best of luck on your mission, Inge! It took me a while to grasp this but once it's there, it stays :)

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  4. Great post, Zee! It was through working with my editors and CPs that I learned to stay in one POV for each scene. Now, I mostly get it, but do have the occasional phrase that the POV character shouldn't know or see.

    Hugs from Canada!
    ~Jess

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    1. Thanks Jess! Like you, I learned through interaction with CPs and editors (and prolly reading just about every article on writing I could find on Charlotte Dillon's site!) Hugs back!

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  5. Wonderful advice, Zee. I think all of us need reminding of this every now and then. I love the analogy to a tennis match.

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    1. Thanks Yolande! I don't presume most authors wouldn't know this already, but I wanted to put this out in the hopes it could help anyone who has problems with head hopping and POV shifts :)

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  6. Great article! Head hopping was a huge challenge for me. I didn't even know what it was at first, so you have really clarified it for the us all. Thanks Zee.

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  7. Thanks for this Zee! A question - Different publishers want different POV's, some want two POV with hero and heroine, some just the heroine as the first person and others with heroine as the third person!!! Do writers have to keep changing their novels when submitting to them? That would take forever and be quite frustrating :)

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    1. Yuresha, this will be mostly a question of what you as a writer work best with. Basically, it's about the writer finding his/her voice, and that then determines which publisher to submit to - and not the other way around!
      For example, I am utterly hopeless at writing 1st Person, so this pretty much means I will not be able to write chick lit the kind most chick lit publishers will want to see it.
      So this automatically means my heroine will have to be in 3rd person. Add to it that I love going into the hero's head, too, because I like to deepen and add layers in that manner (not that this is the only way to add depth and layers, mind you!) - so the way I write ultimately becomes such that my voice is H/h both in 3rd Person POV.
      Find what works best for you, and then see which publishers will be okay for the type/brand/kind of writing and POV you find yourself more at ease with.

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  8. Great post, Zee. I agree with Amanda. The example made it clearer.

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  9. Well done, Zee. yes the first example had my eyeballs bugging out!

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