Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Point of View Part 2 - Examples

Last week, I explained the three basic types of Point of View (POV). This week, I will provide examples of how POV plays such a crucial role in your novel. You should choose the protagonist/POV character based on the story you most want to tell.

The key, with ANY choice for POV is to be consistent. Your reader will enjoy reading your book if every sentence of narrative and every clip of dialogue is infused with details and insights into your character. When you describe a room, describe it using your POV character's personality. What is important to them? How are they feeling at that point in the novel? What do they know? What do they hate? The answers to all of these questions (and more) must come through in the words you choose. The deeper you delve into your POV character, the more your reader will engage with them.

As an example, I am going to describe the same Tim Hortons from the four different points of view: 1st, 2nd, 3rd tight, and 3rd omni.

(For you non-Canadian readers, Tim Hortons is a Canadian donut shop chain that represents a quintessentially Canadian perspective. We take our Tims very seriously! Think the "local" pub for Brits, but with coffee and tea instead of beer.)

EX 1: First person protag, a high school student who works at Tims.

The line stretched around the corner again. My stomach clenched. Dad could be such a grizzly before his caffeinization and now fifteen adults stood in my line, caught in antagonistic states of Saturday-droopy. I had one more chance to prove myself to Andy, or he would fire me for sure. After passing another three-coffee order over the counter, I saw Jessica's smiling face at the end of the line. I smiled back, gave my current customer a glee-rific, "Have a great day," and punched in the next order with steady hands. Andy seemed pleased because he nodded at me, then headed into the prep area to do whatever managers do back there.

Notice a few things here:
-the protag's gender: Female. From this one paragraph it's not clear (yet) whether the protag is male or female, as I don't actually name her -- I planned to do so using dialogue between her and Jessica in the next paragraph. (Feel free to include your personal guess in the comment section.)
-the protag's feeling: Nervous! From the pressure of the crowd and fear of failing in front of her manager. (This is my author-hint that she's new at the job and/or low on self-esteem)
-the protag's frames of reference: Parents and BFF's (Notice my mention of her Dad and the appearance of Jessica at the critical moment. Teens tend to look at the world from these two frames.) Also, all of the people in the line are simply "adults" as anyone over about eighteen falls into this category.
-the protag's dialogue (in this case, internal): Teens don't generally talk like adults. They make up words, and use slang. Some have a darker, more critical/antagonistic view of society and others can be over-the-top cheerful, at least on the outside. (Notice how I made up the teen-speak words, "caffeinization" and "glee-rific")

Generally, if you're going to use 1st POV, try to work the character's name in, as soon as possible. If you take too long to do so, you risk the reader making their own gender decision. If it's wrong, they will be rather unhappy with you, dear author, and might stop reading your story.

EX 2: Second person, a mother who has just lost her son in a car accident.

Sometimes you stand in line and all you can think about is your turn. When will they pour you your magic cup of coffee? You pray the caffeine will wake you from the stupor, but in your heart, you know it won't. Because your son isn't sleeping in, or unpacking boxes in the prep area, or meeting his girlfriend here before practice. The other people in the line have their own worries, about the price of gas or what to buy at the grocery store for dinner, as if these are problems at all. As a mother, you understand the difference between a problem and a nuisance. So you stare at your feet and count to ten again, and wait for your heart to restart. No matter how long the line, no matter how cheerful or slow the kid is behind the counter, you don't want to cry here, in this too-bright room, surrounded by the smells of normalcy and the judgement of strangers.

Notice a few things here:
-the protag's gender: Female. Like 1st POV, it's important to establish the gender as soon as possible in a 2nd POV story. Since this character is painfully aware of her recently-destroyed role of "mother," she identifies herself as a mom, first and foremost. (Notice how I squeezed her child's gender in there, too)
-the protag's feeling: Grief! She feels her loss in every sentence, because at this raw moment in her life, her grief seeps into every aspect of every day.
-the protag's frames of reference: Strangers and kids (Notice how all of the people in the line are strangers to her. The only "kid" she notices is the one behind the counter, probably because she is close in age to the protag's lost son) She also sees her son in every role of the others in the story, one minute he's working in the back, the next he's standing in line with his girlfriend.
-the protag's dialogue (in this case, internal): The protag notices her grief, and knows it is winning in the battle for control of her life. She essentially compares herself to any other mother who would find herself grieving the loss of a child and she passes judgement on others (who don't know the difference between a problem and a nuisance) and on herself (for being too embarrassed to cry again, or being crushed under the prying, judging eyes of strangers who can't possibly understand how she feels.)

Generally second works best in situations where your protag feels distanced from the action and characters around them.

EX 3: Third person tight, who is the manager at the Tims

Andy watched as Taylor served the tall pickup-driving dude in the baseball cap, who usually used the drive through, but came in to get a six pack of donuts today. The new girl was getting better at least, but whenever the lineup got long, she got sloppy. The elderly lady waiting two slots down always ordered three double double's, extra-small, the least popular of all the sizes, but big with the grey-hairs. Though he couldn't remember her name, he knew her well enough to elicit a smile from the arthritic woman, making her appear remarkably like his own gramma. Her two octogenarian pals waited for her at their usual table by the middle window.

Many of the new staff didn't under-scoop the sugar to compensate for the mini-size of the extra-small cup. He would wait and watch to see if Taylor remembered. Sure enough, she held an enormous scoop of sugar over the cup, then caught herself before dumping it in.
Good job, newbie, he thought. Maybe the petite redhead had paid attention during her training after all. Somewhere in the back, a beeper sounded for an extra ten seconds beyond ideal. Andy nodded at Taylor and hurried to yell at Joe for burning the donuts in the warmer.

-the protag's gender: Male. Though I don't specifically identify him as the manager, his vigilance over the staff and the people in line helps to convey that detail to the reader.
-the protag's feeling: Alert. Andy is aware of the needs of the people in line, where they're sitting, which car they arrived in, how his server is coping, and the noises coming from the back room.
-the protag's frames of reference: He cares about his customers and his staff as well as the smooth flow of the shop. Regular customers look familiar and he remembers them by their drink order and/or the car they drive.
-the protag's dialogue (in this case, internal): He constantly reflects on the needs of the customers in line as well as the performance of his crew.

The great thing about third tight is that we get an in depth sense of exactly what our protag cares about. Andy is obviously a good manager, since he connects with his customers and oversees his employees through each process of their job. The disadvantage is that we cannot get into anyone else's head unless we do a scene/chapter break.

EX 4: Third person, omnipotent.

Andy, the manager, watched Taylor serve the tall dude in the line.

Bob smiled at the young girl, always a fan of redheads. Ever since she started at the shop, he'd been coming to the counter so he could check her out.

Rosalind's arthritis was acting up again. Even though today was her turn to get the coffee, she had hoped that Madge might have offered to give her a hand. She wouldn't be able to use the environmentally-friendly mugs since they didn't have lids. Her friends wouldn't approve if Rosalind spilled half the liquid before she made it to their table.

Jessica watched as Taylor served the old lady, smiling at her friend clad in the beige Tim's uniform. Jessica hoped that if Taylor did well, she might be able to put in a good word with the manger. Jessica needed money for her trip to France, especially since her Dad got laid off from the plant.

Notice a few things here:
-the protags' genders: Some male, some female. With multiple POVs, I had to repeatedly use character names to distinguish the he's from she's, otherwise the reader might not be able to figure out whose head we were in and who they referred to at any one moment.
-the protags' feelings: Bob is interested in Taylor. Jessica is enthusiastic about making a good impression. Rosalind is worried about getting to her friends without spilling the order.
-the protags' frames of reference: All over the map. With more than one personality, the reader might find it hard to know who to root for in this example. Who should we pay the most attention to? Jessica? Bob? Rosalind? Taylor? Andy? That's one of the big downfalls of omni POV, plus having so many names in such a small space can be tiring and/or distracting to the reader.
-the protag's dialogue (in this case, internal): As the POV shifts, we get a sense of what they are thinking and what they care about via the narrative/internal dialogue.

With Omni, you can give the reader a taste of every character's desires, feelings, and frames of reference. You run the risk of confusing the reader about who to cheer for, but you can provide a depth difficult to achieve with any other POV. If, at some future point in the novel, ALL of these characters converge into one singular moment, then third Omni might be the best POV for that particular story.

At this point, we've seen the same donut shop from several different POVs. Each is useful in its own right. When you are writing your next story, select the POV that works for the story you most want to tell and that provides the perspective that is the most interesting in the tale.

For fun, in the comments section, feel free to vote for whichever POV you most want to learn more about with respect to my examples.

Do it now:
Write your own exercise from the POV of one of the many people in this Tim Hortons. Either one of the people I already chose, or another character, either named, like Madge or Joe, or unnamed. Make sure you understand WHY you chose that person and that POV.

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