Thursday, January 26, 2006

Slinky Toys

Head hopping. Sprong-sprong.
Another of those absolute rules blared out from burning bushes is the rule against more than one POV (point-of-view.)
Thou must never.
O ye Israelites.
Ye lesser breeds without the law.
Lest thee be bounced into that giant shredder that awaits in wannabe Hell.
To Carthage then I came.
When faced with overwhelming evidence that this rule is routinely ignored - even unto the New York Times' lists - some descendants of Moses, aka the righteous crew, will grudgingly acknowledge that one may indeed play with toys, but not in the same scene.
But just what is a "scene?"
The passage posted yesterday here on this blog clearly contains two distinct point of view.
Damie's and John's.
But are these pov's in the same scene?
Certainly, you idiot, some would say. Hotel corridor.
Others, of course, in literary disgust at this nouveau breech might articulate the view that the interaction between Sutherland, Damie and John is a single "scene" - in spite of the fact that it contain two plot points, two separate threads - but that's a different argument.
Back to the corridor outside her room.
Pretend you're a camera.
Sitting on Damie's shoulder. Wide angle, zoom and all that.
Pretend you're a second camera.
Sitting on John's shoulder.
Two scenes for the two pov's.
Writing is not just words on a page, conformed by artificial divisions and definitions of "scene."
Don't forget the visuals, whether it's slide show or video.


Dennie McDonald said...

I am a POV purist - unless it is done well - if you can do some in one and some in another that is cool - but I just finished a book a while back where it switches in the same paragraph and there were 4 people in the scene ALL of whom had a POV moment - get's confusing! {says ye w/ short attention span!)

I once read a book where the POV hops and goes into the frigging dog's pov - hated it! (and she is a *FAMOUS* NY best sellers author)

as with anything, if you do it well...

AE Rought said...

Normally, when I write it is first person POV all the way. But I have dabbled in omniscient third, and the newest WIP is strictly from the female protag POV.

No matter what anyone says, Bernita, rules be damned, I read the scene and liked it; it worked for me. :)

Rick said...

In a scene like yesterday's, I'd have marked the POV switch with a passage separator (centered #). But that is just my habit and approach - especially since I POV-hop a lot in the book as a whole.

I didn't even notice yesterday's hop till you mentioned it; it is done seamlessly, and there's no doubt of whose POV we're in at any given time.

"The Rules" are all generally valid if understood as guidance, and it is even understandable that they are taught as rules to novice writers, but guidance is what they really are, and there are very few that can't be broken. There's even a place for said-bookisms now and then, though "I'm madly in love with you," he ejaculated doubtless should never appear.

In an earlier draft of Catherine of Lyonesse, a ship fires a broadside, and I end the passage by pulling back into a historical omniscient:

For all things there must be a beginning. And so it was the fate of the Duke of Lauzenne and his five hundred men, that for the first time in the history of the world they should face the full broadside of a royal ship of Lyonesse, forerunner of every broadside that would lash forth in centuries to come, across seas yet unnamed, from galleon and frigate and dreadnought.

This is a total violation of The Rules - the guy who ordered the broadside can't possibly know about unnamed seas, let alone dreadnoughts, but I felt it worked in the situation. (Alas, the whole battle vanished in rewrite, but I still plan to fire that broadside in a sequel.)

Break the rules! You just have to know when you're doing it, and why.

-- Rick

Sandra Ruttan said...

I am not a POV purist. In my one ms, I have two leading protagonists, and within a scene I will switch from one's POV to the other's. But I try to stick to the rule that it's only once in a scene, if at all, and that there is a very clearly explained transition from the one to the other.

Like he walks out of her office, and she's now sitting at her desk thinking. Part of the same scene because she's thinking about the argument they just had, but now her POV.

The only time I get really amused is when somebody throws in a line that pertains to what people are doing somewhere that they can't see. 'Upstairs, the rest of the team was checking through dressers, looking for the lost matchbook.' And its action downstairs with a group of people, then the line about the people upstairs, then back to the group downstairs and the people upstairs never even come back into it...ever! Why mention them at all?

But a switch done well in a scene can be incredibly effective, IMHO.

Sela Carsen said...

I'm neither a POV purist nor a perfect practitioner, but I'll admit that yesterday's scene made me "bump" just a touch. I actually had to go back and re-read to where the switch took place.

I took a Deep POV workshop last summer and the camera analogy finally clicked for me. What might have made yesterday's excerpt flow more smoothly from one POV to the next was a semi-omniscient link -- just a line or so that is factual and obvious from both POVs, then the switch. The author who taught the class also mentioned that it often works best when the camera is passed by a connection between the two characters, such as a meeting of the eyes.

These are certainly not hard and fast rules, but they've certainly made me re-examine my writing in a different light. While I don't follow this advice every single time, and I often switch POV's mid-scene, I think I've become a reformed head-hopper.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm learning to be better about head chopping, er, uh....I mean head hopping. I've learned a lot in the last few months from workshops and informed blogs(like yours Bernita), so I'm in the process of rewriting and staying in one head.

I didn't even notice the change yesterday between Damie and was seamless.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Little nagging bits of
Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in your blog. You've certainly got a point of view there. Well done.
Somebody gave me a hippo for Christmas.
Still thinking of St. Agustine.
"To Carthage I came" (So you could buy your own hippo?)
Yeah, I know. Clang!

M. G. Tarquini said...

POV purist here. BUT, I think whatever pattern is adopted needs to be consistent. I go for the separators and really good reason to switch POV. Usually, I stick to one per chapter. At a writing conference I heard a piece read by another writer there that was omniscient. She did it so well, nobody noticed and the chapter would have been diminished had she kept the point of view to a single person.

R.J. Baker said...

I view "the rules" as guidelines generally to be followed, but when feasable, necssesary or interesting to plot and story line, shit can 'em.

The test is: does it confuse or distract the reader from the story or enhance the reading experience?

If it enhance and make the story more interesting or intriguing, I'm all for it.

Bernita said...

Blogger's time estimate for "maintenance" was elastic.
I think your first example would be a bit much for anyone, Dennie.

Thank you, A.E. With 1st person POV, I think any switch out of first rings more false than any other.But I admit I enjoy reading first.

Rick, I approve of the *** if there is a marked switch in time and place; or, as you mention a round-up in omniscient.Your example would not raise my eyebrows in the slightest. I have also seen it dealt with by the simple expedient of beginning a new chapter.A bit startling until one becomes accustomed and makes for some short chapters.

Sandra, I wouldn't consider that a violation at all. In my mind, the "scene" has changed.

Thank you, Sela. Relieved that my "camera" concept is not out in left field.I consider that "bump." One might say that the reader is expected to make the eye connection here, in afterthought, without it being specifically described.

Thank you, Bonnie. Happy that it worked for you.
~edging warily away from that chopper~

Ivan, my golden one, you only clang by intention.You might as well confess.

M.G., I think my main objection to a hard-and-fast rule is that it tends to limit.

Bernita said...

Right on, R.J.
Must be decided on a case by case basis.

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm still learning, learning, learning.

Bernita said...

You're doing just fine, Erik, but it never stops.

Gabriele C. said...

I'm so not a POV purist. I really have to take a look at my writing to make sure the thing isn't staggering all over the place like a drunken Scot. Or wait, they don't stagger even when they're drunk. And I hope that by now, my omniscient doesn't stagger, either.

It's not only the skill of a writer to make POV shifts work, it also has to do with reading habits. People who read older books and epic Fantasy etc. are more likely to have come across a fair share of POV shifts within scenes.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I've got a work that has three perspectives, from that of each of three protagonists. One is third person always. One is first person always. The last switch from third person to first person.

A big part of me thinks it'd be easier to sell, if it were one perspective, one POV. The bigger part of me knows the story would be horribly diminished by doing that.

The works been sitting off to the side for over a year now because I don't know what to do.

Ric said...

I think that would work. With each protaginist having a different voice and tense, it should work TO your advantage rather than against it.

Just my opinion....

Thanks, Bernita, for these thought provoking blogs. Keep us all thinking about writing rather than whatever Bonnie is up to.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Really, Ric? It's also not linear. Each protag moves along his own timeline. Eventually the timelines converge, but one timeline if six years after the earliest timeline. Obviously, there's a reason for this.

I look at it and want to scream because everybody says to keep it linear.

Once HINDSIGHT is finished, I planned to pick this work up and rewrite it again. I'm afraid I'll put it down for another year.

archer said...

It's not that the "no head hopping rule" is ignored. It's that people write in third-person limited rather than omniscient voice, and then wish they could do the shift, which they discover they can't. Narrate in in a good solid "In about thirty seconds he would realize" omniscient voice and you can hop heads to your heart's content.

People are scared of omnicient voice (what Le Guin calls "Author-Involved"). There is nothing to be scared of. It's not old fashioned. Tom Wolfe writes in it and he writes the most readable stuff going.

Bernita said...

I agree with Ric, Mindy.
Sometimes critics apply the "rule" as an automatic "thou shalt not" without considering if the variant works or not.With the three pov's, each in a different chapter, one might almost EXPECT a different time-line.

Archer, the problem may arise because some are unclear just what constitutes omniscient and third, respectively.
Situation similar to those who insist "was"-assisted passive tone is passive tense.

Sure, look at it, Gabriele, for smooth, but don't change it just because of some narrow rule.

archer said...

Shifting from Omniscient into a head and then back is a fun series of technical exercises that everyone ought to do (I keep a notebook full of such exercises).

One smooth move is to shift into perfect tense. She loved him. She had always loved him. In this she was no different from her grandmothers, who knew that a man was but a man... Works, doesn't it? I swiped this one from I.B. Singer. You can use the subjunctive, too: And naturally enough--or so he would have said, if pressed--he felt the same way, felt the same sense of privilege. It was none of her business where he'd been!...

Writers to steal from ummm I mean emulate: Virginia Woolf (I can't stand her but she's good at it); Dickens (the all time best--there is a passage in the first few chapters of Bleak House where he even shifts into the heads of a few passing pigeons and squirrels); Stephen King (Dreamcatcher is a POV showcase).

Bernita said...

Thank you, Archer, for giving a specific example of how technically a switch can be accomplished.