Saturday, March 04, 2006

POV-erty


Yesterday began as a fun day.
Post, then lots of funny, clever, helpful, enjoyable comments.
My first sex scene.
Just maybe, I had a clue.
By the end of the day I was rigid - with fury.
I had had my face slapped.
L'Academie francaise came calling.
A visitor - now in the witness protection program - emailed and accused me of head-hopping in that scene.
I was also informed that the correspondent didn't comment publicly on posts unless they were perfecto and magnifico.
I was directed to study certain masters, do exercises, and practice, practice, practice.
Certain rules regarding POV's were articulated and italics were suggested.
Omniscience was the main tone, I believe.
At first I was bewildered.
Then bothered.
I re-checked the text, still thought the scene was written from John-boy's point of view.
However, I'll be the first to admit I can be exceedingly dim and dense at times, and quite capable of being blinded by injured pride.
I did a search on POV.
Noticed something.
Early definitions on point of view were limited and restrictive: three types. Period. Later instructions expanded those classifications - especially between omniscient and third; still later discussions permit further variations. No longer was a change in POV condemned in a book, it was allowed from chapter to chapter, then from scene to scene. In fact, sometimes with in a scene. Progressively, the rules relaxed and became more flexible.
Hmmm.
A conservative.
I still didn't see where I had done any switching in this scene.
I still don't.
But I certainly begin to contemplate switching - in another context.
John's hearing Damie's dialogue does not qualify in my books, as a switch. John's putting her case down "carefully" does not qualify as omniscient to my mind, nor does his absorption with her lovely ass.
If I'm wrong, I'll pay for it.
In the form of rejections at some future time.
But bedamned if I'm going to change my style of narrative on the basis of the case as presented.
Or strive to become worthy of praise from someone who considers me inept or views me with the same amusement one does an eager but clumsy child.
Later, after a nice round of returned fire to that ambuscade, the writer apologized for the failure to communicate.
I enjoy the irony of that.

38 comments:

Ric said...

Wow! This example explains a lot of what goes on in some critique clubs. And, with some editorrs as well.

From a guy's POV, your scene was done expertly. You didn't jump to Damie even though we all wanted to know what she was thinking. (but since you've drawn her so well, we knew).

And your deft handling of our concerns about who was holding what were addressed quickly.

You clearly are aware that five OMG's cannot be canceled out by one WTF. And, in the reverse, it should probably mean something.

Grammer police and POV police are everywhere. Unless they are the editor who has to sign my payslip, I don't pay much attention.

Too bad some jerk wrecked what should have been a wonderful day for you. You took a chance, put it up, and we loved it.

Bernita said...

Ric, you'll always be #1 Dear Guy.
And this is why.
Damie's reaction does come a little later, and I do switch POV's - then.
Known as dual POV technique, I've read - because they've found that readers LIKE to know how each major character reacts to an event, and incident.

Shesawriter said...

I happen to like omniscient POV, but every time I attempt to use it, I get slapped for it. I enjoy reading it in books and I don't know why it's so taboo.

Tanya

Bernita said...

I got slapped for not staying in it, I think.
Maybe it was out of it, I'm not sure now.

Carla said...

I thought the scene was quite clearly all from John's point of view. I also guessed you'd probably give us Damie's reaction in the next scene.
I like omniscient and switching point of view, too. I like to get to know more than one of the people in a book.
I don't know why omniscient should be taboo, but then I've never understood why the humble adverb should attract such opprobrium either :-)
Perhaps it's supposed to be difficult to do, so some creative writing course somewhere has advised people not to try it, and this has become transmuted into a Thou Shalt Not rule by self-appointed writing coaches?
Perhaps skim-readers don't like it, because it requires the reader to pay more attention than a single point-of-view narrative?
Perhaps it is perceived as unfashionable, so people trying to second-guess 'what editors want these days' think it mustn't be used?

Point of view seems to be quite a slippery concept, one that means slightly different things to different people. I quite often see a scene criticised for 'head-hopping' when I thought there'd been no switch at all, or at most a switch from omniscient to one character's point of view (which I wouldn't count as head-hopping because the omniscient author isn't a character). Maybe this reflects the shift in definitions that you mentioned?

Taking a charitable view of your correspondent, perhaps (s)he has a different definition of point of view than you do. Doesn't mean (s)he is right. As a reader, I didn't have a problem with the piece. John Barnes, a UK crime writer, has some good advice on the FAQ page of his website. Among other things he says, "Don't listen to other writers. Plough your own furrow."

Rick said...

I sure didn't see a POV switch in that passage. (As for what Damie is thinking ... well, she's pretty much being dry-humped in a public place, and making "little, catchy sounds" - implies consensual to me!)

If there were a POV switch, the questions would be did you intend it, and - far more important - does it work? There's no rule that can't be broken for effect.

kmfrontain said...

There was no POV switch in that passage. I know, because I write omniscient. You were never in any head but John's for that scene. At this point in the story, it's totally tight third person. You could only be accused of omniscient if you switch POV within a scene without breaking the scene through the use of an obvious scene breaker, like end of chapter of a set of asterisks.

And yes, I meant "accused" of omniscient. Those that use it tend to get massacred on a regular basis. I wear chainmail when I'm on the net to avoid getting swiped by the criterary sword of doom.

And now I'm just going to drag my armoured ass back over to my side of the Canada and keep on writing. :-)

Bernita said...

You've summed up my view of omniscient and third in your usual excellent fashion, Carla.
I don't count that as a head-hop either.
My back-hander writes, from what I've seen, only in first - and very, very well, let me emphasize - but perhaps that influenced the point of view peeve.
Thank you, thank you for the link, and thank you again for showing me how to fix where the big hand was.
John Barnes is wrong in one way. Sometimes one should listen to other writers.

Thank you, Rick. "Dry humping" is a disgusting phrase though.

Thank you, kmfontain, for the reassurance.
I can't see anything wrong with omniscient - some stories flourish under it; and I think many stories have a blend of omniscient and third or what they are now calling something like "restricted omniscient."
Which I define as "Oh, look, it works, readers like it, we have to find a new sub-section to include it."

Sela Carsen said...

Omniscient? Where? It was all in John's POV. I had to learn the POV lesson the hard way. It took ages of pounding to finally figure it out. My first drafts are still rife with head-hopping, but at least I know I'm doing it. Ergo, I know it when I see it and I didn't see it.

Good for you for sticking to your guns, B. And I'm sorry your day ended badly.

Carla said...

Possibly he intended something more like 'Don't obey other writers.' Which is what I'd say - listen, consider, and make your own mind up.

Yes, 'dry humping' is a revolting phrase. Rick, go and read the answer to your question about The Heaven Tree and fix your mind on higher things :-)

Just to lower the tone again, was this the god you were thinking of, Bernita?

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sela.
To me, head-hopping occurs when one switches from one character's thoughts and feelings to another character's thought and feelings.
I tend to do it(I hope) when it's NATURAL for the reader to want to know that bit of information.

kmfrontain said...

Dry humping is a very male POV term and you might want to remember it if you've got men in your reading audience and you reeeaaallly want to have male terminology for your male fictional characters. :-)

Love reading the men's comments to you blog. I do.

Bernita said...

That's him, Carla!
Rampant!
Thought of him because of the bare Norse association with the Falchion and I've used crows/ravens/rooks in a mild toss-off way in the book. Not as heavy symbolism though, since they are a natural part of the landscape.

Bernita said...

I do too, KM.
It's only half a world without them; and their comments are not only intrinsically valuable, they keep the necessary balance in POV.
I'm just grateful.

Gabriele C. said...

That sounds like that guy back in August who told you in a very self-righteous and condeseneding tone what and how to write in your blog. Don't bother listening to that sort of ... people.

And even if there's a POV shift in the scene (not that I could find one), it's your scene and you can shift POV if you want.

Bernita said...

The one that offered to be my mentor and considered a blog a public forum, Gabriele?
No, not the same person.
But there was a certain similarity in initial arrogance.
This one did apologize, if not for the accusation, at least for the manner in which it was presented.
Those are the only two who have enraged me.
People have been very courteous and kind.

Gabriele C. said...

Yep, I meant that guy. So you've attracted a second. I haven't got them so far, maybe it's beneath their dignity to comment on a blog written by a German who by her very nature can have but a feeble grip on English. ;-)

BTW Do you read PBW's (aka Sheila Viehl) blog? If not, go and check todays entry, it should give you a giggle.

Mark Pettus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Pettus said...

I don't think it matters if you change POV three times on a single page, if it works. Change POV, alter timelines, and use creative punctuation, as long as it works.

So many writers have been critiqued for doing something wrong that that believe a set of rules exists. They don't understand is that the criticism didn't come to them because they broke a rule, but because what they wrote didn't work. The only rule is a question - Does it work?

Your scene worked.


Blogger really should add an edit function to comments. Argggh.

Bernita said...

Don't think your grip is feeble in any regard, Gabriele.
Thank you.Very on point. The comments are hilarious, too. I left one to confess my sins.
I must bookmark her.

Thank you, Mark.
That is as good and succinct a description of the rules conundrum as I've seen.

Gabriele C. said...

Thanks, I hope it isn't, else I'd better write my novels in German. :-)

Sheila is a multipublished author in several genres and has a lot of good advice on her blog. He blog hasn't cult status like Miss Snark, but it's a popular place for many writer-bloggers, too.

Erik Ivan James said...

It is obvious to me what they are BOTH thinking:

"Right two people--wrong time and place, right now, to make love though. We will, next time!".

And I'm jealous as hell that someone else is going to have my Damie. John's gotta go, Bernita, John's gotta go.

Rick said...

I'll remember not to use that particular phrase when I'm trying to appeal to a female readership! Not that it has a very 16th c. flavor anyway.

On other matters, I'm sort of glad the Norse had something on their mind besides plunder and Fimbulwinter.

Bernita said...

Erik, I like you so much.
Such a nice compliment to my Damie.

I mean John to be one of those strong, decent guys,competent, sophisticated, but with a hidden romantic streak.
Why don't you think of him as your vicarious alter ego?
I really don't want to kill him off.

Bernita said...

A little out of period, Rick, you're right.
My Dickshonnary attributes "hump: to have sexual intercourse with" to about 1760, though does say it was "once a fashionable word."

Erik Ivan James said...

Okay, John wins her. I'm crushed though. Now you will have to create another character for me to take the place of Damie.

Rick said...

"Once a fashionable word?" My, my, my!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Bernita...put down the surrated gardening tools! It was an e-mail...you can't get at them through the monitor...LOL

Egads....I had to go back and read yesterday's post again!

You did not change POV...wt* is that emailer talking about!

You should post the offending party's email address, we'll give 'em a piece of your mind!!

ivan said...

Well, Bernita, you and I have the same problems.
Long a fan of the Stones, I especially like their granddaddy, Robert Johnson, father of blues and rock'n'roll.
I love to quote Robert Johnson songs when I have a heroine doing something dramatic, like leaving her husband.
In my Fire in Bradford, I tried to quote Johnson from memory:
"I followed her to the station
A suitcase in (her? my?) hand.
For the life of me, I got this mental block and I couldn't remember whose hand the suitcase was in. Presumably,her hand, since she was leaving, but that would be too logical. I had to remember the actual line; try as I might on the Internet, I couldn't find All My Love's in Vain that night.
So I just left it with the suitcase in her hand.
Anyway, when John picks up Damie's
suitcase, I kind of got Monty Python's confuse-a-cat feeling.
Where the f*ck am I?..This abrupt picking up of the suitcase.
Gotta apply more realism, I think; maybe it's me. You have to explain things to me as if I were a little child. Joseph Conrad: "If I can only make you see!"
Gotta work a little harder, Doll.
Gotta make us see.

Bernita said...

I would never post the person's email or identify them, Bonnie.
They already got a piece of my mind.
Anyway, PAX has been made.
My wrath has subsided.
The person apologized again just now - this time with the ring of sincerity.

Ivan, "realism" was not the difficulty here. The men assure me that the scene is satisfactory in that department.

jason evans said...

As usual, I'm late on a good post.

There are writing "rules" which translate into ineffective writing for most readers when broken. In this category, I'd place over description. If every sentence is bogged down with 5 adjectives and 5 adverbs, it feels like drowning in quicksand.

However, there are hoards of "rules" which don't seem to translate into ineffective writing for most readers. I've seen several examples where strict adherence to the rules (obsessively I might add) yields absolutely tortured writing. I'd put POV hopping in this second category. If 90% of readers would fly through the story in bliss, adherence to a "rule" is pointless.

Isn't funny how those who beat rules over the heads of others tend not to be strong writers in the end? The point here is communication in whatever form it may come. If you communicate the story, you've won. If your readers slip into an irreversible coma, you've lost. Fiction is an exercise in psychology, not law.

Rick said...

Jason - I see less distinction between the two kinds of rule. Both cover things that, if overdone, tend to spoil writing - steaming heaps of adverbs, or careless POV switches that leave the reader confused about who is doing what to whom.

Beginning writers are probably well cautioned about both (and all the other "rules"). But the final rule should always be, "Break any rule you need to; just know when and why you're doing it."

Savannah Jordan said...

REALLY late to the party today...

Bernita, I tend to be POV purist when I write. I didn't see a damn thing wrong with what you did and I reread it. It's still hot.

Tell Miss Fancy Pants to step off! I'd use harsher language, but it isn't my blog...

Bernita said...

"psychology, not law"
That's very well put, Jason, and most acute.
If I had thought this particular tortfeasor was correct, I would have swallowed it without anything more than an ear-flattened "thank you for pointing that out."
However, I felt the person was wrong, both de facto as well as de jure.

Thank you, Savannah. I really appreciate your opinion. In case anyone didn't know, good romance writers are VERY particular about who does( and says) what to whom and when and how.

December Quinn said...

Not only do I not see a POV switch, I don't understand what the problem would have been if yuo had.

A lot-I would say a majority-of good sex scenes have a POV switch in them somewhere. That's not a rule, it's an opinion, and there are lots and lots of exceptions, but in general, when I'm writing a long sex scene (as opposed to a quickie) I switch POV in there somewhere. Because the reader wants to know how both characters are experiencing the act. Especially when you're dealing with the emotional sex scenes-the ones where they're no longe rhaving sex, they're making love.

Your scene was short (and nicely done, btw!) It didn't need a POV switch, and there wasn't one.

Some criticisms aren't worth the paper they're printed on (or the computer memory they take up.)

Bernita said...

December, thank you!
Professional opinions in the genre are most appreciated.

December Quinn said...

No problem, sweets. Thanks for your lovely comments on the COM and elsewhere.

Us Micahels/Peters fans have to stick together.

If you ever want any critique or anything on your sex scenes-you mentioned you were just starting with the hot stuff, I believe-I'm happy to help. (Mine get great reviews, so it's one thing I'm pretty confident I do well. :-)) It's hard, when your goal is to write very sexy and arousing love scenes, to find people who understand and approve of that goal. I'm also a member of RWA's Erotic Romance chapter, Passionate Ink, for that same reason-not everyone is supportive, and not everyone understands the unique "criteria" of eroroms.

Anyway, my email is decemberquinn@gmail.com, if you want some critique or anything else.

Glad I found your blog!

Bernita said...

Heartfelt thanks, December!
And very generous.