Sunday, September 13, 2015

Musings and Mutterings: thoughts on POV... again...

Writing has come slow for me lately.  Painfully slow.  Like dragging-my-legs-through-a-thigh-deep-tar-pit, slow.  Don't ask me why... it just happens to me every once in a while, and I guess this is one of those times.

In an effort to speed things up a bit, I recently reached out to some dear friends of mine for critique.  I received some feedback, all varied and different; no one person's feedback was the same.  I have learned to take all feedback gratefully but with a grain of salt, and usually I spend some time mauling over the advice in my head and carefully considering it from all angles before using it or discarding it in turn.  For some reason this seems to help get the creative juices flowing... again, I have no idea why.

In some recent feedback I received, my reviewer mentioned something that caught my interest, though not, I might mention, for the reasons this reviewer might have hoped.  Now, I want to make it clear here and now that this post in not meant to point fingers by any means.  In fact, this reviewer's view on writing is one I've seen and read of quite often in the past, but for some reason it struck me odd this last time.  I have no idea why.  And honestly, while I feel that this is something I should maybe talk about, I can only hope I address it properly.

You see, dear readers, I tend to write in a third person, past tense limited POV.  This means that, for the most part, I stick to following one character at a time while I write.  I don't "jump heads" as is common with the Omniscient POV, and I don't write as if I am the person in the story as I would if I were writing in first person POV.  

To be quite clear, Third Person POV is written where all characters are referred to by pronouns such as "he", "she", "him", "her", "they", "them", "it", and so forth.  Limited Third Person follows only one person at a time and sticks with that person's character without jumping back and forth into other characters' heads.  A lot of people think (as my reviewer did) that this means we can ONLY see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and feel what the MC can... which, for the most part, is true.  A lot of people also take this to mean that we can only let the reader notice what the MC notices... again, to a degree, true.

But here's the thing.  I write in THIRD person POV... which means I am NOT writing as the MC himself.  Instead, I am writing as someone who witnessed the events.  The biggest and perhaps the most important difference between Third Person and First Person POV is that I am not playing the actual character.  Instead, I'm the "fly on the wall".  I am the witness; I'm not actually part of the story but I am the one watching it and taking note.  SOOO... While writing in Third Person limited I should only follow one character at a time and avoid head jumping, I can also add in details that perhaps my character might have only taken slight notice of, or might have seen in a quick glance, or might have paid very little attention to at the time.

For instance, this sentence here from my current WIP:  Morven raced through the palace's corridors, bare feet slapping the marble floor as his night robes fluttered wild behind him.

My reviewer, with all the best intentions, mentioned that Morven couldn't see his robe fluttering out behind him... therefore it should be left out of the scene.

My view is that technically speaking, my character could still feel (and probably hear) the robe fluttering out behind him, because usually a person could feel what their clothes are doing when said person is wearing them... but besides that, it doesn't necessarily matter whether or not Morven could or couldn't feel or see the fluttering robes, because I am the one who is actually telling the story, NOT Morven... and as I am just a watcher and not the character himself, I can still see the fluttering robes whether he can or not... and as the robes are on Morven and thus the story is following his character and not head-jumping to other characters, the fluttering robes are a detail that do not need to be edited out. 

Another example perhaps?  How about this one:  Which should you use? "He paled" or "His cheeks went cold"?

Well... no, an MC can't see his cheeks go pale while he might be able to feel them go cold, its true.  So which one of these examples is right to use?

Personally, I say that either of them is right.  If you, as the writer, put in that the MC feels his cheeks go cold and the rhythm and flow of the words work with your story, then go for it!

But perhaps you prefer how it sounds to say "His cheeks drained of all color" or even the simpler "He paled"... In my oppinion there is nothing wrong with using this wording for the simple fact that, while your character may not be able to see himself go pale, YOU can.  And YOU are the one "telling" the story, not your character... even though he is the one you are telling the story about. This kind of power should not be taken lightly though and should be used with care.  But it CAN be used well.  In fact, if you are an avid reader, you've seen it used many many times and probably hardly even noticed it.  A good writer knows how to use it to add to the story and not to distract from it.  

Do you get it?  I hope that I've done the idea justice.  I admit that sometimes my ideas are better expressed through face to face conversations than through blog posts.  But I look at it this way: often times in writing, the line between "good" writing and "better" writing is blurred beyond distinction.  At those times, the ultimate decision is up to the writer and what he or she feels fits their story best.  Yes, of course there are rules to follow, but rules were meant to be broken after all... And many times how the rule is used depends entirely on the writer's personal understanding of the rule.  My hope is that my understanding of this particular rule can help others who are struggling with it in their own story.  The realization sure helped me loosen up when it came to moving forward in my own WIP. :)