Sunday, July 31, 2011

At Intersections with Point of View

By Lisa Lopez Snyder

I’d like to revisit Alex’s June 26 post about point of view (POV), which I read with great interest because I, too, have been questioning POV with the two protagonists in my novel. (Background note: At the beginning of the novel, neither person knows the other, and each character is from a completely different socioeconomic background. Yet, in each chapter, they are physically situated in close approximation, and individually they struggle with identity issues and a haunted past. It’s not until later in the novel when their paths cross, that their friendship leads to powerful and dangerous complications. At least, I hope it comes across that way!)

The story is told with alternating POV chapters—the male, then the female character. When I began the chapters, I used third person close narrative for both characters, which felt rather natural for the male character, but awkward for the female. I had been struggling for months with her voice. I know what she thinks, believes and how she acts, but why wasn’t it coming across on the page?

I thought I knew her. I drew up what I felt was a fairly good character description as background to help get me inside her head. But on the page, her voice, her actions―her very being―seemed measured and pedantic. Then I experimented: I put her in first person, and suddenly, everything about her and around her seemed to come alive. I could see her struggles, her doubts, and her flaws so much more clearly. There was an immediacy and an urgency about her. I found her voice!

Does it matter whether I have alternating chapters with alternating POV? I think not, at least not right now. I’m also not concerned with transitions between the chapters, since the locations are common reference points for the characters. The other connective thread is that each chapter begins with a very short backstory, thus creating a type of second story that unveils the characters’ troubled past. Basically, I’m going with my gut instinct on what feels right for the character and then worry about how it reads once I revise and then workshop.

That said, I’m constantly trying to keep in mind Alex’s superb take away from Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter―to “make each chapter do its part to tell the story and make each chapter interesting by itself.” Well said!


Michelle said...

While a lot has been said about what POV an agent/publisher wants to see from a first time novelist I think that what is most important is to write in a POV that makes sense to you and your character. If done right no one will object. I am writing a story that has to do with two MCs and switchs POVs between them at the beginning of each chapter, switching during the chapter got confusing to me and therefore would have to be to the reader.

write&run said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Michelle!

Nancy B. also suggested that I look to the prize winning YOU BELIEVERS by Jane Bradley and THE COFFINS OF LITTLE HOPE by Tim Schaffert for some well-written POV variation. I'm needing a little inspiration on this journey, so I'll check 'em out. Thanks, Nancy!