The truth is, there is quite a bit about the craft of writing that I don’t know. I was not a creative writing major in college. While in college I filled blue book after blue book in English and French, analyzing politics and the literature of others. Point of View was a concept as foreign to me as the book Plunkett of Tammany Hall may be to you.
Before I go any further I would like to reference an excellent post here written by IU author Chris James. When I read it the first time, and the second and third time, I tried very hard to understand all of it. Unfortunately, the way that I learn is by doing. I need to practice something over and over again until I get it right. For example, my second book was an experiment in every sense of the word. First person POV seemed to fit the story line best and that is how I wrote it. I enjoyed the challenge of creating this way, but it was limiting to observe through the perspective of one character.
For my third book I decided to write in third person. Third person provides two choices, limited or omniscient. This is the difficult part for me. I want to be able to show what most of the characters in the book are thinking and feeling. I am like any other author and become very attached to my characters, even when they are naughty. While working on my manuscript the editor correctly made notations each time I changed POV, and when I saw the comments initially I wanted to hit myself over the head. Was I really that much of a mess? I read through the comments carefully, and before I changed anything I did some research. Significant research. The editorial comments would involve a major rewrite and I had to understand how to attack it.
The really important question is why does it matter if I change POV within a paragraph or a chapter? The best answer seems to be that the reader must not be confused as to who is thinking, feeling, et cetera. We want the reader to clearly understand what is happening, and if we go inside a character’s head we must make it clear to the reader whose POV we are describing. That is what we want to accomplish, and I took that as my starting point as I began to sift through the manuscript.
Below is an example of a paragraph before and after my rewrites.
Bianca, Katherine, and Marysol stood to clear the soup bowls. Patti Jill, determined to be helpful, popped out of her seat and grabbed Timothy Lester’s bowl, nearly upsetting his water glass. Adam ran his thumb across his lower lip as he watched her clumsiness from across the long table, his expression inscrutable. Eden didn’t move a muscle toward servitude. She always hired extra help to deal with the clean up, and if Bianca was cheap that wasn’t her problem. Maria, her housekeeper, did the bulk of Eden’s daily scouring and scrubbing, and was easy to convince to help with entertaining.
Bianca, Katherine, and Marysol stood to clear the soup bowls. Patti Jill, determined to be helpful, popped out of her seat and grabbed Timothy’s bowl, nearly upsetting his water glass. She looked across the table nervously. Adam watched her possessively, and knowingly ran his thumb across his lower lip. She knew he was watching her every move, especially when she talked to the other men. He raised his eyebrows, their private sign that she had made an error. At least she was trying to help! Eden didn’t move a muscle toward servitude. She always hired extra help to deal with the clean up, and she had told Patti Jill that Bianca was cheap. Bianca didn’t seem cheap, and Patti Jill suspected that Eden was jealous of her chef skills. The petty jealousies didn’t matter, really, because Eden rarely cooked. Maria, her housekeeper, did the bulk of Eden’s daily scouring and scrubbing, and was easy to convince to help with entertaining. Maria was the secret cook behind the fare Eden brought to these elegant parties.
While I was rewriting the manuscript it became apparent to me that what I seem to be evolving toward, and what seems most natural to me, is third person omniscient. It suits my purpose, but is not easy to do. The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway is one of the best examples of third person omniscient I have studied. I read it specifically for that purpose. When you read it you are seeing the scene and understanding the motivation and feelings of the character. You are immersed in it, following the action like a movie camera panning a scene, and you are not distracted or confused.
Of course, there are only a couple of characters in The Old Man and The Sea. An even more exciting example of third person omniscient mixed with a first person narrator is The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It is a brilliantly written book. The POV is clear in illuminating the feelings and motivations of the quirky characters. The author pops into the story here and there to add his humorous or bittersweet observations to Morgenstern’s story. Reading this book is worth your time, both for the story and for the unique style the author employs.
Did I change every POV pop my editor highlighted? No, I did not. There were a few times when I wanted the reader to feel the dramatic shift in POV, and a few times when I liked the omniscient narrator for a broad-brush effect. The point is, I thought about a specific aspect of writing that I had never worried about before. After weeks of working on the rewrites I feel confident that the reader will be carried away by the story, and not distracted by awkward POV. The project was a tremendous learning experience, and I thank my editor for pointing out the bumpy writing. The book is infinitely stronger, and I have moved forward in my development as a writer. And now back to the crazy vampires…