Monday, January 14, 2008

Point of View Issues

I've begun prepping a workshop for Forward Motion about the issues writers face with viewpoint characters: how to pick them and how to choose the point of view style that best suits the story. In February we'll be exploring possibilities with a variety of hands-on exercises.

Meanwhile, I've been reading on the topic to prime the pump. Two renowned how-to books are Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. I've also found a few articles on the internet. One of these is Time and First Person by Holly Lisle.

I read Holly's article for the first time last week and found it mildly interesting. She speaks in it of some of the issues she faced writing Talyn in first person. She talks about making a choice as to when in the future Talyn is telling her story from. When I first read this contemplation, I admit I didn't *get it*. I decided that Holly was over-thinking the problem but that obviously she'd done a fine job with her choices, because I loved the novel and the way she told it (alternative first person from Talyn and third person from Gair).

Today I edited the first scene of my 2006 nano novel, The Girl Who Cried Squid, which is the only novel I've written in first person. And today I *got* Holly's article.

Krin is telling her story in past tense, telling us what she did and thought and said on the day the story started. And all of a sudden--a couple of pages in--I noticed that she describes her village in present tense. I frowned. Point of view slippage? I'm usually pretty tight. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that in the *when* Krin was telling the story from, the village was just the same as it had been the night her adventures began. It hadn't changed significantly. So it's accurate for her to tell us where Bevedar IS, for example, not where it WAS.

Suddenly Holly's article made a great deal more sense! I hadn't made a conscious decision to blend tenses. In the heat of nano Day One I just wrote the thing how it came out. But now I see that Krin isn't telling us this story from a rocking chair in her old age. She's telling it to us from a point not far in the future from the end of the novel.

Once I had contemplated the description of her village, I decided to leave it in present tense and moved on to another paragraph. Lo and behold. That description was not an isolated issue! I went back to the very first paragraph which in unedited first draft read like this:
Mama and Papa were of two minds about the dance, which is why I went. Besides, everyone who mattered would be there and even though I can't dance worth a seashell, I couldn't very well skip it, could I?


Notice that everything is in past tense except I can't dance. Why? When she tells this story later on, she still can't. It's important to the story, and it doesn't change.

There were several other instances in the opening scene of about 1700 words where I *slipped* tense. I changed a couple of them, reworded some sentences so they blended better, and left a few standing. It's possible I may have to defend my choice to critters down the line--perhaps even to an agent or editor. But thanks to Holly's article and the fact that I'm writing up this workshop and thus analyzing pov issues, I understand now what my subconscious was doing in November 2006.

4 comments:

Margaret said...

Nice analysis, Val, and a good teaser for February :). Isn't it grand when our subconsciouses actually know what they're talking about?

Maripat said...

Sooo...you're telling a present tense story? I mean yes, some things have to be mentioned in past tense. Like Mom and Dad's thoughts on the dance...they happened in the past? Like say that morning...?

But you're telling a present tense story is what I'm seeing. Hugs, but if it works for you and the story, you'll do fine.

Holly said...

LOL! I understand your two reactions to the article so well. Most of my stories were written third-person past, and it was straight past---the story was told after everything was said and done.

Then came Talyn, an enormous primarily-first-person immediate-past-tense project that needed a different approach.

Prior to that, I wouldn't have found the article anything more than informative either. It was something I hadn't ever needed until I was telling a story where there were two different types of POV, where the story was told almost, but not quite, as it was happening (more "as it was survived"), and where I kept tripping over my own tense issues during the writing.

Glad I could help.

Maripat said...

Ah...nevermind. I figured out what you were saying. And actually that's why I've been dragging my heels on Mia. Writing third person is easier for me. First???

Good luck, Val.