1. marcusl
    Offline

    marcusl Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    0

    What counts as POV shifts?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marcusl, Jan 6, 2011.

    I've been reading The Writer's Digest Writing Clinic: Expert Help for Improving Your Work, by Kelly Nickell. The book contains the following paragraph.

    * * *

    "And you will let me borrow them, won't you mother?" Gail offered Nora her most winning smile.

    * * *

    The book claims the above takes place in Gail's POV. I don't really understand why that is. Is it because Gail "offered" Nora so and so? Does the act of offering mean the story is happening from Gail's perspective?

    Similarly:

    * * *

    Nora laughed at Gail's childlike play.

    * * *

    The book says the above sentence is in Nora's POV. Again, I'm not really understanding the reason for that. Why is it in Nora's POV just because she laughed? Is it because the sentence states what she's laughing at?

    Thanks people. :cool:
     
  2. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,998
    Likes Received:
    5,506
    The first one could be a little ambiguous. If it had been:

    "And you will let me borrow them, won't you mother?" Gail offered Nora a winning smile.

    I might say that it was from Nora's point of view, because Nora, not Gail, can see Gail's smile.

    But the original phrasing suggests that Gail has a sort of repertoire of smiles, and that she's producing the one that she knows is most effective. So it works for me as being from Gail's point of view.

    The second, yep, seems to me to be from Nora's point of view, because she's the one observing Gail's actions.

    ChickenFreak
     
  3. HeinleinFan
    Offline

    HeinleinFan Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2007
    Messages:
    483
    Likes Received:
    33
    Essentially, the one who is making judgements or who is interpreting events is the POV.

    In this case, "offers" isn't as much of a POV indicator as the fact that Gail thinks her smile is her "most winning," although yes, "offers" does tell the reader about the motivation behind that particular action.

    "She smiled," is neutral. "She offered him something" assigns a motivation to the action, and is therefore most likely her POV.

    Motivations are at the core of POV. If you're just describing movement -- he smiled, she laughed, he walked across the room, she picked up the vase from the table -- then you're being neutral. If you assign a value or a motivation to something -- she smiled welcomingly at him, she laughed politely, he rushed for the door, she grabbed the vase -- then someone is judging the events. Often, it's the character doing said event. Sometimes it's an observer, which can be interesting because you can create unreliable narrators that way, just by having them misinterpret events. Sometimes the author's voice is the one interpreting events.

    In the examples you mention, there is a clear person who is interpreting the events for the reader. Which is nice, really, since most writing books don't contain useful examples like that.

    If it makes you feel better, POV, like everything else to do with writing, gets easier the more you work with it. If you're having a hard time with it now, keep working at it and you'll improve. (And eventually you'll get to the point where you're catching minute POV shifts in published works, which is neat. Of course, at that point you'll also be annoying your writer friends by catching POV errors in their manuscripts which they can't see. Such is life.)
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. Edward G
    Offline

    Edward G Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 31, 2010
    Messages:
    248
    Likes Received:
    7
    Location:
    New Orleans area
    In both of those sentences the POV is that of the narrator, and there's not enough information provided to know whether it's first or third person. The book may have had more context than you're sharing with us here, but just going on what you presented, the POV is that of the narrator.
     
  5. marcusl
    Offline

    marcusl Member

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2009
    Messages:
    98
    Likes Received:
    0
    Thanks for the replies everyone.

    Here's what HeinleinFan mentioned:

    I wasn't aware that even sentences like "she grabbed the vase" imply someone is judging the events. In that case, it feels like there's a very small number of actions that can count as being neutral.

    And then this quote:

    That's what I was thinking. The thing is, let's say in the Gail and Nora examples, how do we know it's not Nora judging that Gail is "offering her a most winning smile"? In that case, it would be in Nora's POV.

    I've always known about POV, but I never knew it was so strict?
     
  6. Nilfiry
    Offline

    Nilfiry Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2008
    Messages:
    670
    Likes Received:
    81
    Location:
    Eternal Stream
    I consider describing someone's thoughts to be a POV shift, though, it is not usually easy to tell with just one sentence. Actions are usually neutral, even with modifiers.

    However, in both examples, the POV is a bit ambiguous.

    Gail offered Nora her most winning smile.


    In this case, Gail intentionally shows a smile that she thinks would win someone's favor. You can interpret this as Gail's POV because only she would know for sure the kind of smile she is offering. "Most winning smile" can describe Gail's thought on her own smile as the one smiling.

    Alternatively, there is always the possibility that the POV belongs to Nora. If Nora knew Gail well, for example, then Nora would perhaps be able to tell that Gail is offering her most winning smile. "Most winning smile" can also be what Nora thinks of Gail's smile as the one seeing the smile.

    Nora laughed at Gail's childlike play.

    The same case applies here. "Childlike" describes what Nora thinks of Gail's play, so you can say it is Nora's POV. On the other hand, "childlike" can also be what Gail thinks of her own play, so it would be from Gail's POV.
     
  7. HeinleinFan
    Offline

    HeinleinFan Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2007
    Messages:
    483
    Likes Received:
    33
    @marcusl: It's true, most of the time when actions are described, the writer is interpreting the action for the reader. They may not be aware that's what they're doing, but if you're "grabbing" something then you're taking it quickly, with the implication that the emotion behind the action is higher.

    If I take the change from the cashier, that's pretty neutral. If I grab the change from him, I'm being rude or I'm angry or I'm in a hurry to leave. You see the difference.

    This is why there is no such thing as "No POV" stories. There are omnicient POV stories, where the author is the one doing all the interpreting of events, but it's really hard to write a story where every action is written neutrally.

    This is an example of such a scene, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, as an example of what not to do when writing.

    As you can probably tell, while the authors have pretty much succeeded at describing the scene neutrally, this sort of thing isn't useful or much fun for the reader. As a reader, I want the author to emphasize the important things in the scene; the people having sex are presumably more plot relevant than the desk in the corner, and should get more description. I want to know more about the characters' motivations, their emotions, their appearance. All of that means that their actions are being interpreted, and the result will be a character-centered interpretation (1st or 3rd POV) or the author's own POV (omnicient POV).

    Also, the instant some actions are emphasized over others, somebody is making a judgement or interpretation. If there are numerous people fighting in a room, and suddenly the story "zooms in" on one particular woman with a thonged warhammer on her wrist and determination in her eye, it's because she's important. Maybe she's about to smash the POV character in the face. Maybe she's the one driving the plot, and the author wants to show how awesome her fighting skills are. But the very act of focusing on that one person instead of on the whole roomful of people is the author making a judgement call.

    This is also why storytelling is distinctly different from making lists, or writing obituaries, or writing on twitter. The skills are different. Part of the art of storytelling is knowing when you can and should focus in on some smaller detail in order to move the story along, and when you should twist around some neutral action to show how a character is reacting to it.

    Also, re: point of view being strict
    Yes, point of view can sound complicated. But like anything else, you get better with practice, and (fortunately) a lot of this POV stuff gets absorbed through reading. After you've read enough, you get a pretty good feel for how the scene should be described in order to fit your chosen POV. (And you get better at writing multiple POV books, where several characters, each with their own biases, do the interpreting for the reader.)
     

Share This Page