1. Thanshin

    Thanshin Active Member

    Jun 1, 2010
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    PoV travelling description (from a review comment)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Thanshin, Nov 3, 2011.

    In my review of "By the seat of my pants" I made the following comment: "moving description doesn't require describing exactly how the PoV character moves, the description implies it."

    I was asked to explain in more detail so here it is.

    Once you establish that the character is your PoV carrier, moving the PoV along the character's path implies he is moving also. Describing the character actually moving through the path is superfluous.

    If you were, for example, to describe a forest as seen by a character who's advancing through it. You might structure it as:

    [Brutally simplified.]
    • The character got to the forest.
    • He went inside and started walking over a thick mantle of fallen leaves.
    • He kept walking through the darkness deeper in the forest.
    • He passed over a small river that snaked between the trees.
    • He decided to stop in a clearing that opened before him.

    However, you could also describe it in the following way:

    • The character got to the forest.
    • Under the trees there was a thick mantle of fallen leaves.
    • Farther from its limits, the forest grew darker.
    • A small river snaked between the trees.
    • A clearing opened before the character and he decided to stop.

    It's the writing equivalent of moving back the camera to show the forest. However, in writing it has two additional advantages. On one hand, the reader bypasses the character for the brief moment of the description, feeling it much closer (this can be bad as I'll explain later). On the other, the description, which is naturally a slower section of the story, is significantly shortened by removing the constant references to how the PoV carrier moves through the environment.

    The problem is clear, though (and it applies to the movie equivalent too). You're losing two chances of indirect character description: the world through his eyes and how he deals with it. I don't think it's productive to fight these two lost chances (it is possible, though, by reflecting the world back to the character). I'd just suggest to simply decide whether either description is necessary or they can wait to the next chance, that might well be unavoidable.
  2. urban_rae

    urban_rae New Member

    May 20, 2011
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    Thank you for posting this more detailed explanation. I see what you mean now. The continued reference to the characters’ movements makes the reader experience the scene as an outside observer rather than through the character. It makes us envision the character in the scene rather than envision the scene through the character.

    The camera metaphor is helpful. Start out with a wide shot to get the overall view of the character and scenario. Then zoom in closer to explore specifically what the character is seeing and reacting to. The importance of this became so clear with your quote below:

    Indirect character description holds more power than I previously realized. You gain personal insight to their character by seeing what things they notice. It gives the reader a look into their state of mind and what they deem important, as well as setting a tone for the story. The character’s reaction creates an emotional response from the reader as they gain understanding of their personality, insight into the essence of a person that cannot be gained through mere description alone.

    I think this is an extremely important lesson for new creative writers like myself, struggling to put the reader in the moment to allow them to experience the story through the characters.
  3. L a u r a

    L a u r a New Member

    Nov 19, 2011
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    What a great post! Very interesting.

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