Point of View

When I was in high school I was very active in drama. (I know … such a surprise right? LOL!) When I was on stage I got to become anyone. A fat Russian spy. A traveling dancer entertaining a MASH unit. A woman married to a murderer. I loved it!

Being an author is a lot like acting on stage. When I write a scene I crawl into the skin of that character. Burrow into their heads and think like them. And I really enjoy writing from the man’s point of view (POV). Many female authors I read are very good at creating flawed male characters who rise above their pain and backgrounds to save the world and fall in love.

And I started thinking about this. Why are women so good at this? I think it’s because we’ve spent so much of our lives studying the opposite sex. It starts at a young age with our dads. When I wanted something–to borrow the car or stay out past curfew–I knew when to ask my dad and when not to broach the subject. I also grew up with three brothers. There’s a lot you learn with three male siblings as they go about their days just doing guy things.

I realize not every writer grew up with their dad or male siblings. But it doesn’t matter your home life, every day we interact with others. From the playground to the classroom to the office, we connect with both sexes. And since most women are intuitive, we pick up on little nuances of behavior that most men don’t see or recognize. Writers simply learn how to extrapolate that information and turn it into a believable hero readers fall in love with.

Here are a few guidelines in writing a male POV:
Men aren’t complicated
– They don’t say one thing and mean another
– They don’t mask their thoughts
– They are what you see

Men are Visual
– They have better light detection and depth perception
– Conversations often stem from visual cues
– Sexual attraction starts with what he’s seeing

Men are Problem Solvers
– They are “doers” not “thinkers”
– They like being in charge (or think they are)
– They rarely admit being wrong (and it’s even more rare they apologize)
– They aren’t detail oriented. They prefer the big picture
– They rarely ask for opinions

Men are conservative in communication
– They speak around 7,000 words per day (Women are more around 20,000)
– Connect to the physical rather than the emotional
– Don’t use euphemisms
– They rarely listen without giving advice
– Don’t use adjectives
– Don’t enjoy small talk
– Rarely use agreeing noises (uh huh, oh yeah)

(Any major characteristics I missed?) So what about you? Do you think female writers create believable heroes who act like real men OR do they create men who act and talk the way a romance reader would want a man to act? What do you think? I’m always curious about stuff like that.

I didn’t know. How could I? I was just an innocent reader floating along on the river of the story the author chose to weave. I was happily ignorant.

But not now.

Now I’m a writer. I’m learning all those “don’ts” that come with writing a story. Don’t blather. Don’t name characters with no purpose. Don’t include scenes that don’t reveal new information to the reader. And … for goodness sake’s DON”T move from one character’s head to another. This is called “head hopping” and it’s not allowed.

Or is it?

This is a question authors ask themselves all the time. The fact is, readers don’t know this whole head hopping/point of view discussion exists. Really, they aren’t aware the hero can’t be thinking how beautiful the heroine is when the author is writing a scene from the heroine’s point of view. Authors know this. Editors know this. But the reader? Not so much.

Point of View (POV) purists will staunchly stand in front of the line drawn in the sand and say “No. No. No. One scene. One character’s head.” They believe there is no other way to write. Any other way is wrong. And with this comes the line break. If an author wants to offer the reader a view of another character’s thoughts within the same scene then they MUST have a blank line to alert the reader there’s been a change before continuing the scene.

And to this I say pffffft…

As a reader I find the blank line without a change in time or place really annoying. It interrupts the flow of my reading. I want it to just flow. Which means … I expect the author to seamlessly roll me from one character’s head to another. There are many techniques to do this which I’m not going to go into now, but I really admire an author who can do this without breaking the flow of the scene or pulling me from the story.

(Of course when I realize they did it, I stop and re-read to see how they managed it. 🙂 )

Some editors and/or publishers won’t let you get away with it. Why? I assume my readers are smart and can totally figure out who’s thinking what. I don’t think I need a big arrow pointing to the moment to say “Wait … pay attention … I don’t want to lose you here … Someone else is going to jump in here with internal dialogue.” Seriously. Cut me some slack.

I wish more publishers would allow their authors the creativity of changing POVs. And I’m not talking four times (because that totally drives me insane as well). But one seamless switch within the body of the scene without a line break just makes for good reading in my opinion.

I gladly welcome yours.

I had the privilege of teleconferencing with a group of writers with disabilities the other night. They have recently published their first book Behind Our Eyes available through Amazon. It’s an anthology of short stories, essays and poems, many of them based on their own experiences of living with disabilities. (Yep, that was indeed a shameless plug.)

It was a wonderful conversation and we spoke about several aspects of writing. But the one thing that we spent a lot of time on was point of view (POV). This sometimes can be a difficult concept to master as a writer.

POV is the person experiencing your scene. The one who holds the video camera showing the reader what is happening. The question arose as to how a blind character would “see” the world. The fact is… they probably wouldn’t.

This character wouldn’t be describing someone’s clothes or how the puffy clouds floated across the cerulean sky as they sat in the outdoor cafe. A blind character would hear and smell, perhaps touch and experience the world around them from those senses. A writer needs to be mindful of whose head they are in.

An engineer isn’t going to notice his girlfriend’s house is filled with various species of potted plants. However, he would notice that her computer is old and needs to be updated. But a landscaper would surely notice how she hadn’t taken care of her flowerbeds and that they’d gone to seed.

Another thing you can’t do is jump out of your POV person and tell the reader something another person is thinking. This is called head-hopping. How would your character know what someone else was thinking? They can however “see” that the person they’re talking to is pissed. How? Show your reader how the person is crossing their arms, or how their brow is furrowed. Your POV character can interpret body language. You do it all the time.

I like to think of writing as an actor would think of portraying a role. I crawl into the head of my character and experience and react to everything through their eyes.