Marcy and I have recently written posts about deep POV, internal dialogue, and dialogue (Marcy’s great series about dialogue continues next week), but now it’s time to take the pieces, put them together, and make your writing sing.
Using deep POV for internal dialogue is a valuable tool for writers, but in the various critiques we’ve given this is also one of the areas that POV violation happens most frequently. Here are the most common offenders.
Let’s try a small experiment. Think back to the first time you entered a friend’s apartment or home. I’m betting the first details you noted were the big picture things, maybe the color on the walls, the furniture, the painting above the sofa, or the floor-to-ceiling bookcase? What did your friend notice? Maybe she apologizes for the blotch of wall color on the ceiling where her roller slipped, or warns you that the bathroom door won’t completely shut. She notes the hole in the wall where she moved the curtain rods, the dust on the books maybe, or that she hasn’t vacuumed in more than a week. Familiarity lets us overlook details in setting others would focus on.
When writing in deep POV, keep in mind what your character would notice – and not notice. Do you make a mental note of the way the sofa matches the walls in your living room? Or would you zero in on the book upended on the floor because someone’s lost your place and it will take forever to find where you left off? There are things that your character will take for granted, not mention or notice, in any situation because it’s familiar to them.
If there are details that the reader needs to know about a setting that your POV character wouldn’t notice, have another character make a comment about it. “Did you paint again?” “No, but the sofa’s new.” Think about what your character would notice. Sometimes all that’s needed is a minor tweak.
Each character will bring their own prejudices, history, and preferences to the story that they may not be willing to admit to themselves and therefore not mention or notice for the reader. 3 men walk into a bar. One’s looking for his daughter, the other is looking to get drunk because he’s just signed divorce papers, and the third is looking to get laid. Their motivations for being in that setting will influence how they interpret and view what’s going on around them. One sees every man in the room as the villain who’s corrupted his baby. Another sees every woman there as a possible conquest and focuses on their ‘assets’. The third man doesn’t see any of the women there, the only face he can think about is the cheating wretch who ripped his heart to shreds.
Careful word choice will give readers insight into the character’s motivation without the character necessarily having to mention it. What words would the scoundrel looking to get laid use to describe the women he sees, the music? Let his word choice and the details he notices give the reader clues about his motivations for being there.
Your POV character knows why they’re seeking any particular goal. In the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, we know from what Jack says about himself, and what others say about him, that he’s a scallywag with no honor, but he never tells us why he’s chasing the Black Pearl or keeps a pistol with only one shot. Why would he mention it, he already knows! Gibbs tells Will a story about Jack that’s mostly true, answering one or two audience questions, but leaving us with another unanswered.
The best way to use backstory is in small snippets. Backstory should answer a question for the reader, but always leave them with a new one. Take the men in the example above. How would the man drowning his sorrow talk to himself? Would he dwell on his pain, remind himself why he’s trying to get drunk, describe the betrayal in detail? Would he reminisce about meeting the woman in question, sharing breakfast that morning. Not likely. Jim downed the third shot of whiskey, his throat and chest burning. Not enough. He still remembered her name — could still see them together in his bed. He slammed the shot glass on the bar and nodded to the bartender.
Attention To Detail
When you first met your spouse/significant other, what was it about them that first struck you? Was it because they had beautiful eyes, or beautiful blue eyes? We often remember small things, but in great detail. It’s the specific details that jog our memory or create what Malcolm Gladwell calls stickiness in his book The Tipping Point. We’re all attracted to different characteristics, use those details to tell the reader about your character.
Don’t have your character catalog every detail about a setting, event or another character. Rather, choose one or two details that are sticky. Choose details that are specific and memorable to that POV character.
Kait Nolan’s new ebook Red is a YA urban fantasy and has fantastic use of internal dialogue. Notice what Sawyer (male protag) first notices about Elodie (female protag). “She was crying. Not that she was being noisy about it. She wasn’t hysterical or red-faced or wailing. She was absolutely silent. I caught the faint glimmer of tears on her cheeks, saw her shoulders shudder with the effort to hold in her grief.” What does this observation tell us about Sawyer?
There’s a line from the first Pirates movie where they talk about the Pirate code “The code is more like guidelines than actual rules.” There are always exceptions to writing rules, but a couple of quick thoughts before I finish. If it’s part of your character’s personality to break one of these guidelines, then do it. If your character has OCD, then having them catalog their morning routine might be a characterization technique. If your character has just miscarried, perhaps they’re painfully aware of every pregnant woman they see. Just be sure you have a good reason to break the rule.
Do you agree with these ‘guidelines’ or have one of your own to add? Share it in the comments.