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Monday, May 02, 2005

The Limitations of Point of View

I talked yesterday about character point of view (POV) and how the reader can't know anything that your POV character doesn't see, hear, sense, etc. There are limitations to POV purism, but it's something I think we, as writers have to live with whether we like it or not.

One of the hits I took in a review on Ravyn's Flight was that the bad guy was a "feral rogue." This is a criticism that really bugged me because there was absolutely nothing I could do to show this villain in any other light because of POV and its limitations.

I have four POV characters in this book--Ravyn, Damon, Stacey and Alex. This villain killed all of Ravyn's teammates, then all of Damon's teammates. Trust me when I tell you that neither Ravyn nor Damon is looking for the murderer's good side. In their POV, this character is a "feral rogue," and that's all the reader gets to see as well.

The same thing happens when Stacey and Alex finally arrive on Jarved Nine as part of the rescue team. When they find the bodies of 25 people--they're thinking evil. They're not thinking, well, surely he can't be all bad--maybe this killer saves injured animals. This isn't in character at all. Who in their right mind would be looking for a mass murderer's good side? They wouldn't be, not when it's their friends that are killed, not when they're looking for two missing people and fearing they might be dead as well. It's out of character to have any of these four people thinking anything nice about the killer.

The only way I could have gotten around this was to do scenes in the bad guy's POV. Since he obviously has reasons for what he's done, he wouldn't see himself as a "feral rogue." However, I made the decision early in the book that I wasn't going to write any scenes from the villain's perspective. I thought it kept the tension and suspense higher not to know who--or what--was doing the killing. Going into his head would have sacrificed some of this.

The limitations of staying true to Point of View gave me a different issue in The Power of Two. They had to do with Cai's appearance. In Cai's mind, she's plain, homely (and yes she uses that word.) Her perspective is skewed by all the ridicule she took growing up. Cai is very smart and was placed in classes with high school kids when she was 7 years old. Her intelligence wrecked the grade curve for these older kids and they didn't like it. They couldn't make fun of her brain, so they struck where she was vulnerable--her appearance. I didn't touch on even a fraction of the emotional pain inflicted on Cai as a small child by these older students, but it was a lot. Considering all she went through, it's a miracle she was able to trust Jake.

That leads to my other limitation--Jake's POV. Jake, that sweetie, thinks Cai is gorgeous. He looks at her and sees this exotic beauty. So when I'm in his head, the reader is getting how awed he is by her looks, how turned on he is by her. This has had people thinking Cai really is this stunning, but simply doesn't realize it. That's not quite true. Cai is prettier than she believes, but she's not as beautiful as Jake thinks she is. I'm only in two heads in this story--Jake and Cai's--it was damn difficult to show the truth about Cai's appearance, although I did try.

In Chapter 6, during a conversation between Jake and his chief warrant officer, Gnat, I try to get this across. Jake is jealous, seething about "all" his men hitting on Cai. After Jake makes this comment, I have this paragraph: Gnat appeared amused, but said soberly enough, "They're not all hitting on her."

When Jake argues with him, Gnat points out that it's only two of the men--and that he doesn't think one of the two has any interest in Cai, he's just competing with the other team Romeo.

Do I think this went far enough to demonstrate the truth? No, it really didn't, but there was no way to stay faithful to Jake and Cai and show any other view than what the two of them perceived as truth. Cai really does believe she's homely, but gradually decides maybe she's not that bad. She never sees herself as beautiful, not even at the end of the book, but she does realize that those older kids had messed up her self-image and that Jake likes her looks.

Then I have Jake who, every time he gazes at Cai, sees the most gorgeous woman he's ever laid eyes on. And to him, she is that beautiful. He doesn't change his mind about this at any point in the story.

So if Point of View can be this limiting, why not just do a little jumping into omniscient POV or some secondary character's POV for one or two sentences?

Because it's cheating. :-) At least in my mind it is. And it sacrifices deep point of view. I don't believe omniscient POV is ever appropriate in genre fiction--again just my opinion, others may feel differently--and jumping into a character's head when I'll never go into their POV again doesn't seem fair either. Plus, it can be jarring unless it's handled well.

I believe that I'm good at seguing between characters because I used to do it when I first started writing and I had comments about how seamlessly I handled the switch, but I still don't do it. I decide who my POV characters are going to be and then I stick to them. Mostly it's just the hero and heroine. In books like Ravyn's Flight and Temple of Dreams, where there's a secondary romance, I use the other couple's point of view as well. In the romantic suspense proposal I have sitting on the back burner, I include the villain's POV as well as my h/h. But I don't use the bartender at the posh party, I don't use the couple at the next table at the bar, and I don't use the all-seeing, all-knowing omniscient POV either.

So as a writer, if I know I'm going to face limitations, I need to find a way to get the information across while staying true to point of view and my characters' thoughts. It's not easy, and sometimes I've found no way to do it, but that doesn't mean I'm going to take the easy way out. I've accepted that I'll have to take the comments like "feral rogue" as part of the cost of staying in point of view. There's a price, a trade off, to any choice made in writing. The key is deciding what's important to you as the author.

Just my opinion.

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