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:~: Tuesday, March 28, 2006 :~:

POV, Character & Voice

I didn't really understand the expression 'deep POV' when I picked up Suzanne Brockmann's Into the Night. But I definitely recognized something special about her writing, and it was more than tight suspense, 3D characters and compelling conflict and plot. It was the way she used deep POV to take character definition one step further than any other author I'd read (or at least any other author I'd noticed utilizing the technique).

It took me a while to figure out what that something was. And I finally had the 'aha' moment during a dialogue class with best-selling author Catherine Ryan-Hyde who wrote Pay It Forward, among other mainstream fiction. In that workshop we spent weeks on ways to make characters come alive through dialogue. What a character says and how he/she says it can make the difference in distinguishing between someone from Kansas and New York, someone with a doctorate degree or without a grade school diploma, or even work to identify differences as subtle as those between a mother and a teacher.

And while learning how dialogue could make characters unique and distinguishable from each other, I also realized I could apply these techniques in a character's internal dialogue, which, when utilized in conjunction with deep POV, becomes narrative in that character's viewpoint.

Up until that point, I thought I was the narrator, that I should be using my voice for anything other than dialogue. (Of course at that point I didn't understand the intangible, elusive element of voice either.) I thought the character's dialogue was the vehicle I was supposed to use to set each apart from the other.

What I learned from Into the Night, and what I wanted to share in this post, was that I could make an even greater impact if I stayed "in character" for the entire scene (or time) I'm in that character's pov, instead of only when they spoke.

I'm not sure if I'm making myself clear, but what I'm talking about is different than an author's voice, or even a style of writing. It's about staying in that one character's mind, seeing the world, others and situations through the same filter that character sees life through while you're in their pov.

I've put together some examples. Hopefully they will show better than I can tell. While you can hear the author's voice in each excerpt, I also think you can hear the individual character's voice as well.

Anyway, let me know what you think...even if that's that I'm a nut case!!


From: Into the Night, Suzanne Brockmann

MULDOON (Hero/Navy SEAL): He had his weapon held at ready as he kept his woolen scarf wrapped securely around most of his lower face. It wasn't a good idea to go for a walk in a crowd of Taliban-supporting terrorists with a clean-shaven chin, but there weren't a whole lot of options here.

The good news was that the Frenchman couldn't have weighed more than 120 pounds. It would have been laughably easy to carry him if he weren't trying his best to get away. Something solid kept jamming painfully into Muldoon's back, just hard enough to keep him thoroughly pissed off. It seemed improbable that the terrorists had let this guy keep his camera, but he couldn't figure out what else it might be.

There was no time for Muldoon's knee to still hurt like hell, but it did. God, it felt like it was the size of a watermelon, like it was starting to swell. But that was absurd. A banged funny bone didn't swell. You hit it, you writhe in pain and you scream for two or three minutes, and life goes on. But try as he might, he couldn't seem to get past the writhing part.

JOAN (Heroine): Joan looked up and there indeed was Muldoon. Silhouetted by the sparkling backdrop of sunlight dancing on the ocean, this Muldoon couldn't have made a more dramatic appearance if he'd tried.

He was all broad shoulders and wide chest and long legs, packaged neatly into the same gleaming white uniform.

The choir of angels missed their cue as Muldoon came close enough for her to see his face. But, hot damn, a face like that demanded a full forte gloria in excelsis deo.

Yes, as fit the pattern, Lieutenant Junior grade--which made him sound as if he were a Daisy Scout compared to the non-junior lieutenants--Michael Muldoon was more picture-perfect handsome than both Jacquette and Paoletti combined. Of course, he was also about twenty years old.

If the trend continued, within the next three minutes she was going to be handed off to a ten-year-old ensign, and then to that toddler seaman recruit she'd seen scrubbing the floor when she'd first arrived on the naval base.


FROM: Hard News by Jeffrey Deaver

NESTOR (Unsure of character role): Once you took the element of fear out of it New York was the biggest playground in the world.

He felt the excitement the instant he stepped out of the Port Authority bus terminal. The feeling of electricity. And for a moment he thought: What was he doing in wasting his time in piss-ant Florida?

He smelled: fishy river, charcoal smoke from pretzel vendors, shit, exhaust. Then he got a whiff of some gross incense three black guys dressed up like Arabs were selling from a folding table. He'd never seen this before. He walked up to them. There were pictures of men from ancient times, it looked like, dressed the same. The twelve true tribes of Isreal. Only they were all black. Black rabbis...

What a crazy town this was!

Nestor walked along 42nd Street, stopped in a couple peep shows. He left and wandered some more, looking at the old movie theatres, the live play theatres, the angry drivers, the suicidal pedestrians. Horns blared like mad, as if everybody driving a car had a wife in labor in the backseat. Already the energy was exhausting him but he knew he'd be up to speed in a day or two.

RUNE (Heroine): Rune had spent a lot of time trying to decide if she was in love with this man. She thought she was in a way. But it wasn't like the old days--whatever they were--when you were either in love or you weren't. Love was a lot more complicated now. There were degrees, there were phases of love. It kicked in and out like a compressor in an air conditioner. She and Healy could talk easily. And laugh. She liked the way he looked like the man in the Marlboro ad. She liked the way his eyes were completely calm and deeper than any man's eyes she’d ever seen. But what she missed was that gut-twist, that weight-losing obsession with the object of your desire which was Rune's favorite kind of love even though it was totally rare.

Rune stood at the round porthole, looking out over the water, at the way the lights in Hobeken made lines in the waves like runway approach lights. With her eyes she traced them to the land and back again. She watched them for a few minutes, until they were shattered by a passing speedboat.


And here is something from my own ms: The Art of Danger (although even when this technique is utmost in my mind, I still have an extremely difficult time executing it.)

CARSON (hero): And he'd learned all this in just a few days of knowing her. But there were several things about her that kept him from taking that next step. He glanced around the studio. If she had been an accountant, or an architect, or a school bus driver, he'd already have pursued the dating question further, maybe even bugged her until she'd relented and said yes. Gauging the attraction between them might have already slept with her.

TRE (2nd character; 16yo): "I don't know." As soon as the words were out, Tre squeezed his eyes closed. He knew some stuff, but not everything. He didn't get his mom and all her moods. A lot of the time he couldn't tell if she was frustrated with her work or their dad or Tanner or him. And, shit, he had his own crappy life to worry about. "She complains. I can't do anything right. She's always tired." His coach had that impassive but attentive look--the one that said he was listening, but that didn't give away any sign of sympathy for Tre's problems. "Did you ask her why she was tired today?"

JACKSON (2nd villain): Jackson turned the key and rotated his palms over the leather steering wheel, forcing the blood from his fingers. He was stupid, but he wasn't that stupid. He saw where this was going, recognized the ultimate plan. The mob had him. If he didn't go through with this, they'd release the tapes of him fucking Neva. It would cost him not only his reputation and his job, but his career. If he did this, they had him for drug trafficking. Considering his standing in the District Attorney's office, they'd have the next DA in their pocket.

And he hadn't seen it coming.

No, he'd been too busy fucking the DA's wife, riding the wave of high profile cases, fanaticizing about the power and prestige he'd have as the new District Attorney of one of the richest communities in California in six short months when Lionel retired. Dreaming of a judgeship one day.


Blogger Paty Jager said...

I think deep POV is a more intense read. The reader is drawn into the book deeper (hence the word). I try to do this with all my characters, but I don't think I always pull it off. It's a lot easier when they are completely different in a contemporary than in like my paranormal where they are all Native Americans with similar backgrounds and living conditions. It makes it harder to show them differently other than in their beliefs or optimistic or pessimistic attitudes.

Thank you for a great glimpse at deep POV.

7:32 AM  
Blogger Joan Swan said...

I agree, Paty. I think it's very, very difficult...at least for me. I'm still working on it, and I have a feeling I might always be working on it. :-)

4:43 PM  

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