Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A matter of too many perspectives

There was a time when I thought that being a writer just meant having the ability to tell a good story, to capture the reader and draw them into world you created. In the past few months I have learned that it’s a hell of a lot more complicated than that, and that writing is a continuous quest to learn, improve and strive to master a skill set so vast I really should have started twenty years ago.

Since finally sitting down and writing fiction after a lifetime of talking about it, I have completed two novels and a novella. And this weekend I spent a goodly portion of my waking hours rewriting two of them. Why?  Because my quest to improve my writing lead me to the horrifying discovery I am a headhopper.

I had heard the term before, and I always thought it pertained to the tendency of some writers to have every thought and every detail revealed to any and all characters. Juan knew exactly what Jenna was thinking, and Jenna would describe in detail the flash of her eyes and the tendency of her hair to fall into her eyes, making Juan itch to smooth it back from her face. It turns out that the above is felony class headhopping, but there is a mindemeanor class as well, and I’m guilty of it.  POV, or points of view, can be singular for an entire novel, or change as the story unfolds, moving between characters. What POV should not do is bounce between characters like a ping pong ball, confusing the reader as to who is thinking what at any given moment.

I have learned that the POV should stay fixed throughout a scene, allowing the reader to settle into the perspective and connect to the character. When the POV changes, it should be at the very least announced by a new paragraph, not slid in so quietly that it takes the reader half a page to realize he’s become a she.

Having realized I was guilty of this faux pas, I then had to do more research to learn how to bring a well rounded description to the reader without changing the POV.  That took several hours of reading some of my favourite authors to find out exactly how they did it. I’ve now become far more aware of the point of view of the characters, something that has never impacted me before. I was always about the story, the characters and the world they existed in, not the mechanisms that made it seamless. I was started to discover that not every author writes from the same POV, and they all have their own ways of changing characters, some better than others.

I will never be a fan of the first person narrative, but now I understand why it appeals to writers. When one writes everything from the “I” POV, then its much easier to avoid headhopping. I’ll have the rewrites for both novels completed shortly, and then I am going back to the one currently under construction. I hope that by the time it’s done I’ll have heard back from the publishers on the submitted works, because I have no doubt that when the day comes I get an editor, I’m going to be learning a great deal more about my writing quirks, and spending many more hours learning to be a better writer. I'm looking forward to it.