Flex your point-of-view muscles

I understand that this is a modest offering of help to new writers, that they have a bazillion workshops and primers and mentors from which to choose. I’ve been there, done this–this awful, frustrating, want to poke your eyes out thing called “telling.” And it’s not unrelated to the ever-mysterious to new writers nemesis–point of view foibles. In fact, they are first cousins.

Writers, I’m offering this up because of something a few editors wrote yesterday on twitter. Paraphrasing, “I most often reject a book for a telling voice.” And if you’re new, you’re scratching your head at that one. You’ll probably have to be dragged behind the editor’s horse, through dust and mud and scritchy leaves, to really get what you’re doing wrong. Why you aren’t grabbing an acquisitions editor or an agent by the heart.

So try this to get a jumpstart. Get up from your chair, and walk down the hall. Grab yourself a soda, cup of coffee, or piece of chocolate. Think whatever you normally would think… or think about this excersize. (Yes, I know you won’t actually do this). So I’ll tell you what just happened when I did it.

She got up, her back a little achy from yesterday’s dance class. Was she overdoing it? Mary had already left for lunch. Then it hit her–Moose hasn’t called yet; he should be in Philly by now. That old anxiety rose up–would he be okay? Did he make that call? It almost felt like their whole marriage depended upon it. After grabbing a coke, she went back to work. But the anxiety remained.

Okay, so not great stuff, not meant to be. But THIS is what I’ve been reading a lot of lately, and it’s all sorts of screwed up. Because when you are in your heroine’s point of view, you do NOT think like this:

She rose from her black chair, her jeans making a rasping noise as she did. The office had recently been painted yellow, and it went nicely with the pale oak. Her lush hair fell around her shoulders and swung from side to side as she walked down the office corridor. When she saw Mary’s chair empty, the side of her mouth curled up in a half smile. She might have already left. Her gait was a little off from dance class yesterday, and she limped a little into the kitchen. She opened the door handle of the refrigertor, which was a gleaming white, and her hand reached for a soda. The mailroom is right off the entrance to the office suite, and it has all of the office machines, as well as the refrigerator. She came back to my office, her wonderful hair still carressing the swell of her ample breasts.

 Stupid example, but I hope you can see that one is internal, although it’s not told in the first person. The second is external, and is. not. the. way. we. think. about. ourselves. or. the. world. You are the center of the universe, and that center is internal–your mind, your conscious thoughts, your feelings, your reactions. Your protagonist is also human (usually), and he or she is the center of their own universe. It doesn’t matter that you are telling their story. You must go inside of them.

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3 thoughts on “Flex your point-of-view muscles

  1. anny cook says:

    All right! I think I FINALLY get it! This is the first time I’ve really understood the whole telling/POV thingy. THANK YOU!!! Gonna print this out and post it on my bulletin board.

  2. Ciar Cullen says:

    Not you, Anny!!! I love your writing. And I can’t believe you think you have any bad habits! Although I’m not going to confess to mine!

  3. Thanks for sharing!!!

    Julie

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