Point of View has always been important but seems to be a bit of a hot topic these days. It’s a powerful device and one of the first decisions a writer needs to make. Getting it right the first time saves a lot of time in re-writing.
John Gilstrap recently spoke at the meeting for my local writers’ group, Riverside Writers. John writes commercial thrillers and so it was with great interest that I listened to the tips he had for us. While this blog is mostly about mysteries, I found that what he had to say applies to most mysteries as well. He spent a lot of time on point of view. While thrillers are generally seen through the eyes of a number of characters, our mysteries are more likely not to be told that way. But the points he made had me stopping to re-think a few things.
- Point of View (“POV”). John doesn’t use 1st person for his stories. He prefers the multiple POV; however, his most important consideration is to make sure whoever is telling the story in a particular scene is the best POV. John also stressed the need to tell the story from whatever particular character is on stage’s point of view. By this, he meant that any description or use of words or anything the character does or says needs to be from that POV. For example, a young boy will notice or not notice different things from a woman’s perspective – or his mother’s perspective. So thinking through who tells that part of the story needs to include a consideration for what that character would see and notice. Think camera placement in a movie – what would that character see.
- Who are you writing for? This again goes back to POV. John mentioned that one of the most common problems he sees in manuscripts is that the writer is writing for him or herself. When that happens to him, he said he has to cut the paragraph or page. Everything needs to come from the character’s POV.
- All senses count. As I think we’ve all been told many times, we have to remember to use all five senses in our scenes and stories. Again, we are back to what the character would notice.
- Pacing and movement. Switching gears a bit, John he uses some of the same tools mystery writers use for pacing – short sentences for action and longer ones to slow or stop the action. He also said that each paragraph has to move the story along in some way – something that we know we need for a mystery as well. John referenced movies and the fact that the soundtrack, if done right, is the heartbeat of the movies. For writers, we don’t have that – only our words and tools to move the story at the pace we are trying for. But if we think about our story in that way, we can use our words, sentences and paragraphs as a kind of soundtrack with a certain pace.
- List of things to watch out for in your manuscript.
- Too much alliteration.
- Unintentional rhymes.
- Dialogue that doesn’t do anything like “Hi.” (Been guilty of this and had to go back and cut it even when I was doing something to show the era – I realized that I had some really dead lines and cut them).
Finally, John’s advice is to find out what you want to leave the reader with – what emotion. And to use hooks at the end of each chapter to keep the reader turning the pages. This last tip has me checking each chapter ending in my mystery and deciding whether it is strong enough or needs to be revised.
As is generally the case, I found a few things in John’s talk helpful. My current novel is in first person and that makes it clear on POV but I often try to remember things from Savannah, Georgia that I’ve seen when I’m working on description – and now, I have a reminder to remember that I need to then see them through my character’s eyes.
So what about you? Tips or thoughts on POV?