Tuesday, July 29, 2014

POV: More than Pronouns

Dear Shana Mahaffey,

This is a much belated thank-you for your book Sounds Like Crazy, and what it taught me about point of view in fiction.

Early on, we learn about pronouns and what that means for point of view.  Later, if you're a writer, you debate the relative advantages/disadvantages of first person vs third person vs omniscent, etc.

Slightly more advanced presentations will focus on common mistakes, like violating point of view by describing something outside the narrator's awareness. (e.g. "She didn't notice the man with the knife creeping up behind her.")

But what I haven't heard many people talk about, and what I think your book so aptly demonstrates, is that point of view is also about agency.  That how you describe a scene can put the narrator in control of their body, or make them distant from their own actions.  Distance is generally a bad thing if you want your reader to be in your narrator's skin.

Except when the main character struggles with multiple personality disorder.  Holly often finds herself inside her own body, but unable to control it.  As I read the book, I noticed how differently Holly's actions are described when she's in control of her body vs. when her other personalities have taken over.

 To clarify the point, let's look at an obvious example of how to show someone else is in control:
She sashayed my body to the counter, retrieved the menu, and sauntered back.

A little further in the chapter, we see how this technique translates when control shifts mid-paragraph:
She ceded control [of my body].   A marker that something has changed.
My knees buckled.  Clearly shows she is not in control of this action.
I dove forward to catch my body just before it went down.  We know Holly is in control again because of the "I dove".   
When I felt the ground under my feet, I bolted through the kitchen toward the back exit.  More language to demonstrate that Holly is in control with "I felt" and "I dove"

And another example, just to drive the point home:
My hand reached for the plate.  The woman grabbed my wrist.
Note how both of these sentences show the narrator observing the actions of someone else, though in the first sentence it's her own body she's describing.

There are other times when you might want distance between the narrator and their actions, aside from Holly's unique situation.  Like when a character doesn't understand why they are doing something, but they are doing it anyway.  Or perhaps, if you're doing supernatural fiction, an otherworldly force has taken hold of the narrator.

Thanks for the lessons, hoping to see another book from you. :)