Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rewriting From a Different Point of View

An Essay on Craft
by Dave Swinford, an IWW Administrator

When writing from multiple points of view (POV), the writer must decide which POV works best for each scene. Once the first draft is complete and it's rewrite time, it may also be time to reevaluate each scene in terms of the point of view. Might the scene work better from a different character's POV? Might it create more tension to shift POV within a scene?

If the answer is, "yes," you then face the challenge of rewriting the scene from a different point of view. Will that require reworking the entire scene? Usually it's not necessary to do a full rewrite. The events, actions, descriptions and dialogue need not change; only the POV character's reactions to those events, actions and dialogue require rewriting.

In an earlier essay on shifting point of view within a scene, I presented an example of shifting POV. I'm going to rewrite that example to maintain a single point of view. Here's that example in which character A, Kelly, has been delivering a report to character B, Carson. The report has been routine until the last item, which presents an unexpected twist. All of this has been written through the POV of Kelly, who concludes her report with:

"What do you make of it, sir? I have to admit, I was totally gobsmacked." She leaned forward, not having to fake her interest. She truly wanted to know what the Super thought.

Carson reached and meticulously aligned the papers in the open folder. He knew he was stalling, but he hated having the unexpected lobbed at him, especially when it was followed by a request for his input. It wouldn't do for a superior to admit he had no ready response, so he would do as his own Super had so often done. He would toss the ball back into the junior's court.

"A good, succinct report, Kelly. However, before I offer input on the final item, I feel I need more information. You were on the scene. I was not. Other than being gobsmacked, what was your initial response?"

The eager anticipation in Kelly's eyes vanished like a light being switched off. Clearly, she was taking his response as a criticism or reprimand. Why did female officers have to be so bloody sensitive and take everything so bloody personal? If he were going to offer an intelligent reply, he really did need more information.

Now, here's a rewrite of this example maintaining Kelly's POV:

"What do you make of it, sir? I have to admit, I was totally gobsmacked." She leaned forward, not having to fake her interest. She truly wanted to know what the Super thought.

The Super reached and meticulously aligned the papers in the open folder. She recognized the gesture. A delaying tactic to allow time to consider his reply. She could wait. She had become very good at waiting.

Finally, he raised his gaze from the papers and said, "A good, succinct report, Kelly. However, before I offer input on the final item, I feel I need more information. You were on the scene. I was not. Other than being gobsmacked, what was your initial response?"

Her anticipation congealed into a cold lum that lodged in the pit of her stomach. Good report ... except, of course, not enough details. Bloody hell. What did it take to please this man?

In the new version, Carson's aligning of the papers is observed and filtered through Kelly's consciousness. Note that an additional bit of logical action has been added. She is waiting for Carson to look up prior to speaking. From her POV, this action was needed, while from Carson's POV, it was not.

Also note that Kelly's reaction to Carson's reply is a feeling rather than an observation. She cannot observe her own eyes and how they changed. She can only observe and react to what she is feeling. Maintaining a consistent POV requires the author to limit information to only things the POV character knows or can observe.

You now have two versions of this scene, and you, the writer, can decide which works best for your story. Rewriting also provides an opportunity to further develop your character, polish the scene, and practice the craft techniques of establishing and maintaining point of view.

In fact, one may wish to select a scene and rewrite it from a different point of view simply as an exercise in establishing, maintaining and shifting POV. It's excellent practice, and as with all craft techniques, the more one practices, the easier the techniques become.

No comments:

The Craft of Writing in the Blogosphere

Loading...

News from the World of Writing

Loading...