Friday, November 30, 2007

An Enchanting Take on POV

Maven Jacqueline Barbour

I apologize for being a little late this morning. I normally write my posts a few days ahead of time, but my latest WIP has been chirping like crazy in my head, and I'm afraid I got so wrapped up in it, this post slipped my mind.

Lacey's post yesterday about Hugh Laurie and how he communicates the character of House on screen even though you never get inside his thoughts was a great setup for this topic, because I want to talk about a movie I saw last week. Specifically, the new Disney film, Enchanted.

First, I have to give this film a little plug (which it may not need, as it's apparently doing well at the box office). I loved this movie. It was sweet without being saccarine, pokes a little fun at the whole Disney milieu without becoming mean, and is very, very romantic. Before all the men who read us Mavens run away tearing out their hair, let me add that my husband, who is usually quite curmudgeonly when it comes to "chick flicks," also loved this movie. My kids all loved it, too, although my youngest (five years old) wrote in his school journal that he liked it even though "there was kissing."

So what, you may be wondering, does a movie have to do with point of view? Aren't movies more "third person omniscient" than "third person limited?" I suppose in some global sense, that's true. Since you're never really able to get inside a character's head and find out what he or she is thinking, and since when the characters are interacting, you're privy to both their facial expressions and gestures and all the other techniques actors use to communicate emotion and state of mind, movies are closer to third person omniscient in POV.

And yet, in Enchanted, I nearly always felt as I was watching that I was in one character's POV more than the other and, more, that the filmmakers had done that deliberately. Obviously, when only the hero or the heroine is in a scene, it's easier as a viewer to decide whose point of view to "identify" with in that scene. But when the hero and heroine are interacting with each other, how do you choose?

In the case of Enchanted, I found myself instinctively identifying the POV as belonging to whichever character was being more strongly affected by what was going on in the scene. I always found myself sharing the point of view of the character for whom whatever was happening would seem most inexplicable or emotionally wrenching.

So, what does all of that say to point of view in writing? After all, we can put the reader directly into the characters' thoughts and feelings and make it absolutely clear who the reader should sympathize with, so how can this observation about a movie help?

Well, here's what it did for me. It drove home to me again the importance of writing each scene from the perspective of the character for whom what's happening is most pivotal, meaningful, or life-changing. That's easier said than done, of course, because most scenes (especially between the hero and heroine in a romance) have an effect on everyone involved in them.

Of course, if you're writing in first person (and not doing shared first person like Audrey Niffenegger in The Time Traveler's Wife or third person/first person mix like Diana Gabaldon and Elizabeth Peters), this isn't an issue. You've only got one point of view to deal with. But even then, you have to choose which parts of a story are relevant and meaningful to that point of view character and only tell those.

YOUR TURN: What are some tricks you use for deciding which character's POV to use in a scene? If you write first person exclusively, do you find that freeing or limiting in terms of showing the "whole" story? And have you seen any good movies lately?


Bill Clark said...

the importance of writing each scene from the perspective of the character for whom what's happening is most pivotal, meaningful, or life-changing

This whole week's posts on POV have been extremely instructive to me, an utter ignoramus who heretofore really never gave the whole matter much thought. I mean, it's either first or third or omni, end of story, right?

Wrong! You guys are light years ahead of most English teachers on this one, and have come up with some amazing insights on the matter, like the one the movie brought home to you.

Sounds like a great flick! Maybe if Erica isn't doing anything this weekend, I'll ask her if she'd like to go see it with me. I'll even spring for the pizza afterwards! :-)

Tessa Dare said...

I swear to God, I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie in the theater. I think it's been an entire year. This one sounds great, though!

As for POV, I guess I don't have a real "rule" for it - one or the other usually just feels right. I've heard it said - as you point out - it should be the character with the greatest stakes. But I guess, on a practical level, it also comes down to, which character's thoughts and emotions can I not convey through dialog, physical cues, etc.

Jennifer Linforth said...

If you could see my face right now you'd see the ripple in my brow.

I never really thought about how I chose which POV to use in a scene. I do know that I am more comfortable writing love scenes from the hero's POV.

I am always amazed at how flipping a POV in a scene can dramatically change it. I am working on cutting back some scenes in my forthcoming book and adjusting the POV is helping a great deal. But a writer has to be careful to keep what we wanted to say in the original scene intact. It is enough to make me reach for my one year old's bottle, snap off the nipple and toss it on the merlot...

I also love flipping POV when I have writer's block. Sometimes taking the same scene and writing it in the POV of the heroine or a secondary character can really unlock story ideas.

I hate trying to unlock POV. There. I said it. ;)


B.E. Sanderson said...

I never really thought about which POV to use until this last book. It's third limited with multiple POVs. I started out using the MC, but there's too much going on, and she wouldn't be aware of most of it. For each scene, I used the POV of the person who would be in the center of the action for that scene. And in the case where there are more than one character crucial to the scene, I used the character whose POV would have the most impact on the reader.

I agree with Bill. You gals are doing an awesome job talking about POV. Very insightful and thought-provoking. This helped a lot. Thanks.

B.E. Sanderson said...

PS. Sorry. I haven't seen any movies worth mentioning. (I haven't seen a movie in a theatre since Master & Commander, so you've probably already seen everything I watch.) Although... If you haven't seen Big Fish, I would recommend it. Just make sure you have tissues nearby. It always makes me cry.

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