Wednesday, November 28, 2007

POV for Hump Day

Maven Darcy BurkePOV can be a tough thing to master (as is finding a relevant title for this post, apparently). I write in third person, mostly from the h/h POV. That said, I have a nasty habit of slipping into omniscient or near-omniscient from time to time (a friend who read my Golden Heart entry called me "Jane Austen-esque," which I took as a grand compliment!). I'm still working on that aspect.

Today I'd rather muse about male vs. female. Specifically, how one sex interprets thoughts/actions from the POV of the opposite sex. I wrote a scene in my hero's POV recently and got a Maven crit that has me thinking. How accurate is too accurate? My heroine kissed the hero (in the first scene) and displayed a shocking lack of inexperience (this is set in 1816 England). The hero is now at a social event in her presence and is thinking back on that event. He thinks to himself that she "kissed like a whore." I originally wrote it as courtesan, but realized the hero would have no experience with a courtesan. However, he does have experience with whores since his mistress of late is none other than the local madam. To him, the heroine kissing like a whore is not a negative. Au contraire, it's hawt. Men like that, right? Right? The Maven crit pointed out that most women would read this as a negative. She's probably right, but it still doesn't change that for a guy, it's a true and wholly unnegative (is that a word?) thought.

I'm still mulling how to tweak this because I think it's a valid crit, but I'm torn because it's exactly how my hero would think of the kiss. However, we can't get into the business of explaining our POV character's every little thought. We have to find the place that is true to the character without turning off or confusing the reader. I'm still searching for it.

Your turn: How do you walk the line between what your POV character says and does vs. how it's perceived/interpreted? How do you stay true to the character's voice in the face of potential misunderstanding? I hope those questions make sense to someone.


lacey kaye said...

First off, ha! Don't ask me! You wondered if it's ok for my hero to treat his protege with a bit of arrogance, and I think that's purely a male hierarchial thing.

Second, why can't you just say something like "She kissed like a whore. And he liked it." Or "She kissed like a whore. A lovely, warm and willing whore."

Uh, maybe not that last. But you get what I mean?

Kendra said...

I agree with Lacey. When I read the line I thought "Ewww," but with a clarification afterword it could work.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Darcy already has my suggestion, but I share her dilemma (although for different reasons). I have a novella that I really, really wanted to title _'Tis Pity She's a Whore_ but everyone says I can't possibly use that as a title for a romantic story. Too bad it fits the story perfectly, LOL!

Tessa Dare said...

Hm. I'm pretty sure it's just the knee-jerk response to the word "whore" that's getting you in trouble there, not the sentiment behind it.

Would other words work?

Harlot? Strumpet?
"She kissed like one of Madame So-and-so's girls", perhaps?

Alternatively, could you use the words to describe the kiss itself, not her?
"It was a back-alley kiss" or "It was a whore's kiss - skilled and impatient."

I'm sure you'll come up with something. :)

As for the general topic, yes - I do get in trouble with CPs sometimes for letting guys think in what I view as a pretty typical guy manner. Maybe that's because we don't read romance to feel swept away by typical guys, lol. Sometimes I tone it down and sometimes I don't.

Carrie Ryan said...

Great post! I think, in the end, even if it's what he would actually think, you're gonna have to go with not squicking out the reader. Sometimes, romance isn't really about reality at all (seriously, cause the laundry on my floor ain't romantic, let me tell you).

You're right on point in that you're trying to get to his underlying sentiment -- now just put it in a way that makes the reader swoon. Maybe it's not what he'd really think, but I think that's ok.

Anonymous said...

I like the fact that she kisses like a whore. It does something for me. Adds a dimension to her character - an unconventionality. She's not a milk and water miss now is she?

That being said and as much as I hate having to do this with my own writing, sometimes you have to spell out the obvious. As Lacey said, detail out what he means when he says she kisses like a whore.

Great post! I really should come around more often. You guys and your commentators have some great pearls of wisdom here.


Jennifer Linforth said...

That is a tough one, Darcy. Writers of historicals have to think in terms of the time, but market to a modern reader.(contraction leapt to mind when I think of this too. They were not common years ago, but are now...)

Tessa used the word that leapt to my mind: strumpet. It keeps with the time period and says the same thing.

I completely understand this type of POV issue. In the historical with my autisic heroine I have major issues in how to portray her her thoughts and actions as autistic to a modern reader without using words that would label her as such. Such labels did not exsist in 1866.

There was just an article written on how some folks are trying to stop Santa from saying 'Ho Ho Ho' as it could be seen as an improper term... and they are trying to get Santa's worldwide to say 'Ha Ha Ha'


There limits if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Is it okay to tangent here?

Jennifer, I just googled austism in history and happened upon a book written about a court case involving a marriage of convience in the 18th century. Perhaps a bit early for your book but autism wasn't labeled as such until 1911. Anyway, having worked with this population for a number of years, I found the reference interesting. So here's the link. I hope it helps and if I've breeched MM etiquette, please forgive me. - 5k -

That doesn't look right. The book's name is 'Autism in History: The Case of Hugh Blair by Professor Rob Houston.

Tangent complete.

Vicki said...

I totally get what you mean when you say it that way, the problem is not all the readers will. And unless we're doing this strictly to write for ourselves we have to make it so the readers will not say yuck.

I love Tessa's ideas. I think letting us know he thought the kiss was like a whore's kiss not that she was a whore is the idea.

Love the post!!

Oh and I got my MM prize today from the spooky story contest. Yay!!! I love my book, and the Maven surprise. I'm so excited! Thanks so much to all of you and especially Lacey. I'll send it out this weekend if that's okay. :D

lacey kaye said...

Sounds like a plan, Vicki!

Erica Ridley said...

Today I'd rather muse about male vs. female. Specifically, how one sex interprets thoughts/actions from the POV of the opposite sex.

Or rather, how the reader interprets it, right? Like the nitbitchy Maven critter (ahem) who took "like a whore" as a bad thing.

Or one of my IRL-CPs, who hated many of T's scenes in TATTF because she felt he thought with or about his nether regions too much. (But hey, if that's not true-to-life guy behavior, I don't know what is! *g)

I don't think there's a line between realistic and readable--I think there's a gradient, and it's up to us as authors to decide where we want our story to fall. There will always be someone who interprets from either extreme, so I think as long as we acknowledge potential reader fallout, we must be true to our concept of characterization first.

Linda C. McCabe said...


Trying to provide a realistic male's POV has its own inherent landmines. I believe men when they say that "women have no idea" what they are thinking.

To me that translates to their thoughts as being very crude when analyzing women's body parts.

As a woman, I don't want to write such crudeness, nor do I want to read such crudeness. That means allusions to such things are necessary.

I think it is easier to elevate such discussions if it is a period piece rather than if it was set in contemporary time. (Unless your hero is young and still innocent.)

In the instance you were describing you might have him compare her kiss to a rather popular barmaid from his youth. That could serve your purpose of showing that she was skilled enough to make a man respond with passion without using potentially loaded terminology that might be off-putting.

Good luck!


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