Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

Some Deep Point of View Tips with Camy Tang

I’m breaking my own rule about short blog posts because I got a few questions recently about deep point of view, and I thought it might be nice to give a few quick and dirty tips for how to deepen your character’s point of view in a manuscript.

(For those of you not familiar with the phrase, “deep point of view,” the point of going deeper in your limited third person point of view is to stick the reader in your character’s skin. This will often result in a more powerful emotional experience for your reader.)

Don’t name the emotion.

Many times, when a writer names an emotion, it distances the reader from the character. For example:

Anxiety trembled in her stomach.

Anger coursed through her.

She shivered as fear tiptoed down her spine.

Readers don’t fully feel the emotion when they simply read the words anxiety, anger, fear, etc.

They feel the emotion when they’re in the character’s body and head, feeling the physical sensations, acting with the character, thinking their thoughts, speaking their words.

An electric mixer in her stomach scrambled her insides.

Her body went rigid and her clawed hands trembled, a thread away from ripping the smile off his face.

A ghostly fingertip drew down her spine, freezing her shoulder blades together.

As with anything, moderation is the key—if the sentence flows better and is more powerful by naming the emotion, there’s no rule that says you can’t do it.

Eliminate “telling” verbs.

By “telling” verbs, I mean phrases like “he wondered,” “she realized,” “he saw,” “she felt,” etc.

He wondered if he’d ever return to her.

She realized he wasn’t the man she thought he was.

He decided to follow her.

She felt cold.

These “telling” verbs tend to distance the reader from the character rather than sticking the reader in the character’s skin.

Would he ever return to her? (By eliminating “he wondered,” the reader is thinking his thoughts with him.)

He wasn’t the man she thought he was.

He turned around and followed her. (This combines action with decision, which draws the reader along because something is happening.)

Cold. Her feet had disappeared. Her fingers wouldn’t move. The shivering had taken over her entire body. (Here, we d help the reader actually feel the character’s physical sensations.)

Show immediate emotional reactions in physical, thought, dialogue, action.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but often a character’s reaction to something usually follows this order:

(1) physical (gut or involuntary) reaction
(2) thought
(3) dialogue
(4) purposeful action

If you write a character’s reaction in this order, it will usually give a stronger visual picture in your reader’s mind, and the reader herself will almost feel the reactions with your character.

You don't have to use all four reactions. Go with the flow of the scene. Sometimes I only use one or two (like physical and thought, or thought and dialogue, etc.), whatever "feels" right to me when I write the scene.

One thing to remember--use vivid imagery for your reader and avoid clichés.

Don't have your heroine’s heart leap for joy. Instead:

For a wild moment, she thought, He's come to see me. And her heart twirled in a riotous dance." –Moi, Deadly Intent

Don’t have your hero go on red alert. Instead:

Follow your gut, Pete's first sergeant used to remind him. Right now, his gut was screaming that something wasn't on the up-and-up about this late-night rendezvous. –Debby Giusti, Protecting Her Child

Look at your own character's emotional reactions. Are they in the right order? Are they vivid?

Rewrite thoughts to be more immediate.

Many times, meandering thoughts are “telling” the reader information purely for the sake of the story.

Sarah wondered why he wanted to see her. She was only the housemaid, not a member of the family, and Lord Griffith hated her.

Sarah wouldn’t be likely to say to herself, “I’m only Josephine’s housemaid, not a member of the family, and Mr. Griffith hates me.” She knows all that already so she wouldn’t tell it to herself.

But she’d emotionally react to her knowledge of those facts, and her emotional reaction will draw the reader into her emotions, too.

Why would Lord Griffith want her, of all people? To further humiliate the housemaid? Her gut involuntarily clenched at the fleeting vision of his spit flying in her face, his gaze blacker than the coat of his prize-winning horse.

Don’t make it easy for your reader. Instead, make the reader work to discover clues about the characters.

Describe things as your point of view character would describe them.

Think of your character’s personality and life experiences. The language of the narrative—even though it’s in third person—would still closely reflect the character’s own word choices.

My heroine, Naomi Grant, wouldn’t describe her own father as Mr. Grant (unless they had a different sort of relationship and she was used to referring to her father as Mr. Grant, which would be a whole other set of neuroses). She’d be more likely to think of him as “Dad” or “my dad” or “my father.”

Word choice, descriptions, and grammar styles should differ from character to character as you switch point of views in your story.

Eat and leave. That’s all she had to do.

If Grandma didn’t kill her first for being late.

Lex Sakai raced through the open doorway to the Chinese restaurant and was immediately immersed in conversation, babies’ wails, clashing perfumes, and stale sesame oil. She tripped over the threshold and almost turned her ankle. Stupid pumps. Man, she hated wearing heels.

--Camy Tang, Sushi for One?
(forgive me for using so many of my own examples, but it’s just easier for me)

Compare to:

Andrea O’Malley paused on the threshold of the Chinese restaurant. She wasn’t sure if she liked the exotic smells that teased her nose—spices she couldn’t name, as well as nutty sesame oil, salty-sweet oyster sauce, pungent soy sauce. She patted her French twist, which didn’t need fiddling with. She couldn’t help it—she was a golden-haired alien in the midst of these black-haired party guests. At least she hadn’t dressed inappropriately—the other guests stood talking in clusters, the women in short silk dresses like her own.

Don’t describe things/people/settings—instead, experience them through your viewpoint character.

If you write nice sentences of colorful description of a person, setting, or object, there’s limited emotional involvement since the description could be coming from another person in the room, not necessarily your viewpoint character.

Instead, give your character’s emotional reaction to the description. Several things will happen:

(a) The description become more interesting because it will be from your viewpoint character’s eyes.

(b) The language of the description will reflect your viewpoint character (versus your own author voice).

(c) The reader becomes more involved in the description because it will have a more emotional element.

Here’s an excerpt from the original version of my manuscript, The Corinthian Rules (which got completely rewritten into Only Uni):

“All right, you lovely single ladies, come on up for the bouquet toss.”

Rats. She should have sneaked off to the restroom earlier.

Trish Sato ducked to hide from the sweeping gaze of the Master of Ceremonies, her skeletal Uncle Charley. He stood at the front of the large banquet room in his rumpled black tuxedo, his wisps of wiry grey hair floating several inches above his near-bald head. Light from the overhead fluorescent fixtures glared on his oversized glasses as he swung his head back and forth, seeking innocent maidens to capture.

(Not the most original of descriptions, I’m rather embarrassed at how cliché much of it is. But hey, I wrote it 6 years ago.)

You’ll notice a small bit of emotional involvement in the description, because Uncle Charley is shown as “seeking innocent maidens to capture,” and only a single woman like Trish would think of him that way—her mother or aunties certainly wouldn’t think that.

However, the emotion there is minimal at best.

Here’s the rewrite for a short story I’m working on (I offered the new, revised short story as a freebie for my newsletter subscribers, which was why I revived this monstrosity):

Rats. She should have sneaked off to the restroom earlier.

“All right, you lovely single ladies, come on up for the bouquet toss.”

Trish Sakai dropped her head to hide behind Aunt Amber’s permed curls, nearly dunking her chin in her rice bowl. Had Uncle Charley seen her? Hopefully he couldn’t see much of anything through his oversized glasses and the glare from his near-bald head.

She peeked around Aunt Amber, risking a quick glance at the front of the large banquet room. The skeletal Master of Ceremonies hovered in his rumpled black tuxedo, so she ducked back before he saw her. Why hadn’t someone stopped him from those last few shots of sake? Then he wouldn’t be so aggressive about the bouquet toss now. He swung his head back and forth, seeking innocent maidens to capture.

You’ll notice more action and more of Trish’s emotional reactions (primarily through her thoughts) to the description sentences.

Go through your own manuscript and look for descriptions. Are they simply descriptions, or do they spring from the viewpoint character’s eyes and thoughts?

Go deep in revisions, not first drafts.

This will vary from writer to writer, but in general, it’s usually best to deepen point of view in your revisions. In your first draft, just slap those words down on the page and don’t worry about point of view at all.

Just lay it down and come back to revise it later. You might even be surprised at the kinds of things you come up with.

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her latest romantic suspense from Love Inspired Suspense is Formula for Danger! She runs the Story Sensei critique service, is a staff worker for her church youth group, and leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she ponders frivolous things like knitting, running, dogs, and Asiana. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for giveaways!

This post appeared on Seekerville November 4, 2009.

Don't forget...

Today is the last day to be considered for our weekly critique.



KC Frantzen said...

Super info, Sensei!
Another post to print and file for future.

Thanks so much.

Y'all have a great one. Go Packers!!

I've been to the store and there's a "super" variety of snacks and goodies to be had. Dig in!

CarolM said...

Wonderful Cami!


And so needed right now :p.

I'm in for the 5 page critique this week. Hasn't been long since I won, but have Genesis coming up...

/leaves S'mores fixins for anyone who wants them/

carol at carolmoncado dot com

Debra E. Marvin said...

I printed this out the last time. It's a keeper!

Oh happy Day. (saturday!)

Thanks Camy and Tina!
And thanks Julie. I got a big fat envelope in the mail today which can only be a Julie Lessman book.

Eat light. Sunday afternoon we'll all make up for it.

Debra E. Marvin said...

Oh, before I forget, I don't need a five page critique right now (more like a 400pg critique) Thank God for beta-readers!

Camy Tang said...

KC--thanks so much! I'm so glad that's helpful for you! (I'm already munching on those super snacks while I'm writing! Oy!)

Carol--You're welcome! (YUM! S'MORES!)

(Can you tell I'm highly food oriented right now???)

Thanks, Debra! (I tried eating light but my muse protested. Hence the empty bag of chips. :)


Renee Ann said...

Thanks for the great tips! And examples always help. I'm not in for the critique. Just stopping by for some inspiration. Blessings!

Rose said...

These archived articles are great examples and reminders.

I always strive to show an emotion rather than using a telling word, especially for anger. It's something I look for when I revise.

RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

Tina Radcliffe said...

Truly I keep this post with me when I edit. I think it is one of the best, if not THE best articles on Deep POV out there.

It takes your writing to the next level!

Pepper said...

Great post and wonderful reminder.
It's always so HARD to remember.
Is this one of the elements of writing you go back and fix after you've written the entire novel, or are you supposed to get this during the process?
I guess, the longer you write, the more you develop these skills the first time around?

(I'd like to be entered into the 5 page critique, please. pepperbasham(at)yahoo(dot)com

Kirsten Arnold said...

Such great info, Cami! And thanks for the invaluable examples. I'll be printing this off to use while editing.


Sherrinda said...

Cami, you are a master at teaching, did you know that? I love how you give examples to "see" how it is to be done. Thanks so much for this great info!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Ya think, Pepper? Okay so I should be doing this any day now, right? Instead of in the editing phase. LOL

Pepper said...

Yeah, Tina.
I should slap myself in the head for stating the obvious - but I FORGET the obvious so much.
I'm taking therapeutic advice I give to my memory clients:
If you type it, or say it outloud, you're more likely to remember it
Let's see if it works for me.

Cindy Best said...

I'd like to throw my name in for the First Five Pages critique. Thanks!


Eva Maria Hamilton said...

That was a GREAT post from the archives! So useful. Thanks!

Eva Maria Hamilton at gmail dot com

Joanne Sher said...

Awesome post. Do I EVER need this. Love the archives.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Cindy!!

You're in the randomizer along with anyone else who has mentioned it this week.

Pam Hillman said...

Camy, this is just as informative as the first time around! Can't hurt to revisit this info.

We're sitting at home today, relaxing. Well, sorta. There is always housework, and computer work for me! lol

We had hamburgers, son's playing video games, and dh is napping on the couch now. Feels like Sunday afternoon, because he never naps on Saturday! lol

Anybody want a homemade burger with a HUGE slice of onion? I prefer cooked onions on my burger, so just holler, and I'll throw them in the skillet for you.

Pam Hillman said...

Oooohhh, Carol, S'mores sound like a good idea. A perfect dessert to go with the hamburgers!

Debby Giusti said...

Camy is always so good!

Great post. Glad we could see it a second time. Excellent info.

Camy Tang said...

You're welcome, Renee Ann!

That's great, Rose!

Tina--WOW that's such high praise! I'm honored!

Pepper, this is definitely one of those things that you go back and revise afterward. Don't think about this when you're writing your first draft or you'll stall trying to put everything into deep POV. It's easier if you let it come later.

You're welcome, Kirsten! I'm glad this was helpful to you!

Aw, Sherrinda, you'll make me blush! :)

You're welcome, Cindy!

Thanks so much, Eva!

Joanne, I'm glad this was helpful for you!


Thanks, Debby! Did I mention I used your name in one of my books? I think it's the one coming out in April. :)


Andrea Strong said...

This is definitely a great post, Camy. You're so very helpful.

She's also very helpful to new ACFW members who can't manage to navigate the website without help. A million thanks on that one.

Also, I just added a picture to my Blogger profile, and I wanted to see if it shows up.

I'm such a kid, I know.

/breathes deeply/

I actually do have 5 pages that could stand to be critiqued.

/closes eyes, clicks publish/

CarolM said...


Look at you with the pic girlie!

Go you!

Walt Mussell said...

I remember this post from the last time I read it. Wondeful then and wonderful now.

I'm definitely taking it too heart.

Always up for a critique, though I may be too late in the day.

Jill W said...

Thanks, Cami! I printed the post and have placed it in my Seekerville notebook. It's a great reference guide.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

What a wonderful post, Camy. I already see places where I can go back and improve my ms.

Yay, Seekers. so glad I found you guys!

Phyllis Wheeler said...

What a great post, Cami! Thank you so much!

Vigrinia said...

I read 'long post' and saved for later- WOW! What an incredible post!! I thought I had deep POV, and honestly when I read your first version of the old uncle at the wedding, I thought "what's wrong? That was perfect'. Then I read the second version. Read the first again. Then the second again.
You get the idea. WOW. So, now I've gone back over half of my whole novel (late, late into the night) and watched where my 'deep' POV was really just skimming.
Thanks, Tamy. You're awesome!

Virginia said...

Oh, geez. CAMI. Not Tamy. Sorry, I'm tired! Hahaha!

Virginia said...

And Cami, notice how my first post I spelled MY OWN name wrong? :D :D