Writing questions: losing grip on POV

Shorewalker

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#1
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So, I occasionally feel that I'm losing a close grip on my POV character in certain scenes. In those scenes, he/she is an observer of, or minor participant in, the 'action'.

Case in point, I'm editing a scene which involves something of a free-for-all discussion with a large cast of characters and she has little to say. It's not that she's the wrong POV to use in this scene...nobody really stands out and we do need an invested observer...but that she's not deep into it. I've tried a few 'she felt her palms begin to sweat', 'she watched his eyes widen', 'she examined her boots'...but it all sounds a little forced and it gets very old very quickly.

This sense of slight disconnect might last for a page before she does have something to say, or feels a genuine reaction, but is this a problem?

I'm wondering whether it's simply the time that I'm spending editing that's making it seem worse. I'm taking fifteen minutes to get through that page, whereas a reader would be through it in one and might not even notice?
 
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The Big Peat

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#2
I feel - straight from the hip without thinking too hard about it - that in most books you can find a point where the PoV character is mostly an observer for a few pages and that the action continues just fine. Closest book I found is a Bernard Cornwell, and for a page or two I think the PoV slips from Sharpe to being straight up omniscient, which isn't quite the same thing but close enough.
 

crystal haven

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#3
Are you saying she's not deep into the conversation, or that she isn't actually much aware of anything? If it's a case of she's bored with the conversation, then she could be examining people in the room rather than herself, that would bring her into the action but not actually doing anything herself, which you are doing with 'eyes widen'. But what about the stain on the table as a glass is moved, etc. Or the cobweb hanging from the ceiling blowing back and forth in a slight breeze. If spread out amongst the rest it should keep the reader with her as observing in a distant way. The sweaty palms thought made me wonder if the conversation was about herself.
 

The Judge

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#5
There's no need for continual cutaway/reaction shots if you're deeply embedded in POV, and they can read as being strained. But why don't you give her something to do while the others are talking? Put something into her hands -- knitting, mending a mail shirt, cleaning a sword, whatever fits her role. Then you can use that as a way of bringing her back into the story if she's absent for too long.

However, even if she's not "deep" into the conversation, presumably she has some thoughts about what is going on, so why isn't she muttering to herself or thinking Fat chance! or At last! or at least Gods, this is boring? Again, you don't want to use her thoughts or mumbles too often, but it will keep the POV grounded if they're used judiciously.

Also, have you tried writing it in first person? You're much less likely to veer away into a bastard omniscient if you're channelling her in first, and all you need do is re-write the pronouns afterwards.

By the way, avoid "She watched" and similar phrases unless they are vital, as they serve to distance us from the action even though you're trying to show the scene through her eyes. Instead something like "His eyes widened - she hadn't realised how blue they were" makes it clear it's her POV if there's any risk of ambiguity.
 
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#6
Consider showing her decreased attention by paraphrasing some of the dialogue as if she is listening just enough to catch the themes without focusing on who said exactly what. That fits the mood and avoids a lot of He saids.
 

Brian G Turner

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#7
IMO it's more ideal to make the POV character the one with the most conflict for that scene - which is usually the person doing the most, even within a group.

However, this isn't followed in the publishing world - Brandon Sanderson's first Mistborn book has an early scene where one character simply listens in to others for a few thousand words, the irony being that the person leading that discussion later becomes a POV character.

So, ideals are ideals, but not always followed, and publishers and readers don't seem to mind it being done to some degree - just so long as it's not the entire book. :)
 

Phyrebrat

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#8
When you say you’re editing - is this a finished first draft or are you editing as you go along?

It might help if you’re editing as you go along, to just finish the chapter and come back to it later with a fresh mind.

I’m a bit of a meddler when it comes to editing as I like to read the previous scene before I write the next, so I get an idea of rhythm and pace. Often I find the distance overnight helps.

pH
 
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#9
I'm not a skilled writer like anyone else here. Simply a novice, so any thoughts I have on the matter should be viewed with caution and only considered after all else.

Though I cannot say what is proper, I can say what I'm working on now has changed my personal style considerably. In the last novel I wrote, a rather substantial 211k-words with considerable research, though I had close to (maybe) 75 significant characters, virtually everything was from the protagonists viewpoint in varied POV's because she is a bit deranged.

(though let me take that back a minute. I do have a few scenes in a bunkhouse or cook-shack with 20-characters (each with distinct personalities and manners of speaking), or even lynch-mob scenes where it is pure chaos regarding characters and PoVs. However, that chaos actually immerses the reader into it, not only seeing the action, hearing the varied discussions, yet makes them feel they're right in the midst of it)

It worked well, and that's fine. On this latest work however everything seems to have changed.

What follows goes against everything I have read regarding POV's and characters within a story... Yet, I'm doing it.

My protagonist gets big chunks, so does my deuteragonist, the long gone antagonist, etc., etc... Pretty much anyone who is mentioned in name, even casually at some point seems to be the absolute focus (from their viewpoint) no matter how briefly.

Considering 1stP-POV, 2ndP, 3rdP, 3rd-Omni, 3rd-Lim... I have read to pick-it and stick with it. I however have found myself even floating a bit there... however, once again it is working well. It has made the story more readable and even make more sense.

Point being >>>for myself in this work<<< abiding by the hard fast rules made the story read poorly, made it seem artificial and less immersive. By simply writing and not sweating what is considered a proper POV writing style and character representation, instead makes the story feel 'genuine.'

Feedback from readers has been great... Feedback from those who fancy themselves as editors first, readers second has focused upon how I broke this rule or that (yet when I ask them how was the story, did those 'errors' hurt it, they had no answer).

So, I suppose you need to decide who you're wanting to please (is perhaps the best way I can put it). Your editors, your readers or yourself and combinations thereof? And, does it work?

IOW, are you perhaps sweating the 'rules' too much and disregarding what works?

Once more, I am a NOVICE writer. So please take everyone else's thoughts over mine.

K2
 

Shorewalker

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#10
Cheers, peeps!

To clarify, she's interested in what is being said, but hasn't got much to offer herself, as the conversation is led by 'experts', for want of a better word. Nothing is particularly shocking to her, although there's a bit of confirmation of what she assumed/deduced.

I've read what you've all had to say and looked back at the section. I think I was maybe panicking a bit and when I've read it without tinkering (and that's like leaving an alcoholic in charge of a bar), you don't really notice. A couple of 'she groaned', 'she wondered where he had found the time', etc. and I think all will be well.
 

HareBrain

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#11
I wouldn't sweat it. If the conversation is interesting to the reader, they're not going to worry that the POV character isn't involved or reacting. If it isn't, you have a bigger problem.

If there's a natural opportunity for them to react, all to the good. But doing so artificially could easily seem forced and worse than nothing.
 

Shorewalker

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#12
I wouldn't sweat it. If the conversation is interesting to the reader, they're not going to worry that the POV character isn't involved or reacting. If it isn't, you have a bigger problem.

If there's a natural opportunity for them to react, all to the good. But doing so artificially could easily seem forced and worse than nothing.
Thanks! That's the conclusion I've reached and with just a couple of minor tweaks, it all looks very different now.

I think I need to lie down...
 

tinkerdan

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#14
I sounds a bit like you are using omniscient narrator but sort of anchoring that to a specific POV character.
I guess one test of that is if you could imagine putting a camera into that character's seat and then having it pan across the scene as your character would and it doesn't change things: then Omniscient would work.

However I might suggest that even though your character doesn't do any thing they can still use their senses to help lift the scene from camera panning to something more sensory stunning. Smells and sounds and what they see in everyone's faces should fit into their narrative quite easily. Maybe even what they taste and feel can add. If you already are doing that then you are being to hard on yourself because in that case the POV character is doing something quite active when the senses are engaged.
 

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