Very recently (as in, yesterday evening) I got bitten by the screenwriting bug – I want to learn how to do this. So this morning, in the course of a couple of hours of trawling the Internet, which included placing half a dozen holds on library books under the subject heading of “Motion Picture Authorship” (go figure – Library of Congress couldn’t assign it a sensible heading like “Script Writing”), I ran across a useful web page, “A Glossary of Screenwriting Terms and Film Making Definitions“.
Scrolling through the headings, which include such interesting terms as “lap dissolve” (which, without the definition, would bring up a rather gruesome image), what jumped out at me was “POV”. Every writer, screen or print, knows what that means, don’t they?
Well, apparently not. In editing, that’s one issue that comes up quite frequently; POV – Point of View – doesn’t seem to be as easy as you’d think. So what exactly are we talking about when we go on about POV in writing? That’s where this web page’s definition is extremely useful:
“POV: Point of View. The camera replaces the eyes (sometimes the ears) of a character, monster, machine, surveillance camera, etc. As a result, we get to see the world through the sensory devices of some creature.”
The camera replaces the sensory experience of one character.
The 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie demonstrates this extremely well in the scene where Elizabeth is asleep while riding in the carriage. The camera – what we see on the screen – fades from darkness to blurry pink flashes of soft light, like sunlight flickering over one’s closed eyelids. The camera is literally replacing Elizabeth’s eyes, putting the viewer into her head.
Now, in film making, “the camera” is restricted to the audiovisual medium. All it can do is see or hear, no more. However, in prose writing, our “camera” can do much more. It can shrink down to a tiny atom and burrow right into the brain of our narrator – it can feel everything she feels, know everything she knows.
And that is where the danger in handling POV comes in. Because a narrator has the power to pontificate – uh, I mean to tell – what they know, it’s very tempting for the writer to narrate something that the POV character could not know.
One of the first decisions a writer has to make when they set out on a new story is which perspective to write the story from. To quickly recap your boring Grade 6 Language Arts class, the basic perspectives fiction tends to be written in are either first person (“I ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under my feet”) or third person (“She tripped over the cobblestones”); third person is further subdivided into “tight third person”, which is roughly the same as first person except with different pronouns (“She ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under her feet”), and “distant observer” (“She ran down the street, but she did not know that around the next corner one of the cobblestones was sticking up above the pavement”).
There are multiple versions of this style of narration, which we won’t go into at the moment, but let me quickly mention the most noteworthy one, which is the “omniscient perspective”: the narrator is God, they know everything about every character. In that POV the camera is, in fact, split into hundreds of tiny cameras implanted into each character’s brain, knowing and feeling everything – and the screen, i.e. the story, is a mosaic of all the different cameras.
And that’s the perspective that it’s very easy to fall into accidentally. The writer knows everything about everyone – he can see the cobblestone sticking up above the pavement – but the character does not – she runs along headlong and stubs her toe. Ouch. A filmmaker is physically restricted to what their camera lens can see – they put the camera on a character’s shoulder and leave it running, and that’s what will be on the film – but a writer has to make a constant effort to keep that mental camera lens where they have chosen to put it.
So if you choose to write your story in first person or tight third, your character cannot know what other characters’ feelings, thoughts and motivations are. “I looked at him, and he felt angry” is not a sentence that should ever appear in any story. I can only know what I am feeling; what I know of other people is only what my senses experience. I can see that he’s frowning, I can hear that he’s yelling at me, I can feel his fist hitting my jaw – but I can only deduce that these pieces of evidence mean he is angry. For all I know, he’s perfectly calm, and these are in fact an expression of love and care on his part (which would make him a psychopath, and my whole novel has just gone off the rails – but that’s a different topic altogether).
What goes hand-in-hand with this is that you need to know your characters. If, for example, your POV character is a five-year-old, he will not look at a canoodling couple and think “They must be so much in love,” but instead he’ll think something like “Eeew, why is Joe licking Suzie-next-door’s face?” He also has to stand on a barrel to be able to see over the fence in order to watch the canoodling – the camera in his eye is about three-and-a-half feet off the ground, and the fence is five feet high.
There are various reasons to choose one POV over another – they all have their advantages and drawbacks, which we won’t go into because this post is getting too long already. But my main point here is: when you pick your POV, stick with it. Never, not even for one sentence, remove that camera lens from the eye of the character it is strapped to at that moment. You can take it off and strap it to a different character, or to an unnamed observant narrator who knows everything about everybody, but be aware that that is what you are doing – and again, if you pick it, stick with it.
So, POV: it’s the camera in your character’s eye, or brain, as it were. And once you pick it, stick with it. Not that hard, is it? No, I didn’t think so.
Life, the Universe, and POV. It’s all in the perspective.
Another one of my friends announced on Facebook today his intention to delete his account, so as to no longer feed his time and emotional energy into the social media monster. Well, when I say “friend”, I really mean “acquaintance”. I’ve met him only once in real life – he was one of my grad school profs, and as the school in question is an online university, all of our contacts happened in the cyber world. I was sorry to see him leave Facebook – there goes any further opportunity to get to know him a little better.
However, I also very much understand where he’s coming from. I’ve just come off a six-week hiatus from the FB world myself – I didn’t cut it all altogether, but restricted my facebooking to checking in on specific messages, and tried to avoid browsing and scrolling through my feed, let alone actually posting status updates or engaging in conversations.
Unfortunately, with the kind of work I do, I can’t really avoid Facebook and other social media altogether. I write books and try to sell them online. I write for an online magazine. I edit the work of writers who work online and I get new clients and professional contacts online. Getting off the cyber merry-go-round isn’t really an option – much as I sometimes want to.
But you know what? For all that I hate the amount of time and energy suck that social media generates, there are some real benefits I’ve derived from it. Apart from my professional contacts, I have made real friends through the Internet, and have rediscovered old friends and deepened existing real-life friendships. I have a network of connections all over the world.
Granted, the kind of relationships you form through social media is of a peculiar type. “Facebook is so terribly fake!” I’ve heard people say more than once. “I don’t want to see pictures of your lunch or your kittycat!” In fact, one of the several reasons my abovementioned friend gave for cutting the Facebook strings was the triviality of so many posts.
Yes, I agree – there is a lot of idle chatter, a lot of fakeness, a lot of posing. But, at the risk of sounding judgemental, the kind of person from whom I’ve most often heard comments of this kind is male and of the Baby Boomer generation. I don’t know what he (this generic middle-aged man) expects from social contact. In my experience as a slightly younger (i.e. GenX) middle-aged woman, trivialities are the very stuff relationships take their beginnings in.
You want to show me the snazzy lunch you had on your business trip? Please do! You like posting pictures of your funny cat? Bring it on! You think your kid’s jumping on the furniture is worth broadcasting on the Internet? Yes, I agree! Because to see how your children are growing, or that you love your cat, or that your favourite food is sushi, tells me things about you. You become more of a person to me. And what, may I ask, is a relationship but a connection from person to person?
If you’re the kind of person who has lived in one place their whole life, whose birth, education, career, friendships, and family life have all taken place in a 20 km radius, then what I’m saying might not apply to you. You know that your friend loves their dog because they live next door to you; that your buddy from Grade 2 just had another baby because you’ve run into her at the grocery store when you picked up milk; and that the guy you met at a professional development seminar is an arch-conservative because he has political placards all over his front lawn at every election.
But that kind of relationship circle has become very, very rare today. A Facebook friend (another grad school prof, as it happens) recently posted a quote that said something like this: “When future generations look back on us, the thing that they will find most puzzling is that we thought our online life was separate from our real-life existence.”
Just this morning, I was enjoying the stunning landscape photography of a childhood friend who now lives in Switzerland. I saw that an online friend whom I’ve never met in real life is having a great time on a trip to New York. I watched, in slow motion, as a friend’s small grandson leaped off the bed, his floppy blond hair flying, and it brought a smile to my face.
All these things are real. I know that if my online friend’s travels ever take her out my way or mine hers, we’ll meet for coffee and spend hours talking about everything under the sun – I know, because it wouldn’t be the first time that happened. Seeing the pictures of the sun gloriously glinting on the Alps means I’ve shared in a small piece of my now-Swiss friend’s life – before Instagram, I had no idea she was such a great photographer; in fact, I hadn’t spoken to her in decades. As for my other friend’s grandchildren, they are growing up so fast, I would never be able to enjoy the exuberance of their little lives in even such a small way as I do now if it wasn’t for Facebook.
This might all sound kind of Polly-Anna-ish. “Aren’t social media great? Don’t they give you the warm fuzzies? Isn’t getting the warm fuzzies the best thing ever?” Blah blah blah. Yes, I know that most of what scrolls by in a social media feed is sludge. I hate the politics, the mud-slinging, the preaching, the arrant nonsense, the sheer volume of all the jabber and beak-clacking. It eats into my sanity, drags my mind down into the muck of arguments and darkness. And that’s not even considering the big-picture societal problems that the social media phenomenon is implicated in.
There have been times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to hit the “delete” button on that Facebook account, be rid of its drag on my life. But I never did, because – see above.
I wonder if 15th-century Europeans felt about books and newspapers the way we do about the Internet. “Oh, I wish I could be rid of all this print! Shelves full of clutter, of people’s opinions, of paper! Let’s just go back to the day when people actually talked to each other!” But, of course, they didn’t go back. They learned to live with it, live with the new reality their world had evolved into. Yes, the invention of print brought problems – enormous upheavals, in many ways – but it also brought so much good.
And that’s the place we’re in right now. We need to learn to live with social media, learn to use it, instead of letting it use us. Oh, good grief – what am I using the “royal we” for? I need to learn it, need to get a handle on social media.
Sometimes, I think, that could mean pulling the plug entirely, like my friend is doing. I’ve never chosen to do that yet, although that’s not to say I might not do so sometime if the sludge threatens to overwhelm the joy. Or sometimes, it requires taking a step back – staying away from social media for a few weeks just to prove to myself that I can, and to build new habits.
“It’s not you, Internet, it’s me…” – and that’s the thing to keep in mind: I don’t have a relationship with social media, but with the people on the other end of social media. The Baby Boomer’s lament that “Kids today are always glued to their phones!” completely overlooks the fact that it’s not the phones the kids are interacting with, it’s their friends on the other end of the phone.
The word “social” in “social media”? It’s there for a reason. Social media isn’t good or bad – it’s what we make of it. I for one want to learn to use it, not be used.
Life, the Universe, and Social Media. Oh, in case you’re wondering – even my stuffed bear has Facebook.
Drumroll please! E.L.Bates’ new “Whitney & Davies” books is out, and it’s excellent! (I’m not at all biased; I only got to beta-read it. Not biased at all.) Go get your very own copy of *Magic & Mayhem*!
Here it is, friends! Free on Kindle for this weekend only, here is Magic & Mayhem, four short stories set in the magical England of this Whitney & Davies series!
4 exciting new short stories set in the magical England of the Whitney & Davies series!
The Third Thief: Maia Whitney has returned home for her sister’s wedding determined to stay aloof from family dramas. Alas, the disappearance of a valuable and possibly cursed bracelet alters her plans. Can this magician’s apprentice solve the crime and save her sister’s wedding from doom and disaster?
Many Magical Returns: On Susannah’s seventeenth birthday, she learns why her mother has always insisted she never use magic in front of Uncle Ernie. Escaping her uncle’s greed and learning magic on the run are tall orders, but one thing is certain: this is a birthday Susannah will never forget.
Passion & Practicality: Steady, sensible…
View original post 148 more words
“Red stone, blood stone,
Round and smooth and cold stone,
Make it stop, make it stand,
Take me over to the strand.”
That’s the rhyme the purple weasel tells the little girl to use when she gets to the raging river, on her way to the other side of the woods to give to bring the sorcerer his medicine…
That’s right – another story of mine got published on Enchanted Conversations! This is in the April edition of the magazine, which is all about Animal Tales. Mine has a purple weasel and a blue rabbit and, most of all, a black crow. And, of course, a little girl, whose name is Margie.
Unlike the previous stories I had published on EC, which were re-tellings of traditional tales, this one is an original. I was trying to go for the classic formula and tone – but of course, I’m no Wilhelm Grimm (or Dortchen Wild, as it were), so it’s not quite as classic as it, perhaps, might be…
Check it out, and let me know what you think!