Happy Sunday, RG2E Peeps!
As many of you take a break after digging out from Winter Storm Nemo, here’s a fabulous chat with RG2E First-Time Featured Author, Cathy Perkins, on “Whose Story Is It”…as in, whose point of view are you reading?
Take it away, Cathy…
Good morning. If I’d told you in the title we’d talk about point of view today, would you have thought, “Oh no, politics.” Lately I’ve heard too many news commentators respond, “It depends on your point of view,” when a guest defends their position. No politics today! But the concept really is the same. That guest is telling a story—as they see it—just like authors do.
Point of view (POV) is a term authors use to describe how they tell a story, but why should you care as a reader? Rather than get all technical on you, take a look at the blog so far. It’s me, talking directly with you. That’s first person.
Most likely you read a lot of stories written in third person POV. With third person, the author tells the story through the named characters. My book, The Professor, is written this way. Here’s the opening paragraph:
The body lay in dappled shade. Patches of light caught pale flesh—an ankle here, a hip there. Resurrection ferns spread lacy fronds, partially concealing the limbs. Mick wondered if the irony was deliberate.
As the reader, I see the scene through (Detective) Mick O’Shaughnessy’s eyes. Because the story is from his point of view, I also get his internal reaction to the location where the body was found. He notices details a different character might not notice and reacts in a calm, measured manner. He’s smart enough to know the kind of fern—and to see the irony of a body hidden by them (which also tells me something about the killer).
Think about how that scene might’ve unfolded if told by Meg Connelly, the heroine. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it might’ve been something along the lines of “Dead person! Call 911!”
Stories written in first person, on the other hand, can be like a conversation between friends. Janet Evanovich does this with her Stephanie Plum stories. They all start the same way, with Stephanie saying, “Hi there! I’m a Jersey girl, live in the Burg…” Don’t you feel as if you’d settled in for a gossipy afternoon with a new friend?
Jonathan King, however, uses first person to provide a deeply intimate look into the soul of a trouble former police officer. (He always uses the Everglades setting as a character in his stories, but that’s another topic for another day.)
The interesting part about first person, though, is just that one character (I nearly said, that one person) is telling the story. So anything in the plot has to be filtered through that character. Only things that character finds, sees or is told can hit the page.
A third person POV story can be told by one character or many different ones. The Professor, for example, is told by the detective, his graduate student girlfriend, and the killer. Each section gives that character’s perspective on what’s happening in the story.
In order to get the other characters’ reactions—what would be their internals if told in their POV—on the page, the POV character has to see their body language, the expressions across their face, whatever and react to that. (No, ‘Henry jerked with surprise’ sentences allowed. Alice (the POV character) can only see the jerk and has to interpret it.)
Another unexpected challenge to a singe POV is backstory—it can be difficult to deliver. This past weekend, a friend and I joked about a What Not To Do scenario:
“Well, Millicent, since your husband died ten years ago – ”
“What? Wait, he died? Damn, I noticed he hasn’t been around. I thought he’d just gone out for milk…”
The author shouldn’t tell something a character should know. 🙂
On the up side, because you are so deep in the character perspective, what they see—the details they notice in a room, a neighborhood, another person—delivers enormous amounts of information about the speaker’s character. A cop will notice different details than a deliveryman, for example.
Honor Code, my most recent book, is written in third person, told from Larry Robbins’ perspective. (Well, the opening scene is told by George Beason, the old man who’s missing for the rest of the story.) Consider how different the story might be if told from Beason’s perspective. He’s on the run, trying to stay alive and send clues to the police. So while the plot of Honor Code revolves around “where is Beason,” the layers, as seen through Robbins’ eyes, examine families and relationships, decisions based upon different values—their personal code of honor.
99 Cents (this week only)
Here’s an excerpt from Honor Code
Robbins looked across Miz Rose’s breakfast table at the toddler.
Tasha cut her eyes and smiled, a natural flirt.
Her daddy’s gonna need a shotgun when this one gets older, he thought—then remembered she didn’t have a daddy.
Daintily pinching the Cheerio between forefinger and thumb, Tasha offered him a cereal circle. Mouth open, he lowered his head. She dropped the Cheerio inside. He kissed her fingers in return, a loud smack that drew laughter.
“Don’t you be encouraging her,” Miz Rose said. “Tasha, you eat that cereal. And use yore spoon.”
The child jammed the spoon into the bowl, spilling more cereal onto the highchair tray, then lifted the mounded spoon toward her mouth.
“That’s right.” Miz Rose turned back to the sink and tackled the older kids’ breakfast dishes. Sunlight reflected off the glass beads in her hair. Overnight, she’d braided her hair into a bunch of cornrows, a sure sign she was worried.
Robbins sipped his coffee, watching both Tasha and her. Two months ago, when he and Child Services dropped the toddler off with Miz Rose, the kid had been a clingy, weepy mess. “Tasha seems happy.”
“She just need to be where folks ain’t angry.”
“Don’t we all?” Robbins considered the mood at home. The tension level there needed to drop below an “orange” threat level, but how was he supposed to change Sharon’s attitude?
“Most peoples forget to think about the other person,” Miz Rose said.
Robbins sat back. The woman had an eerie ability to say things that mirrored his thoughts.
Miz Rose had a point, though. How often did he consider Sharon’s feelings?
What would make her happy? Other than him taking out the trash and cutting the grass? He slurped more coffee. To be fair, how much of the tension in the house was his fault?
Miz Rose dried her hands and stepped across the kitchen. The place—the house and the furniture—was old and worn, but other than the area right around the highchair, it was clean. She wiped Tasha’s grubby face and hands, then plucked the toddler from the high chair and kissed her chubby cheek.
Tasha leaned into Miz Rose, molding against her body, stuck her finger in her mouth and sucked—the picture of contentment.
“I ‘spect you didn’t come over here for my coffee or to check on this chil’. You hear anything about George Beason?”
Cathy Perkins is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. She writes predominantly financial-based mysteries but enjoys exploring the relationship aspect of her characters’ lives. Her suspense writing lurks behind a financial day-job, where she learned firsthand the camouflage, hide in plain sight, skills employed by her villains.
Born and raised in South Carolina, the setting for HONOR CODE and THE PROFESSOR, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, a 75-pound Lab who thinks she’s still a lap-dog, and a German Wirehair puppy.
HONOR CODE hit the Amazon Best-seller list, reaching #1 in both Mystery/Police Procedural and Short Story.
Connect with Cathy here:
One of the best explanations of Point of View I’ve heard, Cathy! Well done! It’s one of my fave topics…just so much fun! As a writer, I luuuvvv thinking to myself while I’m typing “hmmm…now would he/she know that or say that if from his/her point of view?” And as a reader, I luuuvvv “goin’ deep” into the heads of various characters.
Now then, RG2E Peeps…who all would like an Ebook Gift Copy of HONOR CODE? Let us know below and you just might win one!!! (Be sure to put your email in your comment so we can get your Ebook Gift to you quicker.)
The Best of RG2E Reading Wishes — D. D. Scott, RG2E Founder