Tag Archives: shifting perspective

The Red Pen: Stylistic Variation, Story Arc, and Other Manuscript Concerns

Hey there! I haven’t shared any editing anecdotes in a while. To date, my first assignment has been published, the second has been passed on to the managing editor, and I’m getting started on my third. I’d never commented on the second one, so thought I’d retroactively share the issues addressed.

To start is advice I gave the author on stylistic variation:

Where sentence structure is concerned, you describe a lot of consecutive or simultaneous character actions, and, to convey that, “as he” and “as she” are very frequent (as are –ing verbs following a comma—these are called present participial phrases). While not technically incorrect, it’s when repetitions of this structure become noticeable that they can be an issue, so just keep an eye out and consider ways to vary the syntax of your sentences to mix it up. Reading aloud is an awesome way to work through sentence/paragraph flow and catch where words/rhythms might repeat!

Examples:

“As she turned on her heel, she smiled and took his hand to lead him through the forest.”
“She smiled and turned on her heel as she took his hand to lead him through the forest.”
“She smiled and turned on her heel, taking his hand to lead him through the forest.”
“She smiled while she turned on her heel, took his hand, and led him through the forest.”

Etc., etc.

Story arc also needed work. This happens to be a rather sexy romance, so:

A key element to pacing is varying the functions each chapter serves. Too much of the same “function” served by too many consecutive chapters risks flattening the story arc. In this case, the recurring function I see is sex, either with purpose or gratuitous. The sex is of course what readers will love about it, but from a story development standpoint (not a prude one :)), I’m concerned that the frequency of sex scenes is making the middle/third quarter of your story fall flat, with the underlying plot getting a bit lost. There can be too much of a good thing, and too much of anything can make reader attention wane no matter how exciting or saucy the action. And the function that sex serves in a romance novel is not only entertainment, but a vehicle for moving the central relationships forward, so it really ought to only appear when it does move the story forward, rather than be there for its own sake.

Don’t worry, if you ever read it, there’s still a-plenty left in it to warrant hosing yourself down afterward (hot damn!). Other issues addressed:

  • more than one dialogue tag used in a paragraph of the same character’s dialogue (not technically wrong, but judge when it’s superfluous)
  • dialogue tags used for almost every line of dialogue in a conversation – starts to sound overly “he said/she said” when it’s otherwise easy enough to tell who’s talking. Sometimes a corresponding character action suffices in place of tag; e.g.:
    • “Wait a minute,” she said as she held up her hand.
    • “Wait a minute.” She held up her hand.
  • redundancies in description / tendency to over-describe using lists of adjectives when one or two suffice
  • overly repeated (verbatim) words and phrases
  • use of “began to”/”started to” for actions that are followed through, not interrupted.
  • keeping each section within only one character’s POV (in keeping with 3rd person limited, multiple perspectives)
  • time continuity – matching the time-frame of an intermittent subplot to the main plot.
And regardless of how polished the new manuscript I’m editing is, I’m still encountering pretty common grammatical errors—I’ll pop back later this week to share these. Good luck with your own writing/editing!
Advertisements

The Red Pen: The POVerdict

Hiya! Crap, it’s been a while, and I apologize for that. Especially when I have so much I want to share with you!

For today, though, I’m pleased to just announce that we’ve finally found compromise on the POV issue I’d related earlier. To quickly recap, an author I’m editing for had been writing through a sort of hybrid 3rd person limited/omniscient POV. The story alternates between POVs such that we have the sort of “head-hopping” found in an omniscient perspective, but it’s only between two characters (not all), which would signify the POV is limited.

So we originally thought entire scenes/chapters would need to be rewritten from one character’s POV or another to keep within 3rd person multiple limited perspective. This would entail extensive revision and kill some of the playful back-and-forth between the two main characters. On the other hand, revising it to be omniscient would be a lot of work, too, as additional characters’ thoughts would have to be written in. The solution proposed, then, is to simply insert section breaks between paragraphs where the POV makes the jump. The section breaks will serve as a visual cue to the reader that POV is going to shift, so the author can jump between her main characters’ thoughts within the same scene. In short, it hopefully means hardly rewriting anything; instead, it’s more of a structural revision. We’re lucky in this case that most of the scenes are in multi-paragraph chunks within a single POV to make this possible.

In the instances where we see a POV shift on a sentence-by-sentence level, on the other hand, the author will need to commit to one POV or the other and rewrite them as such. Again, though, this should be easy, as in a lot of cases, one character’s POV is definitely dominating, so it’s only a matter of revising stray sentences here and there.

I can’t share the author’s work here, so let me make up some BS text on the spot to demonstrate what I’m talking about:

Lucy was livid when she found out she had to revise her manuscript. She simply didn’t understand the problem with the way she approached point of view.

Bob, on the other hand, didn’t understand what the big deal was. Why couldn’t Lucy just suck it up and do it the right way?

Lucy looked at Bob and huffed; it figured he wasn’t going to take her side on this. [and this paragraph continues in Lucy’s POV…]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]

[A paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

So, obviously the red font denotes Bob’s POV. We can see at a glance that Lucy’s POV dominates the first few paragraphs of this “story.” The first section, then, should be solely from her POV; therefore the two sentences from Bob’s POV that have strayed into there need to be rewritten into Lucy’s POV—what is there needs to be reasonably inferred by what Lucy can observe of Bob’s outward actions or dialogue. What we can also see at a glance here is that, once Lucy’s POV ends, we have a few paragraphs solely from Bob’s. This is okay. Nothing requires rewriting; all we need to do is insert a section break before Bob’s POV begins. Then the reader hopefully won’t be as confused when the scene suddenly continues in his head.

The revision (in bold) can look something like this:

Lucy was livid when she found out she had to revise her manuscript. She simply didn’t understand the problem with the way she approached point of view.

“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” Bob said. “Why can’t you just suck it up and do it the right way?”

Lucy looked at Bob and huffed; it figured he wasn’t going to take her side on this. [and this paragraph continues in Lucy’s POV…]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]

***SECTION BREAK***

[A paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

Alternatively, the rewritten portion above could still have Bob not say anything. Something like:

Lucy looked at Bob and huffed. She could see from the way he screwed his face that he didn’t understand why it was a big deal. It figured he wasn’t going to take her side on this.

In a case like this where part of the original does get cut, if it’s something the author really likes and doesn’t want to lose entirely, she can try to find somewhere else to fit it without infringing on the wrong POV.

I don’t know how much sense I’m making with this, but let’s just say the author seems happy about it, which makes me happy. And let me also say there are entire scenes only in one POV, so the whole thing is not going to be chopped up in small sections all the way through. That would be a whole new issue if so.

I can’t say, though, that I’ve read many (if any) books like this. What do you think? Is this a reasonable approach that you’ve seen before (and that’s been done well), or do you think it’s still confusing for the reader?


POV for Vendetta

“[F]airness, justice, and freedom are more than words, they are perspectives…[I]f you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me…”

V for Vendetta

In the time since my last post, my eyes healed (thank you for your well wishes on that!), and I’d come to trade my sunglasses for a different mask of sorts…one that had tried to preserve an eternal grin to bear the POV debacle that was crashing down on me just as I set off on holiday last week.

Don’t fear. Though I now live in London, it is not my intention to load a tube train up with explosives and send it on its merry way to Westminster. (I did infiltrate Parliament once, though, back in ’98 when my friend—an intern—snuck me in. I stood on the MPs’ terrace and drank a Carlsberg in the pub they have in there. Oh, and I bumped into a blind MP, which made me feel really bad. In all fairness, however, he should have been able to smell me from a mile off, as I’d just gotten in from a train from Spain via Paris and hadn’t showered in all that time. But I digress…)

Anyway, the real issue at hand concerned the manuscript I’m editing for my freelance work with an independent publisher. I will certainly assume the title of “Dufus” on this one, but the whole situation really has had me reevaluating my perspective on, well, perspective…a.k.a. point of view.

So here’s the deal. The author intended the novel to be 3rd person limited POV, which is precisely how I read it as well, correcting here and there for stray thoughts of other characters to which the POV was not limited. This is a romance, and the two lead characters that comprise the central romantic couple share the limelight 50/50, as do their thoughts. The writing was strong, so it honestly didn’t confuse or distract me through my many reads of this ms that the POV was head-hopping between the two, sometimes on a paragraph level. I made sure the POV didn’t shift within a paragraph, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it doing so between these two characters within a scene.

Okay, technically, that’s more omniscient than limited where 3rd person goes, and that’s what the managing editor at the stage beyond my developmental edit called us out on. For 3rd person multiple limited, shifts in POV between the multiple characters should be denoted by a section or chapter break. If this author is asked to revise for this (which she was last week and, thank goodness, spoke up about it, as I agree with her), it’ll be like rewriting half the novel, and the playful sexual tension that the omniscience delivers so well will be squashed. If she’s required to adhere to this technicality of 3rd person limited, that is…

As it stands at present, our appeals induced the managing editor to forward the ms to the other MEs for their opinion on whether it can work as-is or be revised as 3rd person omniscient instead. The author and I are strongly preffing this option, as it’ll not only be a significantly less extensive revision, but will preserve said back-and-forth tension. It’s not that this tension couldn’t be brought about otherwise, just that it hasn’t been written that way all along, so in the direction the story has since gone, it would be difficult to change and really sap it of its spirit, at this point and in this particular case (you’d have to read it to know what I mean).

So this is my question to you: Why can’t a 3rd person limited POV (limited to multiple characters) head-hop between the characters it’s limited to if it’s been done in a skillful manner that is not confusing and actually enhances the tone and conflict of the text? Now, if this author is given the go-ahead to switch to omniscient, she’ll be adding thoughts of secondary characters as well, which is only promoting further head-hopping and extremely unnecessarily, all in the name of convention. Why would it be okay to hop around several different heads instead of just two if it’s all about ensuring clarity for the reader? Why can’t an “omniscient” POV be limited to two characters? Am I making myself sound like even more of a dufus?

My fear stems from the true limited POV being that of these editors who shun 3rd person omniscient (along with 1st person multiple perspectives—in that case, um, hello? Time Traveler’s Wife? Poisonwood Bible?)  from the get-go because they so often see it mistreated by inexperienced writers. I understand that perspective, I do; green writers can easily make a mess of either one, and do. Yet I don’t think it’s quite fair to essentially adopt as a policy when there are more skillful writers (even first-time ones) who do pull it off. So it’s my latest bone of contention that is rendering Point-of-View my Pain-in-Ass.

By the way, this is really, really humbling for me to share as both a newbie editor and former English teacher, for cripes sakes! I guess the wonderful world of creative writing will always be full of surprises, just when we think we’ve dissected it down to a science. If there’s anything to be learned in this, it’s that I have a lot to learn…which makes it difficult to know when to fight for what I think is fair, just, and promotes creative freedom or to just grin and bear it.

Have you encountered this issue with POV in your writing? Can you think of examples of literary works that somehow defy narrative convention and pull it off?


%d bloggers like this: