Sunday, June 28, 2015

POV is . . .

a writerly term for Point of View. Quite important when crafting fiction, especially. When one’s reading a novel, he or she will encounter a POV, sometimes labelled or confused with Voice. Here’s an example of third person POV and following, the first person POV.

“She felt strongly she shouldn’t poke around the study of Miss Manners. Yet, she was sure there were likely private matters squirreled away in those intriguing cubby holes of the roll-top or stuffed in amongst the slipcased files lining the shelves. But, on the other hand, perhaps she could justify just a quick scan of the possibilities.”

“I scolded myself, poking around the study of Miss Manners. Private matters here, squirreled away. Yet, those intriguing cubby holes of the roll-top lured me. Or, perhaps I’ll find some handwritten notes stuffed amongst the slipcased files lining those shelves. What harm, really, from a quick scan?”  

These are written to illustrate the contrast and different degree of impact. Yes, the third person could be revised to lend a greater sense of engagement or immediacy, intimacy or revelation of the character’s inner monologue. Let’s try it.

“She scolded herself, poking around the study of Miss Manners. Private matters here, squirreled away. Yet, those intriguing cubby holes of the roll-top lured her. Perhaps she’d find some handwritten notes stuffed amongst the slipcased files lining the shelves. What harm, really, from a quick scan?”

As noted, the third person becomes more effective as rewritten but must rely on italics to convey interior monologue. Why not just put the passage in first person and eliminate this third person narrator, this voice-over intruder separating the reader and the character? Why not avoid this interpreter who rushes in to explain the character’s actions or reactions? Let the character and readers develop their own communication. Reserve the author's voice for background, not center stage.

I consider first person fiction typically stronger and more effective than third person. The third person narrative risks what’s called authorial intrusion. Author Intrusion wedges itself into the discussion, often disrupting the relationship developing between the reader and the protagonist. (Or antagonist for that matter.)

It’s subtle, but careful and critical readers recognize it and find such annoying when they want to sit across the table and share a cup of coffee with the main or important characters on a one-to-one, face-to-face basis. Do they really want this outsider inviting himself, joining in, sitting down, this author butting in and telling the reader what to think, interpret, understand, suspect, expect?

Here’s something to think about. Would The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird create greater impact if written in third person? Would Nick Carraway and Scout Finch plant themselves more deeply in our memory if relegated to some third person status?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hand-Me-Down Morning

Not like him to be late. During Irene’s illness and after her death, his pattern became as predictable as the school bus. His light would come on at 6:30; he’d listen to the markets, then “Paul Harvey: News”, put the cat out, and come over for breakfast.
I often invited him to eat with the family, but no, he said. “I’d just as soon come later, if it’s all right. Morning’s a hubbub at your place and they all need y’ then.”
“You wouldn’t be in the way,” I told him.
“I ‘spose.” A familiar phrase our family knew as his real, final, or private decision.
And, the morning became a routine I enjoyed. For the house grew quiet and I would have my breakfast then too, getting better acquainted with the father-in-law I'd known for 15 years.
I snapped off the radio––an intrusion today––and watched his house for some sign. Its windows stared back cold and dark in the frosty light. On such a day, he’d come over and report: “I made me a little fire.” But the chimney stood stark and smokeless as a tombstone against the leaden sky.
I set the skillet off the burner and paced, finally into the front room where I could see the road and Rob perhaps coming back from the lower place. These are the times I wished for a two-way radio system. Then I could reach my husband in town or across the valley.
It became a family joke, Granddad’s war with the phone company: “Dad claims he’d drive ten miles t’ keep from callin’ someone,” said Rob. “I’ve seen him do it, too.”
As a kind of gag gift one Christmas, we kids gave him and Irene a cordless memory telephone. But it became her bedside friend right to the end. “It’s so light and I don’t have to fuss with dialing,” she said, happy for the companionship. After Irene was gone, he consigned it to the hall, and we all knew he regarded her little convenience as another reminder of his loss.
Fruitless to call but I did.
I rang eight . . . ten times and then hung up. Dad would turn the ringer down and made no secret of it.
Nothing to do but check, I decided. Plucking my “going-to-the-mail” sweater from its hook, I started down the walk toward his home, what we all called “The Little House.” Overhead, the sun was struggling to lift a woolly shawl mantling the land.            
      Sunshinewhy not? Take the edge off this coolness.
His things were in the storm porch where he left them. He hadn’t gone out. The back door was unlocked as suited folks around here.
The cat froze on the counter when I went in. Then it flew off in terror knowing it had violated one of Irene’s sacred orders. That––“Domino”scurrying to safer quarters––alarmed me: he hadn’t been fed.  
     “Dad?” I asked.
The stillness of an empty kitchen enveloped me. Only the Seth Thomas clock recorded each moment’s passing, a metronome of dread. Maybe I’d meet him in the hall. He slept in the front bedroom and when I started to knock, the door fell open at my touch.
His bed hadn’t been made. He’d been fussy about such. “Drill sergeant mentality,” he said of the habit.
I tiptoed into the room and edged across the carpet to where . . . I could . . . glance into the bath.
Relieved, I called to him again, loudly this time.
“Up here,” he coughed.
The narrow stairs led to what we all called “The Garret,” a little slant-roofed attic and emergency dormitory. Its sloping floors creaked with the weather and captured every step when the grandkids invaded the family “museum,” as Dad labeled it.
I climbed up and knelt beside him where he huddled over the photo albums Irene tended as faithfully as her geraniums.
“I woke like a shot,” he laughed. “An’ I came up here straight-a-way like these pictures were on fire.”
He turned the book for me to view a color print, faded just a little, showing my Rob and his brother with their roly-poly black steers, coats as glossy as bowling balls. He wagged a gnarly finger at the scene.
“That’s where we started, named them ‘Huff’ and ‘Puff’––remember? ‘Course you don’t, before your time.”
We leafed through the pages of county fair triumphs, the slimy new calves, winter feeding, the cattle drive they staged up on Highway 4. “That girl spent a potload on film. Wish now I hadn’t fussed about it.”
The morning light streamed in over our task. And as its amber glow bathed the dusky leather of his features, I studied him, dimly recording his recitation of the pedigrees and the purebred bulls he’d bought and admired. He was wearing the robe I’d made him years before. It shown threadbare here and there and his hair poked out in wispy spikes of auburn flecks and gunmetal gray. I had to smile when it settled down around me: I'm looking at my husband in 30 years.
“Well––” he slammed the album shut. “These need to go to your place. They’re for the kids to see, part of their past––jam sandwiches and fingerprints won’t hurt a bit.”
Now, it became his turn to study me. “You’ve been hopin’ I’d say that, haven’t y’?”
“Why didn’t you ask?”
“I knew you’d come to it . . . in your time.” I left him and cradling “Domino” in my arms, I started down the steps.
“Sorry I gave y’ a start,” he called to me. “We’ll be there as soon’s I shave.”
Stoking “Domino’s” silky coat, I looked at him over the boxes and suitcases, the ragged furniture and discards, beyond the remnants of memory and a marriage, across the years, trying to express what the moment meant to me. He waited.
“Looks like a golden morning out there,” I managed. “I’m glad you had your dreams, Dad. We all are.”