Perspective, Language and Mood: Pt 1, Point of View

I recently discovered a planning document I wrote back when I first started thinking about this blog. Different topics & posts, plans for different days of the week, that kind of thing. And nope, I haven’t followed so much as point #1 from it. Hell, I forgot it even existed until I was cleaning some old papers & files out of my bag.

There is one thing I miss about the old days of working for other people: when I wrote things like that document, I didn’t have to do a damn thing to execute it. I wrote it, and other people had to actually make it work. *sniff* It brings a tear of nostalgia to my eye!

Nowadays I write stuff like that and then have to actually do the hard work of ignoring it. Sheesh. Of course, I already mentioned my slacker aspirations in a previous post, didn’t I? I’m a competitive guy, so if I’m gonna be a slacker, I’m gonna be the best goddamned slacker there is!

But, hey, I might as well make use of some of those ideas…thinking up post topics is hard!

So, today {Edit: waaay too long, now split over two posts}: POV and Voice. It’s something I’m thinking about, anyway, as I’m playing around with the two potential next stories.

For Wrath & Tears the first of those was the easier to decide upon, even if I did intentionally give myself some challenges as part of that decision. Connor’s character existed from the very inception of that project, and there was never any real possibility of not using him as the POV. I needed an intimate, street-level view of the world, and that meant either Connor or Oz. Oz is too intimately a part of dockside, but Connor still has a tinge of the “outsider” to him – Oz is his mentor as much as friend – since he manifestly was not born to that life.

And that’s where I started setting myself a writing challenge: I committed from day one to only using one character for POV. No swapping to other, “easer” expedients to describe things my protagonist just couldn’t/wouldn’t know. Nope, I wanted to make myself do it the “hard way”. I very much planned to have a number of events occur “off-stage”, and I wanted to force myself (as a writer) to communicate emotion and meaning through my chosen protagonist, rather than through the “easier” expedient of switching POVs.

One note about choosing Connor for the POV rather than Oz: the heart of those challenges I mentioned above IS Oz. Wrath & Tears, when you boil it down, is not a story about revenge or romance or corruption. It is a story about the friendship and love between two very broken people. It is, at its heart, a tragedy about Oz…and about suicide. It was always intended to be a story built on raw, unfiltered emotion. Just as it was always intended to tell Oz’s story from the outside. I bit off a lot with that decision. Showing the thoughts and emotions of a character whose head I cannot “get inside” was new for me, and was not easy in any way, but it felt right. It still feels right. And Oz is still my favorite character.

{Edit Note – yes, I know, I’m over-explaining the Wrath & Tears stuff, but that’s because I’m currently using this blog as a sort of exploration on what to write next. Exploring internally how I will continue Connor’s story, and it’s emotional underpinnings, is a huge part of that.}

As I think about and play with the next stories, that initial decision is still important to me. In Connor’s sequel, the same “rules” about POV will apply. To be honest, I almost tossed aside the single-POV “rule” at least a half-dozen times, but I am very glad now that I didn’t. I like having just the one lens of Connor’s perceptions*. It hasn’t always been easy writing the world through the eyes and mind of a 17-year-old street kid/junkie, but I don’t regret it even a little bit. Hell, I’m actually excited to start really writing him again (Yes, that means he is winning the battle for the next book…it’s 5 to 1 with five minutes left in the third period…if the conspiracy theory book doesn’t get off its ass, it’ll never get written!).

*Note – I also do photography for fun/work/relaxation. There is a challenge in photography where you can only use ONE prime lens – prime means no zoom, the lens’ length is fixed – and you have to shoot a variety of topics and subjects. It is challenging because it forces you to be creative and use more than just the “easiest” expedient…it is also hard as hell to do WELL, and I admire anyone who can.

That conspiracy story, on the other hand, will just as intentionally have 3-4 POVs. One will be the main, and account for 50-60%, but the others will provide insights and thoughts my slacker protagonist just can’t pull off. The world of secret societies and conspiracies and manipulation and betrayal is just too complicated, at this point, for me to rely on a single POV. The one automatic consequence of that decision is that it also decides how I write the POV: first- or third- person. Now, I’ve never written a first-person story, and I don’t plan to start now, and a second-person just seems…odd. And by “odd” I mean “insane”. I’m nuts enough, thank you very much. Third-person it is. That helps, that puts some boundaries on what I can show & describe, and how I can do it.

My favorite writing exercise from way back when was to take popular, well-known stories and rewrite them from another POV. Being the nerd I am, I rewrote Star Wars (before the evil “prequels” of Episodes I-III) from the Emperor’s point of view…then I decided to have some fun and I did the Dukes of Hazard from Boss Hoggs’ POV. I still laugh about that one.

Do that exercise yourself…find a story/show/movie, and write a quick story from the bad guy’s perspective. It’s fun, and it will help you start thinking in other directions.

A final note on perspective: as part of my prep work, I write a plot/story summary from the POV of every significant character. I learn something valuable every single time I do that. Writing Nat’s summary of Wrath & Tears completely changed some of the things I was doing…

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