Thursday, November 4, 2010

The PoV Bomb

I think, of all the subjects writers discuss, this one has to be the most popular. I guess, in part, it's because PoV (Point of View) is your character and without it, well, you have nothing. No matter what, if you write a story, you're writing in some form of PoV. However, it may not always be the correct form. And while this subject has been done to death, somewhere there is young novelist who will (like I did) be told they have some serious PoV issues and will raise a brow wondering what the heck P-O-V stands for.

This is my PoV story. We all have one (even if you don't want to admit it).

Almost five years ago, I decided, in my young naive state of writers mind, that I'd written three books and it was time for me to step out of my shell and find myself an agent. So I bought a book (or three), did my research and sent off fifteen submissions. I'd read that was the magic number. If no one cared to see more, then you probably had a loser on your hands. Yes... we all know, I had a loser on my hands.

However, a kind agent sent me a personalized rejection. I was floored and honored, yet, completely confused. I had not one clue what the heck she was talking about. What was PoV? What was showing versus telling? What was wrong with dialogue tags, I mean, how else do you know when someone is speaking?! Oh yes, as you can tell, I had a long way to go. So I did the only thing I could think to do, I joined a writing group on Yahoo and typed out the letter and asked what it meant. The flood of replies and offers to read my MS and help was astounding. What had taken me so long to join a writing community? That story is for another day though.

Two authors emailed me personally. One was published. I was so excited! A published writer wanted to read my work! I called my dad, jumping up and down. She was so sweet, and I wish I remembered her name now. After giving some carefully worded advice, she suggested a crit partner to help, and also suggested I work on one thing at a time. The second person who stepped forward offered to be my crit partner. Wow, how could I be so lucky?! Well, turns out, I wasn't.

Upon reading my first chapter, the woman rudely told me I was not what she expected. She figured since I'd received a personalized rejection, I must be a good writer who had some clue about HOW to write. She said my MS looked liked her first grader had gone over it with her crayons and she just didn't have that kind of time. After all, she'd received requests for full manuscripts from agents, she was better than I and could not work with me. I was crushed. Luckily, a beginner writer, Cate Chase, with patience and a heart of gold, came to my rescue that same day.

Immediately Cate and I forged a friendship and began working together. Months later we were both astounded at the changes we'd helped each other make. One change however, was about to rock our worlds. I remember the evening well. I'd been sitting there typing happily, thirty two thousand words into my Medieval romance. The phone rings, oh, it's Cate!

"So I belong to this online writing group, right?" she says, a little hesitantly.
"Well, this published author posted today about PoV and head-hopping."
"Head-hopping?" First I'd heard of that!
"It's where you have more than one PoV per scene."
I glanced down at my computer. I could see three just on the page up. "What, you mean you have to stay in one persons head the entire scene? Well that's impossible."
"I know! But that's what she said. Publishers won't accept stories unless you stay in one persons head. Also, you can only have two PoV's per book, three at the most."
This is where the panic set in. I'd been writing... all wrong? And how was I supposed to fix it? How in the world would I be able to stay with just one character when they were all talking to me? "But I can't write like that."
"Just try, okay?"

So I agree. Hang up the phone and try not to cry. I plop down on the couch in our family room and tell my husband I have to learn how to write. Of course he doesn't understand and my personal crisis was just annoying. Still, I was having one and needed to figure out if I could continue writing with this bomb that'd just been dropped in my writing life.

A couple weeks later I'd managed to rewrite all thirty-two thousand words without head-hopping. I was so proud of myself! But more surprising, was how easy it had been and the difference it'd made. Not only was I able to get deeper into my characters head, now that I could concentrate on just one all the time, but I had more control over the story and things moved considerably faster. When the news had been given, the PoV bomb had been a death sentence, and after focusing and working through the problem, it turned out to be the best thing that'd ever happened in my writing career.

Cate and I are still working together, still dropping bombs and still helping each other be the best writers we can be. I'll always be grateful to her and I hope she knows I will always expect her to be the one person who says, "you can do better, Elaina!"

What's your PoV story?


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