Criminal Mischief: Episode #4: POV in CrimeFiction Notes
Who is telling the story? Is he/she also the protagonist or an observer?
Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird
Nick in The Great Gatsby Is he/she reliable?
How many POV characters is too few/too many? Which characters know too little to drive the story/or know too much and might spoil the story?
TYPES: FIRST PERSON POV: The “I” Character
Advantages: Close tie to reader Narrator is the “Star”
Good for mysteries-reader learns as the I character does
Disadvantages: I character must be present Can lead to
Can’t supply suspenseful information to reader Not good for
SECOND PERSON POV: The “You” character—very tricky to use
THIRD PERSON POV: The “He/She” Character
SINGLE: Similar to First person except he/she is used Similar Advantages/Disadvantages as First Person
MULTIPLE: Jumping from head to head Allows reader to get inside several characters Allows reader to have “Superior Knowledge”--Suspense Great for thrillers
CLOSE: Camera in character’s head DISTANT: Camera external and watching the action These distances aren’t either/or but rather a continuum. The “camera” can shift along a line from far behind or above the character to inside the character’s head.
OMNISCIENT POV: The AUTHOR as GOD Jump from head to head at will Can be confusing Requires more writing skill than seems apparent
MIX & MATCH: Can combine POVs if you are good and careful
EXPOSITION AND POV:
FIRST: I’m a cop. Rather a homicide investigator. Have been for many decades. Not easy decades. Not at all. I’ve lost partners to the misdeeds of others. I’ve lost my family to long hours away and the neglect that engenders. I’ve even lost my soul to alcohol and planted evidence. I’ve grown to hate the job I once loved.
SECOND: You’re a detective. Have been for decades. You know others think that the life of a detective is fascinating, and easy. That investigators are mostly out of the line off fire and come to the crime later when the who, how, and why must be discovered. That this time lag distances the investigator from the emotional impact of the crime. You know they’re wrong.
THIRD: Mac was a homicide investigator. Had been for many decades. Early in his career he loved the job, the deciphering of the who, what, and why. But lately things had changed. He no longer jumped from bed in the morning, eager to attack the case, but rather rolled out slowly, hung over, depressed, no fire in his belly. God, he hated being trapped in this existence.
OMNISCIENT: Homicide investigators are problem solvers. Puzzlers, who work to fit each evidence item into a bigger and cleared picture. Most have skills in this arena but none are immune to the effect such investigations lay on their souls. The dead and damaged, the inhumanity one person inflicts on another, the innocents who are caught in the wake of heinous crimes, each takes a toll on every detective’s mental faculties and stability. Makes cynicism a way of life. Such was the case with Mac Wilson. Less so for Amanda Sims, his partner, a rookie who was just beginning her tenure in the pressure cooker. She still believed in her fellow man. That wouldn’t last long.
NOTE: In choosing your overall POV and POV character look for where the real story drama lies. This is true for not only the entire manuscript but also, if multiple POVs are used, for each scene.
ELMORE LEONARD: What is the purpose of this scene and from whose POV should it be told?
How Do You Choose the Right POV Character(s)?
Who has the most at stake/faces the greatest conflicts? Who will the reader most empathize with/worry about? Who drives the story? Who is effected most by the story? Who is the most interesting? Who is present/actively involved at the climax?
How many POV characters do you need?
If multiple, what characters enhance the plot, offer help/hindrance to the protagonist, offer a different perspective, offer needed info that increases suspense?
EXAMPLES: FIRST PERSON POV: The Sun Also Rises--Ernest Hemingway
“I could picture it. I have a rotten habit of
picturing the bedroom scenes of my friends. We went out to
the Cafe Napolitain to have an aperitif and watch the
evening crowd on the Boulevard.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--Mark Twain
You don't know about me, without you have read a book
by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that
ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and
he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he
stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I
never seen anybody but lied, one time or another, without
it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary.
The Great Gatsby--F. Scott Fitzgerald
When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that
I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral
attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with
privileged glimpses into the human heart.
SECOND PERSON POV: Bright Lights, Big City--Jay McInerney
You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place
like this at this time of the morning. But here you are,
and you cannot say the terrain is entirely unfamiliar,
although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub
talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either
Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might become clear if
you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more
Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not. A small
voice inside you insists that this epidemic lack of clarity
is a result of too much of that already.
THIRD PERSON POV: Red Dragon--Thomas Harris
Will Graham sat Crawford down at a picnic table
between the house and the ocean and gave him a glass of
Jack Crawford looked at the pleasant old house, salt-
silvered wood in the clear light. “I should have caught you
in Marathon when you got off work,” he said. “You don’t
want to talk about it here.”
“I don’t want to talk about anywhere, Jack. You’ve got
to talk about it, so let’s have it. Just don’t get out any
pictures. If you brought pictures, leave them in the
briefcase -- Molly and Willy will be back soon.”
Hot Lights, Cold Steel--D. P. Lyle
This was going to be totally cool. Dead bodies.
Carmelita had never seen one, much less two. Would they be
gross? Smell bad? She’d heard that they smelled like
rotting eggs. What if she threw up? How embarrassing.
Still, she’d have a great story to tell. And a ring to show
She had been scheduled to work until 1:00 a.m., but
this was definitely worth dumping a couple of hours.
Besides, it wasn’t that busy, and the tips had been lousy.
Some nights were just that way. Maybe if this had been a
payday Friday, she’d have stayed, but a dead Wednesday? No
OMNISCIENT POV: The Dawn Patrol--Don Winslow
The girls looked like ghosts.
Coming out of the early-morning mist, their silver
forms emerge from a thin line of trees as the girls pad
through the wet grass that edges the field. The dampness
muffles their footsteps, so they approach silently, and the
mist that wraps around their legs makes them look as if
Like spirits who died as children.
There are eight of them and they are children; the oldest is fourteen, the youngest ten. They walk toward the
waiting men in unconscious lockstep.
The men bend over the mist like giants over clouds,
peering down into their universe. But the men aren’t
giants; they’re workers, and their universe is the
seemingly endless strawberry field that they do not rule,
but that rules them. They’re glad for the cool mist -- it
will burn off soon enough and leave them to the sun’s
Black Cherry Blues--James Lee Burke
Her hair is curly and gold on the pillow, her skin
white in the heat lightning that trembles beyond the pecan
trees outside the bedroom window. The night is hot and
breathless, the clouds painted like horsetails against the
sky; a peal of thunder rumbles on the Gulf like an apple
rolling around in the bottom a wooden barrel, and the first
raindrops ping against the window fan. She sleeps on her
side, and the sheet molds her thigh, the curve of her hip,
her breast. In the flicker of the heat lightning the sun
freckles on her bare shoulder look like brown flaws in
Then a prizing bar splinters the front door out of the
jamb, and two men burst inside the house in heavy shoes,
their pump shotguns at port arms. One is a tall Haitian,
the other a Latin whose hair hangs off his head in oiled
ringlets. They stand at the foot of the double bed in which
she sleeps alone, and do not speak. She awakes with her
mouth open, her eyes wide and empty of meaning. Her face is
still warm from a dream, and she cannot separate sleep from
the two men who stare at her without speaking. Then she
sees them looking at each other and aim their shotguns
point-blank at her chest. Her eyes film and she calls out
my name like a wet bubble bursting in her throat. The sheet
is twisted in her hands; she holds it against her breasts
as though it could protect her from twelve- gauge deer
slugs and double aught buckshot.
NOTE: Could this be a first-person dream sequence? Absolutely. The phrase "she calls out my name" suggests that. Still, absent that, it's a good example of omniscient POV.
AUTHORIAL/OMNISCIENT TO FIRST PERSON
Run To Ground—DP Lyle
The Tennessee River sagged into North Alabama like a
slack guitar string, waiting to be tightened to the proper
key. From its origins at the confluence of the Holston and
French Broad Rivers near Knoxville, Tennessee, until it
emptied into the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky, it
covered over six hundred and fifty miles. The river was
home to nine Tennessee Valley Authority hydroelectric dams,
which supplied power to a large chunk of the southeast. The
city of Huntsville, as well as the Redstone
Arsenal/Marshall Space Flight Center, nestled against the
river near the bottom of its Alabama swag.
Like most Southern cities, Huntsville was small.
Though the population was around one hundred and sixty
thousand and it was spread over one hundred and seventy-
five square miles, you could drive fifteen minutes in any
direction and be lost in rural America. No city lights. No
traffic. Just fertile farmland where rabbits, squirrels,
doves, and crows abounded. Land where cotton was king for
so many years. Still was, though it had been joined by corn
and soybeans and a handful of other food crops.
I stood at the back of my property and looked out over
the city, the Redstone Arsenal, and the rolling green hills
and thick patches of forest that surrounded both. The
cloudless blue sky, the gentle breeze from the west, and
the pink and white dogwoods that bloomed along the edge of
my property offered no hint of the horrors that lay in
those hills and forest patches. None of the people driving
unhurriedly along Memorial Parkway could have guessed that
at this very moment excavation crews were pulling body
after body from the ground. Before sunset they would know,
but right now life went on as if this were just another
perfect April day.