Color Inside the Lines
Or…Controlling Your Points of View
by Editor Maggie Johnson
Has anyone ever read your manuscript and advised that you need to control your POV? Have you ever mentally answered “What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks are they talking about?”
Well, in a romance story the Points Of View that we are interested in seeing are the Hero’s and Heroine’s. Isn’t our main reason for reading romance to experience how these two people meet, fall in love, and feel about each other?
Did we really buy the book hoping to find out how her mother thinks she is a total incompetent in homemaking skills? Or were we really hoping to read a sub-plot about how his best friend thinks he is a complete fool for being taken in by this seductress?
Well, yes and no. These little tidbits of information are interesting, and make the hero and heroine seem just a wee bit more human. So they do have a place in the story--we’re just not going to hear about them from Mom and Dave (the best friend) directly.
All of our information is going to be filtered through Jack and Sally, the aforementioned hero and heroine. (Please feel free to be more creative in naming your characters.) But we’re going to learn these things in an organized manner--one that does not give our readers a headache wondering who is saying or thinking what…and why.
In other words, it is a big turn-off to hop from head to head in any given section (or sub-chapter) of a story. Do not give us Sally’s experiences for two paragraphs before giving one paragraph of Jack’s and then hopping back into Sally’s head again. Readers should not have to ask themselves where the aspirin bottle is. That takes them way out of the story…never a good thing.
Remember that when we are in Sally’s point of view, we are not going to think about our long, slender, well-manicured fingers--unless Sally is a narcissist. We typically don’t think of ourselves that way. I’m not saying that her manicured fingers are not long and slender, only that the reader will find this out during Jack’s POV as he admires said digits.
Also during Sally’s POV we’re not going to learn that Jack is overwhelmed by Sally’s telling of her mother’s bizarre “accidental” death while mopping the kitchen floor. Unless, of course, Sally has perfected the art of mind-reading and can feel that Jack’s whelm is beyond the normal boundaries. Although we could find out about his distress at this time if he expresses in their conversation that he is utterly overcome.
So what’s with the color reference in this article’s title? Well, it’s a little exercise that I recommend my authors do for a couple pages when I see them head-hopping. They can either print out the pages and use their six-pack of multi-colored high-lighter markers, or use the multi-colored high-lighting capabilities that most word processing programs have. I even let them choose their own colors…though am happy to provide them with the following examples:
Blue = Jack said (or thought…or felt)
Pink = Sally said
Purple = They said (Mom, Dave, or anybody else directly conveying information)
Gray = Somebody said (This is the narration, or backstory)
Green = Nobody said (Deliberate scene setting Ex: He saw the red couch, she wore the blue dress)
So the gray and the green are not a part of this essay, but I will say this about that: Add the gray and green together and they should not total more than 10% of the entire manuscript. This is covered under the concept of “Show, don’t tell.” That’s another story for another time.
Now we have to take the purples and convert them to either blue or pink. It’s not that Mom cannot feel that Sally is a complete and utter failure--it’s just that these feelings need to be filtered (probably) through Sally as a (current or remembered) conversation with Mom. Or maybe Sally views a videotape or reads a letter in which Mom rants and harangues Sally about her un-ironed bedsheets. (You’re starting to feel that perhaps the mop--from the above death scene--is going to get off on “justified homicide” about now, aren’t you?)
After we’ve made everything blue and pink, they need to be segregated into their own sections. But sometimes this interrupts the story flow, right? Well, then what we need to do is bring in a translator and translate some of the pinks to blue and vice versa. Instead of Jack being overwhelmed by mom’s demise, he may “appear” or “seem” (to Sally) to be overwhelmed.
In an ideal (fantasy) world, the amount of blues and pinks would be about equal. But we must admit that the pinks are generally more “touchy-feely” so will most likely be more abundant. Just try to have at least 1/3 blue to 2/3 pink because our readers want to know both sides of the love equation, better known as the love story.