It’s 11pm at night. Do you know where your POV is?

By Greg Turnquist

Greg L. Turnquist worked on the Spring team for over thirteen years and is a senior staff technical content engineer at Cockroach Labs. He was the lead for Spring Data JPA and Spring Web Services. He wrote Packt's best-selling title, Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition, and its 3rd Edition follow-up along many others.

May 26, 2015

medieval-town Last night, around 11pm, I wrapped up a long edit on Darklight. Ever since the Clarksville Christian Writers started meeting early this year, I have gotten in gear for cleaning up my manuscript.

One of my fabulous beta readers, a published author, spotted my issue with POV (Point of View). I head hopped all the time and used the style of a narrator. “Clarel heard soldiers approaching”, “Clarel felt people brush past her”, etc. This puts distance between the reader and Clarel and also becomes wearisome. It’s better to write “Booted feet filled Clarel’s ears” and “Someone brushed past her”. Why? Instead of narrating what’s happening and TELLING the reader what is being thought, seen, and heard, you instead must SHOW them through the character’s eyes, ears, and words.

A nice side effect of Deep POV is that extraneous sentences melt away. When showing a scene through Clarel’s viewpoint, sentences that share another character’s thoughts must be purged. If their thoughts, ideas, and motives are still critical, they can be brought back in either dialog or facial expression. It would be maddening if Clarel asked a character a question, and that character pauses! Naturally, Clarel would ask a question to squeeze out an answer. This leads to tension and the type of communication we all embrace everyday.

I also cleaned out a whole lot of “helper” verbs. Grammatically speaking, “helper” verbs are things like “will go”, “could buy”, “and should pick up”. In my sloppy writing experience, I add on things like “seemed to be walking”, “appeared to be want to buy”, and more. I felt guilty at using them EVERYWHERE. In the process of boiling away all these unnecessary words, the story I wrote becomes leaner and meaner. This is also known as tightening up the manuscript. By only providing the minimal words needed to communicate the story, the words that remain become more powerful. I am proud to say that what used to be almost 77,000 words has now slimmed down to 70,000+. 6500 fewer words has yielded what I feel is a MUCH better story.

One of the hardest things for me to pickup were sentence fragments. Years of english taught me to always write complete sentences. But when I picked up and read “Killing Floor” by Lee Child, I noticed that not everything was “perfect”. In many situations he used sentence fragments to punch up the language. The amazing thing is, I didn’t notice! I was too busy flipping page after page. to keep up with the action. Since that’s what I want my own readers doing, I relaxed my own discipline on this arena.

“What are we going to do? He’s coming!” she continued to worry. Cold night. Wet feet. None of it distracted her. She was too caught up in the news she had learned from one of her nefarious contacts. She approached a familiar street corner and slowed down. Snitch saw a group of people from the Raiders gang. She looked behind herself and realized it was too late to back up and find another route.

In the excerpt above, I have highlighted a small bit where I used sentence fragments. Your english teacher may crack your knuckles with a ruler if you did that on a test. But this type of stuff builds riveting acting. People often cite Steven King’s “you must know the rules so you know when to break them.” Steven King taught english before becoming a hit novelist, raking in $40 million a year.

Indeed we need to learn things like Deep POV, show-don’t-tell, and proper usage of grammar and words. Because once we master it, we can then bend, twist, and put language to work for us.

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