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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » POV violation vs. assumption

   
Author Topic: POV violation vs. assumption
enigmaticuser
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If the POV narrates about another character, "His face was warm with compassion", technically speaking compassion is on the inside. How many times has a character seemed compassionate to the POV when actually plotting their downfall?

So is this a POV violation (even though it seems often done), or is it in fact the POV expressing definitively their perception?

In my thinking, I don't think it reflects anything but the POV's perception. If the perception is wrong, I expect to be told eventually. And if the POV mistook what should have been obvious, I will think less of the POV character, but not fault the narration as unreliable anymore than I would if the character decided chocolate was disgusting.

It seems to me the question is subjective vs. objective. The MC can make definite conclusion about the contents of one's mind (their compassion) because it is a judgment call that can be reasonably made. If they were divining the other character's pin number or something objective/tangible that they have no way of knowing, that's too far.

So what about when two characters think alike (suppose one has studied the other). One thinks in their mind that they know what the other is thinking. For example, Ender's Peter clone. "Let's get out of here before Andrew decides if he's going to kill me or not."

As the divining/asserting becomes more complex, less face value, it becomes confusing. Who's head are we in? I'm thinking the problem would be related to how strongly the POV is. In Hunger Games no one doubts that Katniss's conclusions about Peeta are her own. But if you're worried your POV might not be that distinct (say you have multiple POV's), is it enough merely to have a thought tag to establish and then move on:

"She thought his face looked compassionate. But that was all for show. If he was showing emotion, it was a show. Right now, he was thinking about how he was going to get the jewel past her sensor wand. He was thinking about slipping it under the machine while he took off his shoes. No, that was too open. It wasn't a matter of what his hand was doing, it was a matter of which hand she was watching. He needed her to look at the other hand. Or better yet, someone else's other hand."

Thoughts?

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MattLeo
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Well, the first rule I think is to be clear, no matter what the style of narration. I don't like "His face was warm with compassion" because I don't know how to picture it. Unless... unless maybe you intend to tell us something about the narrator and not the person belonging to the face.

I wouldn't classify this as a POV violation. I think it's natural for a narrator character to deliver judgments and interpretations as if they were facts. But then, there is no *logical* reason for an omniscient narrator to do the same, or even to head-hop. The objections to these things is *stylistic*, not *logical*, and they apply I think to every style of narration.

The object is to make your narrator engaging and easy for the reader to live with. A narrator that tells you things that are impossible to visualize or does too much of the readers' thinking for them risks being tedious, whether that narrator is first person, third person limited or third person omniscient.

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extrinsic
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Seymour Chatman in Story and Discourse writes about narrated and nonnarrated narratives. A very close narrative distance may feel to readers like a nonnarrated story. Simply put, close narrative distance stays in character voice, estranging narrator voice to extremes. However, direct speech and thought tags of the "he said" and "she thought" varieties are unequivocally narrator voice.

An open narrative distance emphasizes a narrator's voice over character voices. The so-called omniscient narrator has access to all relevant events and actions, even thoughts to selected degrees. Chatman discusses how an omniscient narrator is selective in that regard, not purely all knowing, all seeing, all hearing, and all feeling. He adds that selective omniscience is also part of selective ominpresence and selective omnipotence.

Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions' narrator is a prime example of a selective omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent narrator.

Anyway, if a narrator is in charge of perception, then the narrative point of view is the narrator's. At extremes of the narrator spectrum are the objective omniscient reporter who knows the full circumstances of a dramatic scenario after the fact, and the omniscient narrator who discovers the circumstances as they unfold. The latter being a subjective narrator regardless, meaning personally involved, biased, and, hence, open to interpretation and question.

The former narrator would know the emotions and interior life of all characters as pertains to the dramatic action. The latter would only express personal interpretations of the interior life of other characters, perhaps using a hedging voice.

For example: Her face lit up, positively glowing, when Mabrey Palsein entered the living room. Other party goers paused their conversations for a moment. The calypso music blaring from the hi-fi seemed to soften and waver, as if it had turned into reggae music.

"Seemed" is the hedging term there. Similar hedging terms are maybe, as if, I felt as though; apparently, she liked Mabrey; and the like, and so on and so forth.

[ April 18, 2013, 10:38 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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Personally I've become very tired of seeming and looking and thinking as hedge-terms to maintain POV. So... for myself, I decided to ditch them except when there's clear need. After all, if we're in the POV character's head, it should be clear that whatever-observation is his opinion, which may or may not be mistaken.

Ben sat down and relaxed.
vs
Ben sat down and seemed to relax.

The first makes an assumption, that the POV voice knows, or at least =thinks= he knows that when Ben sat down, he relaxed. (As contrasted to Ben sitting on the edge of his chair or some such.)

The second hedges, but... did Ben sit down and =appear= to relax, but in fact remained tense?

Bah. Clip the hedges, both for accuracy and to sidestep such silly responses from the more absurdly-literal-minded readers.

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extrinsic
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Instead of hedging, there's always showing doubt instead of telling. Often more word count, though.

Relaxing posture that isn't relaxed shows the contrasting descriptive details.

I'm not a fan of seem words when artlessly deployed, either. Though like any word or term, they have their place when artfully deployed. It's not silly nor absurd unless it is artless.

Hedging is not a masculinely assertive language method. Hedging does have feminine language expression aspects though.

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A Yeatts
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What extrinsic said. ;P

When skillfully done, the imperfections of our POV character's assumptions versus the realities of the world around him/her make for fascinating and multilevel plot lines. It's in the nuances of the showing. Not the blunt "seems" thrown in willy-nilly.

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Reziac
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Yes. If the hedging pulls us out of POV, then it's needless. If it shows us more about the POV, then it's needful and useful. Pretty much like any other words beyond the mere subject and verb. [Smile]

BTW, when the heck did 'willy-nilly' depart from its original meaning of 'will he, nil he' (whether he wanted to or not) and become a synonym of 'helter-skelter' ??

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extrinsic
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The denotative meaning of "willy-nilly," according to Webster's, arose circa 1608, meaning whether with or against one's will.

The second or connotative meaning, now taken in contemporary expression as the denotative meaning, according to Oxford English Dictionary, meaning in an unplanned, haphazard manner, arose late nineteenth century. OED cites the 1898 Sir Walter Besant novel The Orange Girl as a first publication of the emerging meaning. "Let us have no more shilly shally, willy nilly talk." I imagine the term had been used in everyday public conversation in that fashion for some time beforehand, as is the wont of living languages.

[ April 19, 2013, 01:07 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
BTW, when the heck did 'willy-nilly' depart from its original meaning of 'will he, nil he' (whether he wanted to or not) and become a synonym of 'helter-skelter' ??

Alright, you have me clean beat in the language curmudgeon department. I only complain about things that go back as far as using "impact" as a synonym for "affect".
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Understanding the differences between (as well as the evolutions from and to) denotation and connotation of the words we use can be a wonderful tool for writers.

You can make what might be equivalent to puns, or at least plays on the words, by involving both the denotation (the original meaning) of a word as well as its connotation (what it has come to mean over time).

Those readers who know about such multiple facets of a word's meaning will experience extra enjoyment from the writer's wordplay, and those who don't know, will still "get" at least some of the meaning intended.

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