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Author Topic: Questions about POV and grammar
Member # 7932

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I understand that at times, writers choose to break rules for stylistic reasons, impact, or what have you. But recently, Iíve read books that appear to have modified rules and they didnít feel completely successful. I was still interested in the stories, but I found myself irritated by small areas in the books. Iíve listed some of the situations.

Iím still new to writing, so Iím trying to read with a critical eye and learn effective ways to construct stories. I understand there arenít necessarily right or wrong ways to tell a story, but what do people think? Can these methods be used successfully? Should they be avoided?

Situation 1
A secondary character asks the MC a question. The MC responds. The reader assumes the response is either a lie or partial truth, because the MC is thinking about keeping a secret. The MC never reveals the secret, only that she wants to keep the secret. At the climax the MC reveals the secret, shocking the reader. Throughout the book, the reader is trying to figure out what the secret is, building tension, suspense, etc. But if the POV is thinking about the secret, shouldnít we know what the secret is as well?

Here is the second part. The scene is written in the MCís POV. The MC is lying to a secondary character and the reader has no idea. The dialogue is written, but the MCís thoughts are not. Is it more acceptable to withhold the secret under this circumstance?

Situation 2
Important information is going to be revealed to a character, but as the information is being revealed, the scene ends, keeping the reader in the dark. The reader knows the character has the information now, but they will not learn what the character knows until later. Either the writer moves to a new POV or they jump to a future scene. Technically, the scene ends before the POV has the information, so it doesnít break the rule that says the reader should know what the POV knows. But it still feels contrived for the sake of building tension. Do you think the writer should be able to craft the story in a way that would avoid this situation?

Situation 3, Grammar and POV
I understand in dialogue, grammar rules are adjusted at times, because of dialect or because it sounds more natural. What is the rule when dealing with the characterís thoughts? Is poor grammar acceptable when used for characterization?

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Member # 7780

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You run into situations like this alot, especially in mysteries. It's very important not to cheat the reader; you have to give them a fair chance to figure things out and not with hold vital clues unnaturally just to suit yourself.
It sounds like you were reading analytically, but ask yourself if these authors were skillfull enough that you wouldn't have noticed the omissions, if you weren't analyszing the books for writing tips.
You've uncovered a drawback of 1st person POV; its hard to hide secrets the MC knows from the reader without being clunky. Maybe that book would have been better as 3rd person, if this secret was so vital to the plot.
The "cliffhanger" chapter endings are popular, so writers keep doing them. With more thought and effort the writer can reach a natural conclusion that still has threads of the ongoing problem. I've been told each chapter should have a story arc, like a short story. And as short stories have become more open-ended in modern times, that analogy seems particularly true.

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Member # 2733

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I consider situation 1 a "cheat". When the reader is in a characters POV, they should know anything the character does that is even relavent, much less important. Where's Will Briggs these days?

Situation 2 is a stylistic device that, while maybe overplayed at times, can be effective, especially when a story approaches its climax and different story lines are starting to merge and the pace is picking up. For my tatse, you have to be careful where you cut the scene or you've just pulled a situation 1.

If the POV is very close/deep, it can be very effective to have the "narration" (which in a very close POV isn't always distinct from a character's thoughts) follow a characters speech/thought patterns, including grammatical/diction characteristics. I would hazard a guess first person POV lends itself to this approach somewhat more so than third, but I've seen it in both. When done well, it makes for some of the most delightful writing there is.

[This message has been edited by dee_boncci (edited May 02, 2008).]

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Member # 1818

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My $0.02:

Situation 1: Outright shodddy writing.

Situation 2: I'm personally not a fan of writers doing that, but a lot of other people like it, so I can't say it's poor writing outright. I personally don't like it, though.

Situation 3: If you're in a very close P.O.V. (which you probably are if I'm getting the character's direct thoughts), the P.O.V. character's thoughts BETTER have the same idiosyncrasies as his or her speech. People tend to think with the same or similar words that they speak with. Or rather, it's probably the other way around; people tend to speak the same words they think. If a character spoke with a thick cockney accent, but then when I got that character's thoughts, they were in perfect King's English, I would feel a disconnect.

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Member # 2267

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I'm baaaaaack! (Thanks!)

I would agree about #1: it's almost always a terrible idea. I can recall a case in which it was successful: Ringworld. POV character told his friends, "I have this plan for saving the day. I don't want to look like an idiot if I'm wrong, so I wont' tell you." He didn't tell us, either. But even then, the author told us clearly, yeah, I know I'm breaking the rule, but just on this one thing.

#2: End of A Riddle-Master of Hed: Morgon reached the end of his quest, saw what he saw, and said, "Oh, no." That was the end of the volume!

The next volume had a different POV character. A few chapters in she learned what Morgon had seen.

I don't know if that was rule-breaking or not. Maybe a good test is "does it make your readers hate you and vow never to read any more of your work?"

#3: If your narrative is in standard English and the dialog isn't, I think the thoughts are also in standard English. (Check OSC's Magic Street -- I'm sure this comes up, because he uses thoughts a lot, and some of his characters use nonstandard English.) But I am not sure.

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Situation 1: I agree. Terrible writing. I will stop reading a book if this happens. (It doesn't, often, because it rarely gets published.)

Situation 2: I don't like it, it's a device. But it is used sometimes, and sometimes with great effect. I say it's still cheating.

As to the grammar- sometimes it works, usually it doesn't.

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Member # 2733

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Good to hear from you Will! Hope all is well

As far as the thoughts and grammar/diction goes. I think it's a matter of the depth of the POV, and whether the thoughts are described, or transcribed.

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Member # 7932

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(You've uncovered a drawback of 1st person POV; its hard to hide secrets the MC knows from the reader without being clunky. Maybe that book would have been better as 3rd person, if this secret was so vital to the plot.)
It was in 3rd person but it felt like close POV, since the MCís thoughts were shared.

As I read the responses, I realized my questions arose because Iím trying to figure out how to deal with writing in the 3rd person. All of these situations were in the 3rd person. Sorry I wasnít clearer. Writing In 1st person seems pretty clear to me. The reader knows what the MCís knows, and they only experience what the MC experiences. 3rd person feels more complicated. The writer can pull in and out of close POV, so the same rules donít seem to apply. I feel like there are too many options when writing in 3rd person and these situations confused me even more. It helped to hear some opinions. Thanks for the information; it gives me something to think about.

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Robert Nowall
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I had to abandon a third-person first scene in favor of first-person: I couldn't put across that this character was masquerading as another character, at least not within the restrictions of my story. Rewrote the whole thing and went on from there, though I don't think it improved the story much, just helped me out of a jam.
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