Most movies don’t provide the inner thoughts of the POV characters. This means the movie’s director has a creative responsibility to focus the camera on what the audience needs to see. He may begin with a long shot and then move to a close up on a detail that makes a difference in the plot, theme or characterization. Without the close up, we, as movie goers, don’t know what’s important or where to focus. We are left with little information to go on.
Even with the focus, each of us might interpret what we view differently. We see the key on the table, but one person might wonder what it opens while another decides the key will be left at home, forgotten, when it is needed. Someone else might remember the day, he lost his keys and how horrible it was to resolve the problem it caused. We can look at the same scene—a distant shot or close up—and see something totally different.
View A Field of Corn
Take for example, a far-off shot of a large cornfield. The camera moves closer as it focuses on ears, corn with the dark, dry silk, foretelling they are ready to be harvested. Everyone can see this, but seeing is only part of it. What we see is stimulated by our experience. In a novel, these elements will influence the POV character as he speaks or thinks, and it will be reflected through his senses.
When I look at a field of corn, I would recall purchasing ears at a farmer’s market and sitting with family as we husk the corn before cooking. My taste buds could get involved as I recall the taste of the corn when the kernels covered in butter break into juicy sweetness . Someone else might look at the field and admit it’s boring and he’d rather be looking at the Rocky Mountains which is what he would be doing if his wife hadn’t insisted they visit her family in Kansas. We sense his growing resentment.
You might conjure up a childhood memory of visiting your grandparent’s farm. You recall helping grandpa milk the cows and hurrying inside for grandma’s wonderful breakfast of eggs, sausage along with biscuits and gravy. The recollection provides feelings of family, security and love that you had then.
Another person could recall his life on the farm and experience a backache remembering days in the burning sun, planting a field of corn while praying for enough sun and rain to produce money for the family’s necessities. POV not only paints details of a scene but views it from the personal experiences and attitudes of the viewer.
Character’s Impact on a Scene
Along with weaving in scenic details, POV guides readers to the character’s attitudes toward what is viewed. The character will use words in the narration and dialogue that are appropriate to the way he feels about what he’s experiencing and seeing. An artist might view a scene as shape, shadow and color, but others who aren’t an artist or designer sees primary colors and basic shapes and not necessarily the nuances. Flowery language would escape the character. He looks at life through the eyes of action and accomplishment. In the same way, a POV character shows much through his introspection. What does he focus on, how does he relate it in introspection and how does he describe and feel about what he sees. Compare these scenes:
1 – She stepped into the foyer, her throat clamping shut from dust floating in the air. Gaudy bric-a-brac sat on every shelf,burdened with years of dust, and she doubted anyone cleaned the place. The flowery wallpaper had faded to a dull hue as if the flowers had died years earlier but no one bothered to remove them. Her gaze followed the nicked chair railing to the staircase, its carpet worn to a dull brown. Dank, drab and dusty. Ancient pictures lined the walls, colorless as the life the family must have led. She wanted no part of this atrocious antique life he had dragged her to.
2 – As he passed through the doorway, his gaze swept the intricate stained glass built into the frame. The colors spilled to the floor in the afternoon light as if a phantom artist had painted it. Whispers of days past swept through his mind, when ladies dressed in hoops skirts and gentleman wore frock coats. Though well-worn, the carpet took him back to his childhood when he would furtively bounce down the steps on his behind gazing at his ancestors’ portraits lining the elegant staircase above him. No table or shelf was bare in the foyer but displayed collectibles gathered over the years by the women of his family. Many brought back memories of his mother telling him the stories attributed to the delicate pieces. He gazed at his new wife, hoping she would see the beauty that he saw in the family home.
The attitude is evident, but what makes it clear. Notice the difference in woman and the man’s word choices. Picture the images the words create. If you didn’t know better, the man and woman might be describing a different foyer in a different house.
Using POV To Guide the Reader
As you see above, even small details define the POV character. Word choice and attitude can be viewed by the character’s language and as much, what he focuses on. You and I might not be bothered by knick-knacks strewn around the entry, but for the two above, the items became a focus because it represents something to each person. The man sees it as part of his heritage. It brings back memories of the time when he was young. He heard the stories of where the baubles came from and it draws him closer to the love he had for family.
On the other hand, the heroine sees them as dust catchers, gaudy antique junk destroying what could perhaps be a lovely setting. But then maybe not. She might like the modern decor of her residence, unburdened surfaces, straight lines, practical elegance. So we learn things about her that goes beyond her dislike of her new husband’s family residence. From her view of the portraits, she’s considers the family as lifeless, caught in a trap of the past, and she wants nothing to do with it.
What might we suspect about the woman? Had something happened in her past that makes her want to forget her past and focus on the new. Did her family background provide her with roots that carried with it lovely memories of family and home life? What might you surmise from her attitude and description. Perhaps you can see the attitude will also create conflict.
Growth of Story and Theme
When the reader spots attitudes that differ, they recognize conflict. Conflict is a story’s engine and also adds emotion, the heart of the story. Conflict and how it’s resolved can led to plot or theme—the story’s lesson or main point. How it is resolved, what characters learn about themselves and others, how attitude skews reality, these are points developed through good POV.
Maeve Binchy was an artist with multiple characters experiencing the same situation as their senses reflect their attitude, values and morals. Nights of Rain and Stars or The Evening Class are good examples of this talent by using POV to create an amazing story that touches on the human condition wrought with background, experience and attitude. Use the character’s sensory experiences to reflect who the character is and, in the process, takes readers deeper into the conflicts and struggles woven through the novel.
POV is much more than who owns the scene. It captures the character’s persona by showing values, attitude, and lifestyle through the language chosen for introspection, narration and dialogue and focuses the reader on the true image of the character.