Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"It's not like we're characters in a romance novel or anything"

Have you ever encountered this? You're reading along in a perfectly nice romance novel and the character says something like "We're not characters in a romance novel," when they are? Or "It's not like this is a romantic comedy" when it is?

This bothers me to no end.  I've seen it done with impeccable timing a few times, and it can be laugh-out-loud hilarious, but its hard. Usually, all it serves to do is remind me that I'm reading a romance novel or watching a romantic comedy.

It takes away all the magic.

I want to believe the character I'm reading is real. I want to be in their head. And there are a million ways for a writer to yank me out of the head of their character, both obvious and subtle. I'm currently slogging through revisions, so I've been thinking a lot about examples I've seen and what signposts I can watch for in my text that points it out to me.

I've also been really working to deepen my POV. I've been revising a long time. I've known these characters for 5 years. I can go way deeper with my POV now than I ever could before.

Here's some different types of POV I've been thinking about, with examples of each

Omniscient POV
Jill looked up at the big hill and dreaded the thought of hiking all the way up. Jack was similarly nervous, but more about the trek back down with a full bucket of water.

Shallow POV: 
Jill chewed on her fingernail, a nervous gesture, while staring up at the hill. Jack smiled at her. "You got my back, sis?" he asked.

Here, there's no hopping from inside one person's head to another, but instead, the reader is standing with the two of them, watching them both. Visualize the scene -- you can see them both, right? Watch how they interact? With this type of writing (which is often an excellent choice - see caveats below), the focus tends to be on the body language between the characters, as hints to what both are thinking are feeling, rather than diving deeply into one POV.  Glances become telling. A slight crinkle to the edge of an eye conveys intimacy. Body language is something you see - TV shows rely heavily on it, and we writer's tend to rely on it as well. But we're writers. We can go deeper.

Caveat #1:  There are times (many times) in every novel where a shallow POV is called for. Not every scene can be a deep POV, just like every scene can't be tear-jerking angst.

Caveat #2: I almost always write in a shallow POV on the first draft. It's just not possible to do a deep POV until you know that character inside and out. Until you know how they think and what they would notice and what they wouldn't. For a lot of writers, that knowledge can't come until you've made it through the first draft.

Deep POV:
The hill was looming, a giant thing that filled her vision. She'd never been the best at challenges, always preferring to go tumbling through life without taking anything too seriously. But this . . . this was a challenge she had to take on. They needed this water. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Jack's smile. Hell, she'd been chewing on her fingernail again. She rubbed her hands on her jeans. "You got my back, sis?" he asked.

The biggest difference between the shallow and deep POV examples? The shallow one could be found in any book, for any character. The second only makes sense for this character in this situation.  It's unique, simply because it's deep. Deep POV is not always the best choice, but it is sometimes, and it can be powerful.

This may have slid around topics a bit, but hopefully I'm making sense. What do you think - do you move from a shallow to deep POV through revisions? Do you use body language to show your character's emotions?  Do you prefer a deep or a shallow POV? What are your thoughts on way to achieve depth if that's what you're going for? And the original question. Do you like it when characters say, "It's not like we're in a romance novel or anything."?


TerriOsburn said...

First off, thanks for the examples. Examples make this stuff click in my brain.

I rely heavily on body language, as that seems to be the only way I know to show instead of tell. And I do shallow POV in rough draft, but I'm not sure how deep I manage to go in revisions. It's been months since I looked at MTB, but I think it did get better.

Sometimes the choice here has to do with voice. For instance, Deep POV IS Sin's voice. It's deep and rich and dark and just works perfectly together. Not sure my voice lends to a really deep POV. Maybe somewhere in between?

And I don't mind the characters saying stuff like that. My heroine reads Romance novels (which almost no one knows) and "thinks" about how the hero reminds her of a model on one of her books. Since my hero is based on a real guy who is on Romance covers, it's really more an inside joke in my head. :)

Marnee Bailey said...

Ah, blogger ate my comment.

First of all, I think I use both shallow and Deep POV throughout my stories. I use shallow is fine when you're setting the scene or backing out. Or if you're playing over unnecessary action. I don't think using Deep the entire time is a good idea. It's exhausting to be that far in someone's head all the time.

And it drags me out of a story when characters reference how they're not in romance novels. Same in movies. Stop killing the fantasy, folks!!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Yes, thank you so much for the examples as they really help me wrap my brain around concepts.

I find myself using a lot of body language and I think it's also because right now it seems to be the way I can show and not tell. It's something I want to work on more in revisions.

With my current rewrite, I think I'm finding most of the first draft is Shallow POV but there are some areas that seem to already be deep pov. Giving myself a high-5 for that!

I agree with Terri though, I think it has a lot to do with the writer's voice and also with what's most appropriate for the type of story and character.

MsHellion said...

Yes, that little author conceit of "it's not like we're in a romance novel" bullshit irks me. And it's totally an author conceit. Don't be too cute.

Love the examples--and THANK YOU for including the caveat because I'm totally writing in shallow POV and I was having a nervous breakdown that I sucked. But no, I can make it deeper in revisions, though yes, I suppose having deep POV the whole time is exhausting. :) It's all about balance. I prefer deep POV, but I know some don't care for it much. Rather like the preference between 1st person and 3rd person.

haleigh said...

Ter - I agree that voice has a lot to do with it. I started to say that a deep POV doesn't have to be dark, but it often turns out that way, doesn't it?

I love that your hero is based on a romance novel cover. I'll bet he's sexy as hell, isn't he? I read an interview recently with a Playboy Bunny who posed for a romance novel heroine, and was talking about the difference between posing for Playboy, and posing for romance covers. Not surprisingly, she liked doing the covers better! Said the hottie hero models made it way more fun (and she got to wear pretty dresses :)

haleigh said...

Marn, setting a scene, or backing out of it, is such a great example when you want a much shallower POV. I find myself doing that in scenes where the POV is particularly deep - starting with an almost omniscient POV, and then using a few paragraphs of description to gradually get deeper and deeper into the character.

A deep POV can definitely be exhausting. And frankly, there are people and characters that I don't want to know that much about :)

TerriOsburn said...

He is sexy, Hal. His name is Jason Vendryes and you can see him on the cover of Jaci Burton's TAKE A SHOT. They cut off his cute face on that cover though.

I found him by accident when Jill Shavlis "pinned" him and there was Lucas on my screen.

haleigh said...

I think I'm finding most of the first draft is Shallow POV but there are some areas that seem to already be deep pov. Giving myself a high-5 for that!

*high fives Scapey* Woot!

Body language is definitely a way to show and not tell, and I think you're right, that voice plays such an important point in how deep you want to go, and how often.

haleigh said...

oh my god is this him?


TerriOsburn said...

That's him. And he even emailed me to say he thought being my inspiration was cool. Heh. Nice guy!

haleigh said...

Hellie, I so agree about balance. I too prefer a deep POV, and have to often remind myself that it's not always appropriate, because I want it to be :)

I agree too about author conceit. I have the same issue with heroines who write romance novels in their spare time. It makes me wonder if the writer is describing themselves (no idea if they are, it just makes me wonder). It can be done well - SEP's "This Heart of Mine" is one example that comes to mind, but usually it bothers me.

haleigh said...

You talked to him?? That's so amazing!!! (and I'm sure you've said this before and I missed it - sorry I'm late, but WOW!!!!!!)

TerriOsburn said...

Trust me. I was just as surprised as you are. LOL! I thought I was being punked!

haleigh said...

You know, I don't think I've ever had a conversation with someone that hot. That's like rock-star hot.

P. Kirby said...

I found him by accident when Jill Shavlis "pinned" him and there was Lucas on my screen.

Love it when that happens. For me, anyway, it makes is so much easier to write the character. My models tend to be actors/actresses, but it's so cool when I see someone on screen and say, "Ah-hah! That's him/her!" (And my husband is like, "Whot?")

I'm all about gestures and body language. To the extent, that I end up going back and cutting some out in revision. As in, honestly, woman, how many times can someone "smile, smirk, grin, tilt their head, etc.?"

I'd like to think I do deep POV, even some on the first draft. Since I see myself as a kind of "method writer," in my character's head, it seem like deeper POV goes with the territory. OTOH, on days when I'm just shoveling words out of my head, the POV probably gets really shallow.

As for the "...this isn't a romance novel," well, it depends on the story/writer. Sometimes, it's too cute, too self-aware. And other times, dead on and funny. Confession. I'm pretty sure I've done this as a writer.

My current WIP has a similar thing going on. The heroine is a former geek girl who owns a bookstore. She gets dragged into a parallel universe, which has spaceships and magic and whatnot. Anyway, this means the occasional genre reference joke. I try not to lay it on too thick, but sometimes, the situation just screams for a gentle or not-so-gentle jibe at the genre.

TerriOsburn said...

That's hotter than rock star hot. LOL! (Or at least country star hot. I've interviewed a few and none looked like that.)

Pat - Sounds like the genre reference would totally work in that situation. But it's funny how different things pull different readers out of the story. I keep seeing "too cute" in comments, but some readers love cuteness. :)

haleigh said...

I keep seeing "too cute" in comments, but some readers love cuteness. :)

This is very true. I think there also some voices that can support cute, and some that can't

MsHellion said...

I don't always mind if the main character is a writer--though it can be a little, oh, lazy, in my book. *LOL*

I loved that campy movie, HER ALIBI with Tom Selleck, because he wrote his heroes (based off what was happening to him) but always wrote them much cooler than what was actually going on. The contrast was hysterical.

TerriOsburn said...

Yes, indeed. Like anything else, it's a fine line.

haleigh said...

Confession. I'm pretty sure I've done this as a writer.

I'm pretty sure we've all done it at one point or another :)

I like how you describe a "method writer." I too like to be deep in my character's head when I'm writing.

Your book sounds awesome - there are definitely situations where a genre joke is called for!

haleigh said...

but always wrote them much cooler than what was actually going on. The contrast was hysterical.

That sounds awesome! I'll have to find that movie.

TerriOsburn said...

There's an indie movie either out now or coming out about a guy who's writing a book and his heroine comes to life. She's living with him and whatever he writes, she does. There's a scene where he's proving this to his friends and he types something about her speaking French.

Suddenly the heroine starts saying stuff from the kitchen and it's all in perfect French. But I can't remember what it's called!

BTW, did anyone go see The Words? Thought it would be interesting but I never did see a good review for it.

TerriOsburn said...

And I didn't mean to turn this into movie talk. Sorry!

P. Kirby said...

Funny thing, I didn't mind writer protagonists until I tried my hand at the craft. Now, it often annoys me. Feels way too self-aware, sometimes...whiny. And unrealistic.

Quite often the protagonist seems to be supporting themselves well, even though they rarely do any actual writing.

To use a TV show as an example -- Californication. The protagonist is a one-hit-wonder author, whose debut novel sold like hotcakes and scored a movie adaptation. Okay. So I get that he's pulling in some residuals and royalties from that book. But the driving premise is that he's got writer's block and hasn't written anything, except a pithy, biting blog about LA life, in years. And yet, he still seems to be living well enough.

Suspension of disbelief...stretched very thin. (Nevertheless, I rather like the show.)

Maureen said...

I'm horrible at analyzing my writing. I think I write in shallow with occassional dips into the deep point of the pool. Gestures slay me, and I get smacked in revisions with how often someone nods, smiles, smirks...but that is what revision is for!

I find strictly reading deep POV exhausting. It's like with a soundtrack, you need it to be there but not adds to the scene, not covers up the dialogue. DPOV can be intrusive to my ability to pay attention.

As for the sly winks to the third wall, mostly I find them amusing. But there is a bit of a tradition in sci/fi/fantasy with 'rewarding' the fan with a wink/reference/prize... Point of pride when you catch it. Generally, they aren't so broad as to state it outright.

I like to use that poke at the third wall as a real device for the storytelling. But I do a lot of fish out of water stuff. Emily is constantly referencing things from her modern world. And the Kraken's Caribbean is full of other time travelers so it's a natural thing.

With my current Holmesian venture, my time traveler grumbles a lot at how primitive things are...

So...I suppose it's all about whether the nudges are part of the story or not!

Janga said...

I think there are degrees even with deep pov-- you know, deep, deeper, deepest. I think the last, the pov that's so deep the reader feels as if he/she is breathing in rhythm with the character physically and/or emotionally is powerful, but it can also overwhelm the reader if it isn't strictly limited. I'm a big rereader, but there are some books I love but I refuse to reread. These books often are novels in which the deepest pov has been sustained for large sections.

It's not exactly what you were talking about with the romance references, Hal, but Dee Ernst's romantic comedy Better Off Without Him features a heroine who is a bestselling romance novelist. I loved the book, and one of the things that worked wonderfully for me were the scenes where the heroine's hot plumber becomes the hero in various guises in her books. When the plumber wants to take their friendship to a new level, the heroine is uncertain because she's not sure she can separate the real life hero from the fictional hero whom she knows so well through all the love scenes in which he has been the star attraction.

Maureen said...

I have books on my list like that, Janga. And movies. Wonderful, brilliant, gut wrenching acts of creativity that impressed the hell out of me but I really don't want to go there again...

haleigh said...

Mo - that's an excellent point. You're right that it's more accepted in SF/F, and a special little treat for readers very knowledgeable about the genre.

I like your analogy about a soundtrack. What a great way to think of POV. Sometimes the soundtrack is mellow and gentle, in the background. Sometimes is loud and dramatic and in-your-face. But loud and in-your-face the whole time? No way!

haleigh said...

Janga, I like the phrase "strictly limited." I think that's the sign of a very skilled author - when the know how to use all the tools in their arsenal, and perhaps even more importantly, when *not* to use them.

What an awesome example - that sounds like a book I need to track down. And a great example of how the concepts of romance novel characters to build the conflict between them.

Maureen said...

Thanks, Marn. And the best tidbits are those that are subtle, yet timeless. Television and movies get away with it more because they are more for the immediate audience. A reference to something 'pop-ish' is smiled at right now, in five years it's 'what?' ...

I think most books have to consider this problem, especially as e-books make out-of-print meaningless.

I love a soundtrack that enhances the experience. I know it's there, I'm not focused on it, but what it is adding to the scene. And now I'm in love with the idea of seeing POV that way!

Maureen said...

And there I go...I mean, thanks, HAL!

It's a menopause brain speed bump day...