Just What Do You Mean By “Etchings?”

Over on FaceBook, a writer friend shared the link to “Get Rid of On-the-Nose Dialogue Once and For All,” an excellent piece by K.M. Weiland about improving dialogue through subtlety and subtext. The article reminded me of this RSA Animate video, an animation of a short talk by psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker on indirect communication. For writers, “Language as a Window into Human Nature” is one of the best ten-minute lessons on dialogue and character interaction and development you’ll find anywhere, and it’s fun too.

What your characters don’t say is often as—and sometimes more—important as what they do say.

I Am (Not Only) a Camera

Point of View can make or break a story. As writers, we have a lot of decisions to make. Who will tell the story—or be our POV character. Will the POV character tell the story in first (I), second (you), or third (she) person? Do we need more than one POV? Writer and editor Jon Gingrich explains a few of the many variations of POV in his LitReactor essay Which P.O.V Is Right For Your Story?

Once those decisions are made, writing POV—from my point of view (see what I did there?)—gets really fun. I am, both as a writer and a reader, a big fan of deep or close point of view in which everything is not just seen or heard through a character’s eyes and ears, but processed through that characters experience and emotion with minimal author intrusion.

In deep POV, the character is much more than a recording device relaying events. Deep POV doesn’t just tell us what the character saw, but how they saw it. Two friends get in an argument. One says the car is blue, the other says purple. A third comes along and declares the car indigo. The paint job on the car doesn’t change, but each individual sees it from their own POV, filtered through their own frame of reference.

Deep POV is a key to building character and that character’s voice. The drunken redneck hooligan who’s just been knocked on his ass and is staring up at an evening sky probably wouldn’t describe that sky as “robin’s egg blue brushed with hints of tangerine,” but if he does, that certainly becomes a clue to hidden depths of his character—and you’d better follow up on that clue. Deep point of view gives us a story that only the POV character can tell us and provides us with more understanding of the character than pages of backstory or physical description provides.

Over at Writers in the Storm, Guest Blogger Rhay Christou provides four quick tips for Diving Deep into Deep Point of View, and at Write Stranger, my former mentor Scott A. Johnson (a big fan of deep POV) urges you to go Deeper! Deeper! Deeper! But, my favorite definition of deep POV comes not from a writer, but from an eye doctor in this June 2014 Humans of New York Facebook post:

For me, that says it all. We are not cameras, and neither should our characters be.