Monday, July 21, 2008

Point of view

Point of view - POV - is one of our most powerful writing tools. Select the correct character's POV and your reader will feel the scene's emotion: love, hate, anger, fear, sorrow, joy. You'll actually put your reader in the scene. The correct POV can heighten the suspense, add information, explain a plot point all without slowing the story.

While watching The Closer last Monday, I experienced first-hand the power of the right POV. Have you ever seen The Closer? Here's a brief set up. The main character in the ensemble cast is Chief Brenda Lee Johnson of the Los Angeles Police Department. She's engaged to Fritz, an FBI agent assigned to the bureau's Los Angeles Office.

Spoiler alert in case you taped the episode and haven't watched it yet.

In past episodes, Fritz's role has frustrated me. He's almost a gofer for Brenda. She calls him and demands his help with her cases. He went along with her plan to hide their relationship from her parents. In last week's episode, they couldn't get their bathroom fixed because Brenda didn't want their landlord to know she has a cat in the apartment. This meant they couldn't use their home bathroom.

I wondered why Fritz put up with Brenda's challenging personality. Then I watched Monday's episode. In one of the subplots, Brenda learns from another character that Fritz has two driving under the influence charges on his record. She was furious and confronted Fritz.

In Brenda's POV, Fritz was in the wrong. She called Fritz a liar and said she didn't know whether she trusted him enough to marry him anymore. And in Brenda's POV, I was angry with Fritz, too.

Toward the end of the episode, we heard from Fritz. In his POV, he didn't lie. He'd told Brenda he didn't drink because he was allergic to alcohol. He didn't tell her about the DUIs because they were in his past; he had his problem under control. But the biggest bomb in his POV was when Fritz said Brenda had a lot of nerve condemning him as a liar when she was a liar herself.

Now that set Brenda and I both back. And Fritz supported his argument by pointing out that he'd cooperated when Brenda didn't want to tell her parents about their relationship. He'd also cooperated when she didn't want the landlord to find out about her cat - even though that lie meant he couldn't use the bathroom in his own apartment.

Fritz ended the scene by expressing his hurt and outrage that he'd accepted her weaknesses but she would threaten their relationship because of his. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I understand people's weaknesses because I sure have enough of my own."

Yeah. That last line made Brenda and I feel pretty small.

I don't know whether I'm doing a good job conveying the power in that scene. It's stayed with me and fascinated me for so many reasons. The timing, for one. We saw the relationship develop through Brenda's POV. But when that relationship was threatened, we finally saw it through Fritz's POV. It also reinforced the message that there's always more than one side to a story.

How do you decide which character's POV to use during a scene?



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