The RULES. Don’t do this, this is bad. Do this, this is good. Don’t use any verb but said, and even that sparingly. Don’t use adverbs like the way I just did. Write in single-person POV, “Deep POV,” for Third Person Omniscient reeks to Heaven and must be cleansed from both our midst and our pages. The RULES!
Or…should they be…principles…
We are hearing a lot today about “Deep POV” and “keep everything within the ‘eyes’ of one person in the scene,” “Don’t head-hop” between characters. Above all, never show the reader what the main person in the scene cannot physically see.
In the film What Lies Beneath, Harrison Ford sits in his study with the curtains open and the big windows behind him. He’s talking on the phone and is not looking out the window. Here comes — afar off — Michelle Pfeiffer heading for the dock in a most peculiar and inexplicable way. Ford can’t see her, but the viewer does — and this tiny detail evokes an atmosphere of creepy suspense perfect to the film’s genre: the ghost story. The viewer must see what the main person in the scene cannot, if only momentarily. It is critical to the success of the scene as envisioned by the writer and director.
In the original Alien, Harry Dean Stanton goes looking for Jonesy the cat, who’s run off. He finds the cat. But the cat won’t come out from its hiding place. Because the cat isn’t stupid. Jonesy can see what Stanton can’t — that THING about to make movie history dropping down just behind him. The audience sees a glimpse of…something…but Stanton doesn’t see it until he turns around. Without this glimpse only the audience beholds at first, the effect — the atmosphere — collapses.
The current POV mandate demands that if the lead person in the scene can’t see something, neither can the reader. This may work in historical romance and even romantic suspense, but it guts (no pun intended) the essence of my genre, horror from a Christian worldview: not gratuitous violence, not copious amounts of blood, but atmosphere, whether the atmosphere is creepiness, terror, despair, heartache, facing the unknown, conflicting emotions, guilt over past sins, the viscous giant ameba stirring just under the surface of the lily pond in the back yard, or the mournful wail of the banshee over the moonlit moors.
As far as atmosphere is concerned, whatever your genre, this “rule” ought to be viewed rather as a principle instead. Single-person POV, avoiding “head-hopping,” are good principles to follow. But sometimes, just as in the horror film, the viewer/reader must see something that sets the mood for what is to follow whether the lead person can or not. In my novel New Blood, my Franciscan “vampire” Rebecca comes upon a still-burning cabin in the wilds of French and Indian War Pennsylvania (1755) and comforts a dying girl. Rebecca makes the Sign of the Cross as the girl passes. Then off in the distance, Rebecca hears gunshots, war whoops and screams of yet another family about to suffer La Guerre Sauvage. Fueled by the death of the innocent girl, Rebecca’s emotions hurl her into overdrive and she “vamps out,” complete with the flickering flames reflected in her glistening four fangs as she throws back her head, snarling in utter vampiric rage. Rage is the key here. Rage is the atmosphere. The firelight, her fangs, her fury. She can’t see her fangs in the firelight, but the reader must. An orgy of destruction follows as Rebecca in her wrath wipes the evildoers off the face of God’s good earth.
Does this break the “rule”? No.
It smashes it into thousands of tiny squeaking shards.
But if the reader is to experience all of what is happening, the scene demands it. To set the tone. To establish the atmosphere. To evoke within the reader the same emotions raging within Rebecca, to put the reader into Rebecca’s heart, eyes, mind, world. Isn’t that what so-called “Deep POV” is all about? So the principle is, if it serves atmosphere, step out for a moment, show your readers something they’ll never forget and immediately step back in.
Charles Williams, contemporary and close friend of both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, has an invisible supernatural creature invade a study club meeting in his novel The Place of the Lion. In the ensuing panic after the thing hisses like something the size of an anaconda and an evil-hearted person screams about a serpent wearing a crown, everyone in the room beats a hasty retreat. The current POV “rule” requires the scene to end here since no one else is left in the room to see anything. But Williams gives us a final sentence outside anyone’s POV except the reader’s, that makes the reader want to run out too right behind them. Why? To establish atmosphere, an otherworldly, unsettling, creepy atmosphere integral to his tale.
This is not a POV “slip.” Atmosphere trumps the rule.
Should we stay in single-person POV? Most of the time, of course. It allows the reader to “live through” the heart, soul, mind, experiences and emotions of the lead person. What he or she feels, the reader feels. That is how it should be.
Rules are principles.
When appropriate, follow the principle, not …the…rule… and enrich your writing with color, vigor, atmosphere and life as we serve the One who’s called us out of darkness to celebrate His Glory!
A native of Southeast Alabama now at home in Phoenix, Arizona, H.G. Ferguson has always loved the strange, the unnerving, the unusual — in short, looking at things, particularly monsters, outside the box. A connoisseur of classic horror both literary and cinematic, he floods his writing with originality, creativity and power. Since the whopping age of six he has known Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and seeks above all things to honor Him and present the Truth — even Truth shrouded in shadows, like a candle flickering in a mortuary window.
He wrote New Blood to return horror to its Christian roots and worldview and to demonstrate God’s unconditional love for Thirsty and long suffering Rebecca, who may not be the chief of sinners but is certainly the most unique.