Point of View: Deepen Your Scene as You Employ It

image by geralt
image by geralt

Through two examples, I’ll show how employing point of view can enrich a scene as readers experience the setting, characterization, plot, and story theme.

I’ll use the same elements for each example.

   Character: Clara Hill, a twenty-three-year-old woman.

   Theme: A first-time teacher learns to reach and help her students.

   Setting: Classroom.

   Scene Plot: How Clara handles her first day of class.

Example 1 

Principal Edwards introduced Clara to the class then headed for the door.

He was leaving her so soon—with the black boy wearing unlaced combat boots and sitting in the last row, tying knots in the blind cord? And with the white pregnant girl, sitting in front chewing gum? Or was that tobacco?

Clara scurried to the teacher’s desk, putting the bulwark between her and the class. Seven columns and six rows of one-armed student desks. And all of them filled with lounging teens. Eighty-four eyes bearing down on her, sizing her up, following her every movement.

image by PublicDomainPictures
image by PublicDomainPictures

She grasped the English textbook with both hands. Anything to steady her trembling fingers. As she opened the book, her number-two pencil fell from its pages, rolled off the desk to the filthy terrazzo floor, and stopped at the mud-encrusted wader of the boy with one lazy eye.

She glanced at the boy. Wasn’t he going to pick it up?

“You dropped your pencil,” he said, one eye on her and the other on the pencil.

What happened to raising one’s hand to speak? And since when was a teacher expected to handle a class of forty-two miscreants? [Scene continues.]

Example 2

Principal Edwards introduced Clara to the class then headed for the door.

Clara ran her gaze over the students as she waited until the metal door clicked shut. A motley bunch, but they’d do.

image by tdfugere
image by tdfugere

She strode to the wooden desk, plopped her rump onto the spot where a lovelorn teen had engraved, ‘LILY LUVS AL,’ and crossed her legs.

“My name is Clara Hill. Ms. Hill to you.” She nodded at the teen in the back. “You who can’t decide whether to open or shut the blinds, what’s your name?”

Sniggers rippled through the students.

The boy released the blind cord. “Emmett Crowe.”

“Thanks, Emmett.” Clara’s clog nearly touched the knee of the rosy-cheeked young lady on the first row. She smiled at the girl. “What’s your name?”

“Annabel Grubbs.”

“How far along are you, Annabel?” Maybe Clara should have taken a birthing class instead of CPR.

More sniggers.

Annabel giggled, displaying brown teeth. “Thirty-four weeks.”

“My guess is you’ll miss the first unit test.” [Scene continues.]

 

Through point of view:

  1.  Clara is fearful and judgmental

OR

    is bold and direct.

2.   Clara sees 42 occupied chairs, skin color, filth, and miscreants

OR

     sees individual students, fidgeting, pregnant, and infatuated with “AL.”

3.   The way Clara handles her first day drives what needs to happen to satisfy the novel’s theme that Clara will reach and help her students (plot).

Perhaps, Clara changes her outlook and relationships with her students

OR

fights the community for the students’ good.

Put point of view to work for characterization, setting, theme, and plot. Click to tweet.

How have you put point of view to work in a scene?

One Easy Way to Take an Unexceptional Scene in a New Direction

“First attempts are usually not the best. There’s a reason the “test” pancake is usually a throwaway, and upgraded cellphone models are rolled out roughly every four days.” —Leigh Anne Jasheway “Improv/e Your Writing” Writer’s Digest November/December 2013

image by Gartenredakteurin
image by Gartenredakteurin

I wanted to try one of Leigh Anne Jasheway’s 10 games from her article, “Improv/e Your Writing” (Writer’s Digest November/December 2013). Jasheway calls the game I played, “New Choice.” It’s to help when we’re “going down a literary dead end.”

image by wilhei
image by wilhei

How I understood the play:

  1. Collect two dice and a few pages from a writing project.
  2. Roll the dice.
  3. Count sentences from the beginning to the one represented by the sum of the dice.
  4. Make a new choice for that sentence that:
    • changes the wording and content,
    • takes the story in a new direction, and
    • relates to the plot thus far.
  5. Write 12 sentences that explore the new direction.
  6. Repeat from step 3, starting from the first rewritten sentence.
  7. Play for an hour.

My selection is from an old rejected manuscript. I rolled a 7.

Jonathan thumbed to the first hymn listed in the bulletin and stuck his bulletin in the hymnal to hold the place1 Movement to his left startled him, and he looked up. 2 Laura, followed by Cecil, sidled down his row and sat next to him. 3 The sleeve of her yellow jacket brushed the sleeve of his sports coat. 4 She smelled like fresh-cut citrus. 5

Well, well. 6 Laura Midkiff had decided to befriend him after all, and she didn’t take her commitment lightly. 7 He, and most likely everyone else in the congregation, stared at her. 8 She donned a serene expression and gave her father in the pulpit her attention. Her father struggled to contain a grin. 9

A hand patted Jonathan’s shoulder. 10 He turned and greeted his foreman, Gene Pasternak, and his wife and two sons. 11 Mrs. Withers, his first and fourth grade teacher, settled in the pew in front of him, and Mrs. Mackey, his den mother, winked at him and joined her. 12

image by MaLyKa
image by MaLyKa

Here’s the result of steps 1-5— my 12 replacement sentences starting at line 7:

How thoughtful of Laura Midkiff to sit beside him in church.1 No doubt, the woman was up to something.2 Town gossip pegged her as the citizens’ choice to run against Dad for mayor.3 Perhaps her show of friendship helped to that end.4 Display how noble she was to rub sleeves with an ex con.5 And no surprise she’d enlisted slow-witted Cecil.6 He added political correctness points to her glory.7

Was he coming down too hard on Laura?8

Even if her gesture was sincere, he didn’t want her pity.9 He needed her help.10 And that didn’t mean rallying the congregation to his side.11 Laura Midkiff was the only person who had the contacts he needed to prove he was innocent of manslaughter.12

I hope the new version adds tension. At this early stage in the story, warm fuzzies were a mistake.

Try This Fun Game to Redirect a Mediocre Scene. Click to tweet.

What are your thoughts on playing Jasheway’s game?

A Fun Way to Liven Up Your Scene’s Dialog

“Find the “hook” or the zinger in every sentence, and have characters react to that.”        —Susan May Warren

Dialog

You want your dialog to be real, meaningful, and hold your readers’ interest.

Here’s what Susan May Warren calls her “super-secret Susie hint to writing great dialogue” that I learned in one of her Deep Thinker’s Retreats.

Include a zinger in conversations.

You can learn how to write zingers in Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck’s writing reference, From the Inside…Out.

Below are examples from 4 novels to show you what a zinger is and how to use it.

Zinger 1

—from Wish You Were Here by Beth K. Vogt

by gracey
by gracey

∂∂∂

“Uh, is that the dress?”

Was he choking back a laugh? Confirmation the dress was a nightmare.

“Yes. Please, no comment.” Allison ran her hands along the flowing skirt as if she could tame it. Not going to happen.

“It’s impressive.”

Allison blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes. “Are you kidding me? I look like the Bridal Fashion Disaster Barbie.”

∂∂∂

Suppose this ended with, “I wish that were true.” Wouldn’t that have killed the conflict, and the fun?

Zinger 2

—from The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck

∂∂∂

“Tell me,” she whispered. “Does he?”

“Have a mistress?”

She gazed into his eyes. He couldn’t…it would crush her. Her fingernails dug into his arm.

“Daniel.”

“Yes. So goes the word around town. But you should find out the truth yourself, Emily. You know how gossip gets all twisted and maligned.”

“No, no.” She jutted backward, shaking her head, her dark eyes narrowing. “You’re a liar, Daniel Ludlow. I don’t believe you.”

∂∂∂

What if Emily had simply said, “I don’t believe you.” We wouldn’t know how hurt she is. Calling Daniel a liar shows what “kill the messenger” means. She zinged Daniel and raised the conflict.

Zinger 3

—from Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones

∂∂∂

“Maggie, tonight is a very special night.”

Uh-oh. Here come the dreamy eyes again.

“I care so much about you. And recently I realized those feelings have grown into something more. I’m crazy about your laugh, your smile, your sense of adventure. I want to tell you that I—”

“Boy, am I tired.”

∂∂∂

Zing!  Did Maggie’s last words wake you up? Suppose Maggie had said, “Please. Not tonight, John.” We might prepare to read through a laborious letdown.

Zinger 4

—from Nothing but Trouble by Susan May Warren

 ∂∂∂

by Kandi
by Kandi

PJ reached the second fence and didn’t care in the least that she ripped out the backside of the jumpsuit. She landed with another whump while the goat shoved his nose between the chain links, mawing. Good thing Billie filled up on Ernie’s tulips or tomatoes or whatever, or she’d be goat fodder by now.

Pizza Guy landed beside her. “You have a fan club.” He held out his hand to pull her up.

She swatted it away. “It’s not funny. She could have eaten me.”

“Oh yeah, goats are known predators. Right up there with mountain lions and wildebeests.”

∂∂∂

What if Pizza Guy had said, “The goat wouldn’t have eaten you.” He’d seem bland, unable to banter.

Tweetable

  • Study these zingers and learn how to hook your audience with dialog.
    click to tweet

What zinger have you used in dialog?