Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dionna L. Mann on POV in Description

This week I asked middle-grade writer Dionna L. Mann to write a guest post. Dionna is the author of FREEDOM PEN (Pugalicious Press, also the publisher of DEADWOOD!), a new gem of a children's novel with a pitch-perfect rural Virginia voice.

FREEDOM PEN by Dionna L. Mann,
Pugalicous Press, 2012, on sale now!
Here's the blurb:
Being mean ain’t in nobody’s blood.
Reckon folks will argue that one until there’s no more moonshine on the mountains.  But in Freedom Pen that’s what Sarah the Twerp believes.  And soon she and her brother, Billy, are setting out on a courageous summertime adventure to free two pit bull pups from a violent future.  Will the pup’s heroes succeed in their quest, though they’ve been penned in by a violent past themselves?
So how does she capture that POV in every line? She sent over this guest post and I used it immediately in revising picture book manuscript -- it really helped me think about choice of word and image.

POV: Parasol or Velcro?

By Dionna L. Mann 

The sky is an opened parasol hovering above … or is it Velcro stretching taut across the horizon, better yet, is it mashed potatoes filling a blue expanse…?

Truth be told, if the penned stylist doesn’t know who is looking at the sky, then the whole manuscript-troposphere is a muddled mess!

So…what’s the sky made of? Is it a Parasol Or Velcro? It all depends on whose eyes are gazing upward—the POV—doesn’t it?

Who’s gawking up? 

If the eyes gawking up are of a teenage girl from Harlem, New York, then the stars filling the firmament sure better not look like the shining scales of a freshly caught herring. And if the eyes are of a ten-year-old boy from the hollers of an Appalachian Mountain range, then the bejeweled night canopy sure better not look like an aluminum garbage can stretched from North Street to South Street with headlights bouncing on it.

Talk about whipping up some unsettling wind conditions for anyone attempting to hang glide in the sky of your created world! The poor reader piloting such a confused story will probably feel lightheaded due to POV-oxygen deprivation! (Look out below! She’s coming in hard!) And that’s your manuscript hitting the reject pile.

Be kind to your reader, will you? Let the POV-air blow gently, steadily, consistently.

Eye know what eye am seeing! 

No matter if your narration, the point of view, of your story is in the first person: “I looked at the sky…”, and I’m Jimmy and—Get back writer!—I know how I see the sky! 

Or if it is in the limited third person: “Jimmy looked at the sky….”, and I’m the narrator seeing everything through Jimmy’s eyes, so, don’t question me, I know how Jimmy sees the sky.

Or if it’s in an omniscient voice: “That whippersnapper Jim looked at the sky…”, and I’m a wise, old man from Kentucky, so I know how Jim and everyone else sees the sky. What’s more, I’ll describe it in my own crotchety way!

Author Dionna L. Mann
No matter any of that. The bottom line is that the sky must be seen through the eyes of whom the story speaks. That’s POV, plain and simple.

Right Shade of Blue 

If you really want to get the hue of blue right for the arch above, consider this: How does my character feel when he’s outside staring heavenward? Is he a downhearted charcoal-gray? Then surely he won’t describe the sunset as an ice cream sundae with rainbow sprinkles.

Is he feeling a jubilant baby blue? Then his eyes must not wander aimlessly toward dusky clouds that seem to be oozing black ink. Heavens, no! Do that and your reader will be yelling, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

The mood of each scene and the character’s state of mind at any given time during the narration of the story must influence the POV.

Is Columbus breathing this air, too? 

Think about this, too. When was Jimmy born? If the kid came into the world in the 1800s, he’ll not describe the sky the exact same way as if he was born in the year 2012, or 2504. Research (for historical fiction), imagination (for a futuristic envisioning), and at all times, observing the world as Jimmy would, will bring your POV clearly into focus.

So next time your character gazes into the sky, how will he or she describe it? Like a parasol or Velcro? Spend time getting into the head of your character or narrator, and then you’ll know just what to make of the blue bowl above us!

Suggested reading: Description by Monica Wood, published by Writer’s Digest Books.

Related Links

More about Dionna L. Mann
Buy Freedom Pen
Interview with Dionna L. Mann by Kathy Erskine


Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Very interesting post. This is really helpful. Thanks!

amy kennedy said...

Even your explanations of how to do it, or how not to do it is gorgeous writing. Thank you Dionna.

Kenda Turner said...

Enjoyed reading this. Thanks :-)