It seems every magazine article, blog post or email I’ve read this week talks about getting readers to “feel” the emotions of your story. Mostly the writers conclude that writing in deep POV is the way to get that emotional reaction from readers. For those of us who’ve been in the game for a while, this is not new advice. 

I remember when I was a brand new writer, as yet unpublished, attending a workshop with Lynn Kerstan (Yes, it was a long time ago.). She talked about getting into character when she was writing from a male point-of-view. She said she’d sprawl in her chair in typical manspread style, loosen the top button of her jeans, roll her sleeves up to the elbows and stare at the ceiling while pretending to chew on a cigar. 

Remember, this was a long time ago. My apologies to the sensitive males among us who would never act in that way. The point is, she was trying to physically take on the characteristics of her male characater in order to write in his deep point of view.

As I write historical fiction, I often find a visit to a museum or one of the lovely old store fronts in my town help to put me in the right frame of mind for the story. Vintage fashion is a sure key to open the door to women’s lives in the late nineteenth century.

Given all that, I was surprised that the two most recent books I read, set the narrator at a distance from the main characters. The reader was not “in” the story, she was “watching” from the outside. 

Why would an author do that?

In both cases, the plot centred on survivors of extreme violence, one a soldier from WWI and the other an officer in a rural police force. One might think that the writer would want the reader to experience the trauma of these characters but perhaps that was too intense, maybe even from the author’s perspective. Perhaps she was afraid that too much gore would turn the reader away.

Also, it wasn’t the actual traumatic event that was key to the story, it was the effect of the event on the characters years later. The retired soldier who could never close his eyes without seeing the battlefield, who could never get the stench of rotting flesh from his nostrils. The police officer who fears for his life every time he knocks on a door or makes a traffic stop.

As might be expected these stories were slow moving. The change that happened occurred largely in the chracters’ minds and in their relationships. Still, the books were memorable. I’ve no doubt the characters and ideas expressed in them will dwell in  my mind. I’ll have more compassion for the police officers and others who deal with the horrors of modern society. Every day on the news we hear of a shooting or an accident with deaths. The news stories don’t tell us the gory details. 

In the police officer story the narrator relates a bus accident with seniors. The officers spent all day “matching body parts.” And that was only one day. The horrors build on each other day after day, year after year. When you think about it, it’s a wonder any of our first responders manage to hang onto their humanity. During COVID we hailed them as heroes. They are still heroes, even if the pandemic has abated.

The books I read were gifts. I don’t think I would choose a story with a remote POV, but I’m glad I read them. With all the experts shouting deep POV at us, it is enlightening to read from a different perspective.

Isn’t that what makes books so wonderful? You never know what insights lurk between the covers.

 

This week two books from “observer” narration.

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