Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Man With No Name.

Some discussion on a group loop recently about whether to have both points of view in a story – the hero’s and the heroine’s. Most people seemed to prefer both, with a few who didn’t mind either way. I’m in the latter camp.

Sure, it’s nice to have both points of view. Hey, if a character has something interesting and important to say, bring ‘em on! It’s cool that a writer has the luxury of getting into more than one head and presenting both viewpoints.

It’s not always necessary, though. I’m equally happy with a story that presents just one person’s experience, and I’m fine with that being either the hero or the heroine. It’s the character that interests me more than the convention, really. We view the world around us from just one point of view, always – our own, of course – so a story with one point of view is fine.

The first (and horrendously long) draft of my short story Perfect Strangers spoke in the voices of both the hero and the heroine. It also had more head-hopping than a flea-infested dog pound, but it was a first draft, so I’ll forgive myself for that one. When it came to re-writing it and cutting it right down, it became clear pretty soon that it was the heroine, Anna, who wanted to speak. It was Anna’s head I wanted to be in, her experience I wanted to show, because I think Perfect Strangers is very much a woman’s story, one that many of us would read and say ‘yes, I know what she feels, I’ve felt this way too.’

'Reeling from the stress of a messy divorce and an unhappy Christmas, Anna seizes the opportunity to get away from London and spend a few days in Venice. When a waiter mistakenly assumes a quiet American with tousled hair and eyes darker than hot, sweet espresso is her partner, it seems only right they should spend the day together. Two perfect strangers in a perfect city, Venice works her magic on them both before they have to head back in sadness to their separate lives. It's another year, another Christmas, before they meet again; when they do, they realise that love, like Venice, is 'per sempre...' for ever.'

Of course, you don’t have to have experienced the exact same situation as Anna. It’s the emotional experience, that kind of shared understanding I like when I read the heroine’s point of view.

So what about the hero, this ‘quiet American?’ How do we learn about him? Because in Perfect Strangers, he doesn’t have a point of view.

He also doesn’t have a name.

“And work is?”
“When I’m here, it’s at l’Accademia. The gallery. I’m an art historian.” She pointed ahead of them further up the canal. “Along there. My friend Marco runs one of the departments.”
“Are you working now?”
“No, no, not this time.” Anna kept her gaze focused somewhere in the middle distance. “This is an escape.”
“A lady escaping and I don’t even know her name.”
When Anna looked at him, his smile was soothing winter sunshine. It could be so easy; just for once, to let go of the sadness she’d carried around for so long till it’d become part of her. So easy...but if she let go now, who knew where she would stop? To have a name would somehow make this more real, and Anna had had enough of cold reality.
“Look...I know it sounds strange, but would you mind if we didn’t? I think it might be simpler. Sometimes things are easier with strangers.”
To her relief, he nodded slowly.
“I think so,” he said. “Just one more detail on top of all the others?”
“Yes. Today isn’t about details. Today is different.”

Choosing not to give the hero’s name in Perfect Strangers came quite naturally, as it fitted the idea that this is very much a woman’s story. As well as recognizing the way Anna feels, I wanted the reader to imagine that just maybe this could have been her, with this man, in Venice in the rain. Maybe it could still be day. Who knows? After all, the man in this story is a bit of a fantasy character. He’s not only Anna’s stranger, he’s the reader’s, too. He’s whoever she wants him to be…for one perfect day.

It seems to have worked. One reviewer 'loved getting to know Anna, and how her male companion seemed to be the perfect fit for her as she was for him.' Another said the story 'captured the intensity of the love between this couple so concisely, so perfectly, that you can see why one tiny piece of information could create a ripple that would spoil the perfection.'

One more thing. An editor – not the lovely editor I eventually gave the story to - commented ‘yes, but shouldn’t they exchange names at the end?’ For the life of me, I couldn’t see how or where that would happen. Of course they will know each others’ names, but not on the page. Sometimes it’s better not to say anything. Having him announce his name would have killed the story stone dead, I think. You’d have heard the ‘clanggg’ for miles around. I’m glad I stuck to my guns and left him nameless.

And, of course, in the fine tradition of 'happily ever after,' left him with Anna per sempre...forever.

The video for Perfect Strangers can be seen right now in the list for September at You Gotta Read Videos. If you like it, please vote for it!

Perfect Strangers is available HERE at The Wild Rose press, where you can also read the reviews.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Jane - super blog, perfectly expressing all kinds of valid points about viewpoint. I'm going to suggest to my writing students that they read your blog.

I agree that Perfect Strangers with both POVs would have been a very different story. As it is, being so intensely in Anna's POV it is a tender, magical experience of healing and love.

I agree, too, about not suddenly thrusting their names in at the end!

Your story reminded me of 'Rebecca', where we never know the heroine's/narrator's name, only that it is lovely and unusual.

P.L. Parker said...

I love the POV of two minds. I want to know what he is thinking as well. In fact, I love the short POV's of other characters. To me, it rounds out the story, gives more depth. I know head hopping is really looked down on, but when I read, I want every character's slant.

Mary Ricksen said...

I like both POV's in a story too.
I want to know what they are both thinking and feeling.

Linda Swift said...

Jane, what a lovely romantic excerpt. And I like keeping the hero as a sort of shadow figure.

But I agree with P.L. that I usually prefer to have both POVs and even other characters' POVs at times. I honestly think the POV issue is highly overrated right now. This, too, shall pass.

I wish you great success with this book, Jane.

Lynne Roberts said...


Excellent blog and I loved the blurbs for Perfect Strangers.

I take POV on a case by case basis. I don't like head hopping but some stories, like this one, call for a single POV and others don't.

Well done.


Savanna Kougar said...

Jane, stunning accomplishment. I would never have thought of a nameless hero. However, you're story has that romantic dreamy sense to it.

POV has become such a contentious issue in some ways.
Personally, it depends on the story for me. I can to with one POV or with both.
I do, overall, prefer writing both. Though, I've done stories in just the heroine's POV. And, now, one in just the hero's POV.

I do have to throw my two cents in about head hopping. Really, for me, I don't care. If it works in the story, I enjoy it.
I will comment, given my recent edits I was amazed at what one editor thought was head hopping while the other editor did not. Truthfully, it really looked like a witch hunt for head hopping. Or a ghost around every corner ~ as if we humans or extra humans, have no sense of each other and what we're feeling and experiencing.
Yeah, I don't get it. I think this head hopping thing has hit an extreme.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Thanks, Lindsay! I'm incredibly thrilled that you enjoyed it so, as you know. Means a lot to me. :)

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Patsy, Mary, Linda - you've all expressed the same opinion, having both points of view. It's a hugely popular thing, isn't it? Especially in romance. I do like the idea of knowing 'both sides of the story,' and if the author can get as deep with one charcater as with the other, as some manage to do so well, then it's doubly wonderful!

J x

Jane Richardson, writer said...

You're absolutely right, Savanna. POV has been such an issue recently, but I agree with you, if it's working - and if the writing is well-controlled and effective - then what's the difference?
Too right on the 'witch hunt' idea! This happens over and over. Remember the 'was' thing a while back? Every time an author used the past continuous tense, it got ripped out, EVEN when it was being used correctly, because someone decreed that 'all the was's' had to be removed. As one writer summed it up, 'to say 'Fred died' is not the same as 'Fred is dying.'
I'm amazed by your experience too. You're one of the tightest writers I know!

J x

Savanna Kougar said...

Jane, I think the whole 'was' thing is still somewhat out of control.
Too many, yes, but my goodness, the word exists for a reason.
Thank you, for the compliment... smiles...

Bekki Lynn said...

You know -- I often feel that way. I feel we put things in a story because we're supposed to and it can ruin the story, or at least take away or change the real vision of the story.

Why does the reader need to know all? Isn't that part of what we often find intriguing in people - the mystery of them?

I'm anxious to read this now.

I love to have both points of view, but if the story is written in a single pov, it depends on the author's ability to complete the story with it. The category lines are generally one pov and usually the females. I guess it didn't bother much back in the day -- I really knew no other way.