Point of View, part 1

Why it’s so much better to have one

With apologies to new writers I have worked with through the years, I’m going to create my own version of the sort of early samples I read from beginning storytellers who have a passion and even a talent for the craft. See if you can figure out why a scene like this doesn’t work.

Hint: I blame TV and movies for this problem.

Chip Farren walked into the pizza shop. A college student, he wore a tan jacket with patched elbows over a Tron t-shirt, and also wore comfortable blue jeans and cheap tennis shoes.
A waitress approached, an attractive brunette wearing short-shorts, a dark top, and a short apron. “Hi, Hon. Good to see you again,” she said in a thick Hoosier drawl. “Just one today?”
“Yes, Laverne,” said Chip. “I’m on my way home from classes, but I can’t wait to start programming on my video game.”
The friendly waitress led Chip to a table covered in a red and white checkered tablecloth.
“Now, Chip, you really should concentrate on your school work. I think you could be a brilliant programmer if you just apply yourself.”
“You’re probably right, Laverne, but I just can’t help myself. Video games are my life, and the one I’m making with my roommate Phil is going to rock.”
Laverne waited with her pencil poised over her order pad. “What can I get for you?”
“Just the usual, Laverne.”
Laverne jotted into her notebook. “Large pizza, all the meats. Got it. Will you be bringing the leftovers home to Phil?”
Chip flashed a smile. “You know me too well, Laverne.”
“I’ll throw in some breadsticks, too. I know how much Phil loves breadsticks from Smittie’s!”
“Oh, you don’t have to—” Chip began to protest.
“No charge for my favorite customer,” she said, and walked away into the kitchen.

So….what’s wrong with this scene? (Those in the know will struggle to find anything right about it.)

Let me first point out the obvious. First of all, everything here is visual and communicated through obvious, stilted dialog. It’s like the writer set up a video camera in the corner to frame the room, and we’re watching the scene as performed by a pair of awkward amateur actors. What is not visually explained is spoken aloud in (really bad and unnatural) dialog. It bears a closer resemblance to a (bad) screenplay than prose fiction.

Now let’s dig a little deeper. Who’s the point of view character in this scene the student or the waitress?

That’s a trick question. There is no point of view.  Technically, it’s third person, a sort of dull omniscient narrator, unwilling to commit to either character.

Now think how the scene would be different if written from a point of view. Doesn’t matter which one, but for discussion’s sake, I’ll pick Chip’s point of view. Do you suppose he has an opinion about this restaurant? Would his other senses engage as he walked in? To pick an obvious one, what sort of aroma would greet him as he walked in?

Tune in for part two. In the meantime, here’s some optional homework. How would the scene play out if you put yourself into one of the character’s point of view? Include sights, sounds, smells, touch, internal thoughts, and opinions, where relevant. (Hint: feel free to change the dialog –a lot.)

If you’re brave, post your version in the comments. Tomorrow I’ll present my version, and we’ll examine what changed, and what makes it work better. Have fun!

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About R.J. Sullivan

R.J. Sullivan’s latest book, Commanding the Red Lotus, is a novel-length collection of three space opera tales in the tradition of Andre Norton and Gene Roddenberry. His novel Haunting Blue is an edgy paranormal thriller and the first book of the adventures of punk girl Fiona “Blue” Shaefer and her boyfriend Chip Farren. Seventh Star Press also released Haunting Obsession, a Rebecca Burton Novella, and Virtual Blue, the second part of Fiona’s tale. R.J.’s short stories have been featured in such acclaimed collections as Dark Faith Invocations by Apex Books and Vampires Don’t Sparkle. R.J. co-hosts the Two Towers Talk Show YouTube program with John F. Allen. He resides with his family in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. He drinks regularly from a Little Mermaid coffee mug and is man enough to admit it.
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11 Responses to Point of View, part 1

  1. ericgarrison says:

    When I joined my critique group, the most difficult concept for me was POV. I think what helped me the most was to write some first-person narratives. After that, doing a close-third POV has helped me steep my writing in sensory and emotional elements that I hope make it richer and more readable.

  2. Chip Farren walked into the pizza shop. He wore a tan collegiate jacket over a Tron t-shirt. As his body moved to the beat of 80’s Pop music that poured from the jukebox in the far corner of the room, his loose fitting blue jeans and cheap tennis shoes gave him a relaxed gait.
    The aromatic aroma of the best pizza in Bloomington hit his nostrils before he stepped inside. A bouquet of cheese, sausage, pepperoni and garlic had his mouth watering.
    An attractive waitress approached him. She was a brunette wearing short-shorts, a dark top, and a short apron.
    “Hi, Hon. Good to see you again,” she said in a thick Hoosier drawl. “Just one today?”
    “Yes, Laverne,” said Chip.
    He always had to suppress an inner chuckle whenever he said her name aloud. “I’m on my way home from classes, but I can’t wait to start programming on my video game.”
    The parlor had a sprinkling of patrons, some of the usual crowd and others obvious out of town visitors. The red neon that framed the menu behind the counter reflected off the cherry wood paneling and gave the room a warm ethereal glow.
    The friendly waitress led him to a familiar booth covered in a red and white checkered tablecloth. The leather upholstered bench accommodated the contour of his body like a hand in a familiar baseball glove. “Now, Chip, you really should concentrate on your school work. I think you could be a brilliant programmer if you just apply yourself.”
    “You’re probably right, Laverne, but I just can’t help myself. Video games are my life, and the one I’m making with my roommate Phil is going to rock.”
    Laverne waited with her pencil poised over her order pad. “What can I get for you?”
    “Just the usual, Laverne.”
    Laverne jotted into her notebook. “Large pizza, all the meats. Got it. Will you be bringing the leftovers home to Phil?”
    Chip flashed a smile. “You know me too well, Laverne.”
    “I’ll throw in some breadsticks, too. I know how much Phil loves breadsticks from Smittie’s!”
    “Oh, you don’t have to—” Chip began to protest.
    “No charge for my favorite customer,” she said, and walked away into the kitchen.
    He felt his face flush as he watched with a smile as she sashayed away from the table to place his order. Despite the delicious pies and great service, the atmosphere alone had endeared him as a loyal customer.

    Not perfect, but here you have it!

  3. Look forward to part 2. I can see the deeper visual picture in John’s version versus the conversation in the original. I need to work on word painting to fill out a story.

  4. Pingback: Point of View, Part Two | R.J. Sullivan Fiction

  5. joanneeddy says:

    Chip Farren smelled the heavy aroma before he reached the door. ‘There’s nothing closer to heaven than a greasy pepperoni pizza.’ He thought. Just breathing it in made his stomach growl.
    “Doncha you ever change that shirt?” Laverne greeted him.
    Chip smoothed the Tron t-shirt and pulled down on the sleeves of old tan jacket, “Hey, I added the jacket just for you. They call it cheap chic on campus.”
    “Yeah, me too.” She looked down at her short shorts, nearly covered by her apron, and pushed a strand of her unruly brown hair behind her ear.
    His eyes followed hers. He knew all the guys hit on her but he couldn’t help himself. “You always look like a million.”
    She laughed. “Right, Romeo. Grab your usual table and start your homework. I got to get some drinks to table four.”
    Chip tapped the keys of his computer, lost in a tough section of the game code. He didn’t hear her arrive, or the rustle of the papers she gathered up on the checkered table cloth. Hell, he didn’t hear the thunk the bottle of his favorite beer made as she set it down.
    “I said, just the one pie, like always?” The point of her pencil tapped on the pad.
    “Oh, sorry, Laverne.” He felt sheepish, like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar. “I’m supposed to be working on a paper…but, yeah, the usual.”
    “Right, all meat. You need protein to fuel all that brain power.”
    “It’s this game Phil and I are working on. We’re almost there, Laverne. I can taste it. This game is gonna really rock.”
    “Good for you.” She smiled and started toward the kitchen but turned back. “Hey, we got a special that comes with bread sticks. You know your roommate loves ‘em.”
    “I thought that only came with two pizzas?
    “Well…loyal customers get a little extra now and then.”
    “Thanks, Laverne.” He lifted the Hoppin Frog bottle in a toast. “Some day, I’ll sell this and give you a tip the size of your Hoozier heart.”
    “Then, get back to work,” she said and walked to the kitchen.

    Thanks for the exercise….joanne

  6. Pingback: That’s One Point of View | joanneeddy's blog

  7. Pingback: Writing Tips Continued: Person or persons defined | R.J. Sullivan Fiction

  8. Pingback: Changing your Point of View | R.J. Sullivan Fiction

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