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!