How do you manage the “camera” when writing scenes in your novel? Or do you even have to think about that?
Dane posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hi Randy, Do you recommend any sources that help to teach ‘camera’ patterns for staging scenes? For example, within 3rd person pov, starting the view from a distance about the environment, then moving closer in, and finally focusing on some important details? To illustrate, if we lock the pov into 3rd person, then we were to fasten a ‘very flexible’ rubberband to the camera. As Scenes and Sequels play out, the camera is ‘rubberbanding’ around to important ‘views’ that emphasize our intent. I know there are patterns of ‘far, medium, close,’ or the other way around, but it’s tough to find some clear information with recommendations to build tension and release it.
Any input would be great!
Randy sez: Managing the camera is something you have to worry about when creating a movie. The camera always has to be somewhere.
This is not such a big problem in writing a novel, because often you can just park the camera right behind the Point-of-View character’s eyes and you’re done. Then you don’t have to think about it anymore.
You don’t always do this, of course. You have other options:
You can write in Omniscient POV, in which case the camera takes a God’s-eye view of the world. That’s not very intimate, but it can sometimes make excellent sense.
You can also write in Third Person Objective POV, in which case you put the camera outside your focal character’s head and show him from the outside. Again, this isn’t very intimate, but it has the nice advantage that it makes the novel very cinematic. The disadvantage is that you can never get inside your focal character’s skin using Interior Monologue or Interior Emotion. These are key techniques that we novelists can use that the movie people can’t.
Most novelists, most of the time, use one of the POV choices that show the world from the inside of a character. These POV choices include Third Person, First Person, Second Person (very rarely, but it can be done), and the much-criticized Head-hopping POV.
Of these, the two most popular are Third Person and First Person. When you do these right, the camera is inside the POV character’s head, looking out through his eyes. But there’s not just a camera, there’s a microphone inside his head, listening through his ears. The reader sees what he sees, hears what he hears, smells what he smells, tastes what he tastes, touches what he touches, and feels what he emotes.
For more details on this, see my article on Writing the Perfect Scene, which gives a quick overview on the basic method of alternating between interior and exterior camera shots. If you want even more detail, I’ll refer you to chapters 10 and 15 of my book Writing Fiction for Dummies, where I explain how to write a scene and then how to edit it.
I sometimes hear this referred to as “Deep POV,” which always surprises me, because it makes it sound like the author is going above and beyond the call of duty by writing this way.
I don’t get that. Putting your reader inside your character’s skin is normal. This is the way fiction ought to be done for most books most of the time. This is your main advantage over the movie people. Use it.
Now back to Dane’s question on managing the camera. Yes, there are times when you’ll want to slip the camera out of the POV character’s head and move it around. You might show us the whole room, including the parts our POV character can’t see. You might zoom out further to show the whole setting. You might show the whole city from the 50,000 foot level. Or show the whole planet, or the whole galaxy.
None of those are very personal. Showing those may be crucial for connecting with your reader’s mind, but they don’t do much to connect with her heart. And readers read fiction for the emotive part. If you want facts, you read wikipedia. If you want feelings, you read a novel.
Dane, I wouldn’t stress too much on your camera technique, unless you’re doing screenplays. If you’re writing a novel, park that camera right behind the POV character’s eyes and don’t move it unless you absolutely have to.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Richard Mabry says
Thanks for your comments about “deep POV.” I’m with you–I thought that was the way we are supposed to write 3rd person.
Once I used the technique from our Perfect Scene lesson, I found it impossible to head hop or write from the omnipresent or even second person (which is why I think it is rarely done). When people talk about camera narratives from distant to close I just think that is a different type of head hopping.
I would call Deep POV happens when the story uses more indepth thought only sequels and ma even includes some longer sequels within a scene – it does slow the forward motion but in romance stories I think it occasionally works at critical points when we really want to get inside his or her head and feel their anguish, confusion, or joy. Not so much I think for suspense, but inserted within a scene once or twice seems to be OK in my genre. Not really romance, but romance-like or is it just a character driven story?
Otherwise I always hate leaving the POV’s head to look at scenery or people from a different perspective. I try to set the setting from the POV perspective too.
If I have the POV (internally or externally) say how she feels about the city, planet, or galaxy, the scene can be personal and emotional and add to the scene’s conflict rather than be a sterile, unfeeling info dump.
Not sure what happened to my comment the first time I posted it, so I’ll try again, although I don’t remember exactly what I said…
“If you’re writing a novel, park that camera right behind the POV character’s eyes and don’t move it unless you absolutely have to.”
I think this is way too simplistic.
I’m sure I had something profound to say about making the most of the tools available to us, or about how I don’t think sticking a camera in one place and leaving it there is the main advantage books have over movies, or about your assumptions about how fiction ‘ought’ to be written and why people read it, but everything I said before was eaten by the internet, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with this.