Monday, February 13, 2012

Lesson in Point of View

Have gotten back to Jennifer E. Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight which I picked up at ALAMW#12 because Soho editor Dan Ehrenhaft said I must, must read it. I'm not far yet, but I'm loving it and I am fascinated by its very different choices for point of view.

Like most writers, I study other writers a lot. I'm always learning from their word choices, their sentence structure, their rhythms... the things they put in and the things they leave out. Essentially this amounts to voice, but it also affects how the story is unfolding and how we learn about the characters. And okay, everything else, too.

In Statistical Probability, Jennifer Smith uses limited third person present tense, with flashbacks in limited third person past tense. It is, I think, the first time I've seen this technique and it took me a few pages to see what she was doing. Once I did, I fell in huge slobbery writer love with how this works.

Let me show you: Hadley, seventeen, is headed to London for her father's wedding to thirty-something Charlotte with whom he fell in love while teaching poetry at Oxford on a fellowship. Her parents separated, then divorced, and now this. And Hadley has missed her plane. And is about to fall in love at first sight with Oliver, who is going to sit one seat over on the next plane with her. On the page, it looks like this:

Hadley isn't so sure.

The flight attendant is now working the keyboard of her computer with a kind of ferocious intensity, punching at the keys and snapping her gum. "You're in luck," she says, raising her hands with a little flourish. "I can get you on the ten twenty-four. Seat eighteen -A. by the window."

Hadley's almost afraid to pose the question, but she asks it anyway: "What time does it get in."

As you can see, the reader is intimately in Hadley's head, almost as close as 1st person present tense, but different. A fascinating difference.

I will post again when I've finished reading. But I'm pondering Smith's book this morning. Observing how this very unique point of view allows her a smidgen more of the writerly word show one gets with third person while still maintaining the intimacy of first person.

Would love to hear your thoughts today. Any experiments with point of view that have caught your fancy? Writers whose narrative choices you find fascinating? Choices that didn't work as well for you? Your own choices and why you make them?


Lynsey Newton said...

I loved this book and actually I hadn't really thought about the POV as it flows so well but it's something I might have to go back and look at. Hope you enjoy the book :)

Emily said...

Thanks for bringing attention to this. I've read the first chapter and was immediately hooked. It's in my TBR pile.

Joy Preble said...

You know it really is fascinating to me. I have never read a YA with this type of narration and I'm learning a lot by reading. So many interesting narrative choices!