I chose this month's first page to explain how to get close POV. I think it's due to our visual, reality based, Netflix, 3-D modern world that makes readers want an immersive read. They're used to 'being in' films, which makes it easy to BE the character. Who didn't want to be Katniss? *raises liver-spotted hand*. This makes extra work for the author. It's not easy to do. But it's a learned skill, and once you get it, you get it forever. I learn best by seeing transformations in examples, So let's dig in.
This is a compelling, emotionally fraught situation. An en media res opening. But because the reader is so distant, they're being told what's happening, which keeps them from the opportunity to BE the character.
Thank you, brave soul, for trusting me with your work.
Black = original
Red = my thoughts/comments
Purple = text I added/altered
Willow repeatedly pressed her right foot down on the brakes. There was no resistance. Her chest tightened, she began to pant. Her steering wheel would not respond. She was going over the edge, right into the icy water. She screamed as her car flew off the road and sailed into the murky depths. Her body bounced off the steering wheel. She coughed as the air bag deployed, and fumbled for the seat belt, then remembered Rose had an emergency knife in the glove compartment. Her sister had been bugging her for months to get one. If she made it through this, she was heading for Big 5 Sporting Goods. Grabbing the knife, she cut the seat belt, and pulled herself out of the open window.
She emerged to the surface and inhaled deeply, gasping for air. Pushing her hair back she twirled around in the water, trying to get her barring’s in the dark. She saw the lights from the shore, and swam in that direction. Teeth chattering, she did breast strokes. Come on, you can do this. Her sister was going to goad her endlessly for this. She stopped, treated water and wiped the salt water out of her eyes.
I'm going to rewrite this in close POV, then analyze the difference, below. Not knowing much about the setting, I'm going to make assumptions which won't be correct.
Willow slammed the brakes. The pedal hit the floor with a hollow thump that wasn't anywhere near right. She tried again. Then again, as the December icy-waters of the Monongahela advanced. Alarm jangling, she cranked the wheel right to full-stop, but the river still expanded in the windshield. Shit. She was going in. There'd be no help; she was the only one stupid enough to be out in an ice storm. But her swelling eye care of Brad's fury made that impossible. When you decide you're finally leaving for good, you don't check the weather first.
A scream trapped in her locked windpipe, the car took out the flimsy barrier and sailed off the road to hit the water with a jarring whomp. Remembering an NCIS episode about people trapped in a floating car, her fumbling fingers found the button and retracted the window. Frigid wind slapped her face. The car took a sickening tilt, and slushy ice water cascaded in, stealing her breath, freezing her thoughts.
Her heart throwing staccato, SOS beats, her numb fingers found the seat belt and released it. The car drifted, moving fast. Both banks looked a lifetime away. Shivers coursed through her, ending at her chattering teeth. Her muscles were pulled taut, but responded slow. Too slow.
Move, before you can't.
Kicking off her useless pretty heels, she took on the incoming waterfall, pushing off the seat, launching herself out the window. The iron band around her chest only allowing tiny rabbit breaths, she kicked for shore. She wasn't saving herself from Brad to die in a river.
I had a couple of problems with the logistics: why wouldn't the seat belt open? I've never heard that it could be jimmied to jam. You said salt water, but unless the car was on a bluff above the ocean (you didn't mention hitting a barrier). The beach wouldn't have posed such a problem. If it were a bridge, there would have been a retaining wall as well. So I took the liberty of making it a river (you can fix that). Also, I didn't realize it was night until the very end (lights from the shore) - remember, the reader doesn't know where they are, so you need some scene-setting at the very start, so they can settle in. Part of close POV is being aware of logistics, and what is possible. If the reader doesn't buy it, they're going to be analyzing the scene - not being in it.
Also, the reader isn't going to be invested in what happens to Willow, if they don't know who she IS (I see you nodding, Jenny). Give the reader a quick hint, so they can root for her. I added Brad, which probably doesn't follow your plot, but do you see how that makes us know something about your character - enough that we sympathize, and care that she makes it?
Okay, mine isn't great, but is it closer POV? Why?
- Details - I made it December, in an ice storm, during the day. I named the river. Mentioned NCIS. Put her in heels. Why? it helps the reader BE there, and details can make the situation worse. I didn't spend lots of time on them (would have loved to have mentioned what she was wearing - a wool coat would make things worse, weighing her down) but can you see how details are an important key to close POV. They give the reader hints of who this person in the car is. Maybe she's in an evening gown. Or her pajamas. See how that would raise questions in the reader?
- BE the Dude - Margie Lawson calls this, being true to the character's emotional set. I call it, Being the Dude. I've made this same mistake; it's a tense situation. You'd be panicking. Thoughts would be jumbled, broken. You wouldn't be making a note to yourself to buy a knife at the next Big 5 you passed. Heck, you're not even sure you're going to live through this! And what kind of sister would goad you when you almost died? To amp tension, use short sentences, make them jerky, use action words. What I do: I sit, close my eyes, and put myself in that car. What am I feeling? What is my body doing? What experience can I draw from in my own past to make this more realistic?
- Tie thoughts to the character's past. I don't know enough about this character to do that, but think about it. If you're dying, what would you regret? Who would you think of? Let's say she is competitive with her older, almost perfect sister. Would she regret wasting all that time on useless competition, when she should have spent the time loving her closest relative? The thoughts would have to be short, not more than a sentence, but they can be a powerful way to slip in backstory, and tempt the reader to keep going. What if she had a secret? Would she wish she'd have told someone, or be glad that if she died, no one would ever know?
If you want to learn more about Close POV, WITS has several blogs on the subject:
What say you, WITS readers? How to you convey tension? Have any other close POV tips for us?
Did you know that Laura does craft podcasts? They're short, dorky fun, shot in different locations, and usually include a rant. You can check them out on her website: HERE