Linda’s red eyes seem to burn holes in the blank page lying on the writing desk. A two-day-old college sweatshirt and wrinkled jogging pants make me think of how hopeful my girlfriend had been just not long ago. I have this sudden impulse to hold her, but she’d just push me away ’cause she can’t admit that she’s not sleeping anymore.
“You’re probably wanting me to leave. Bet I’m a distraction,” I tell her.
Finally, she looks at me. She springs out of her chair and grabs me tight. I smell stale coffee and mild perspiration, but I don’t care. I hold her even closer.
Her beautiful red lips tremble.
“The story stinks, Jimmy. It just stinks. And I don’t know why.”
Maybe frustrated Linda’s story didn’t engage her. Or worse, it didn’t engage a reader. While I don’t believe that writing the story in deep point of view is the only author’s tool that makes a story a good story, it may have helped our secondary character in the tale above.
Deep point of view does something wonderful: it immerses the reader. If your writing includes lots of he saids, she thought, they felt that and they did that and so on, your prose may read like a high school book report. Did you ever squirm with excitement when a classmate read his or her homework out loud? I always used those moments to catch up on some sleep. (If you’re reading this, apologies to any of my long-ago high school classmates.)
Okay, so here’s an exercise for you. Write about another person. What does this person look like? Sound like? Smell like? What does this person make you want to do? What do you think that this character thinks about you?
And now for a twist: Write this in the second person, You. Below is what I managed to work out.
You see him dressed like a Friday night that never stopped even though it’s Monday morning. Booze stains, crumbs, and other debris litter his shirt. He makes you think of college dorm parties and walks of shame and, later, a missed Saturday breakfast. But when he steps close, then even closer, fresh ocean spray fills your nose and your heart skips a beat and you remember sand and yesterday’s campfire, marshmallows, and holding hands at sunset. He could be more, way more than a once-a-week unemployment check.
“You blame me for losing your job. This is your way of getting back at me.”
You’ve surprised yourself, sipping your coffee and trying not to look at him as you get ready to leave for another nine to five. You’re afraid that when he replies, gravel will fill his throat.
Now let’s have a little more fun with this. Rewrite the exercise, but change the feeling of the passage. Read below: Does this feel different?
You see him dressed like a bum that begs for ten dollars when you know that he’d just drink it away. Junk food plasters his shirt. You think of back alleys where people go to hide and pick at garbage left by others who have the guts to face the world. And when he steps close, a sour smell of a too-many-hours-of-video-games sweat fills your nose. Your boyfriend isn’t even trying, but he’ll probably try to reassure you with another, ‘Next week.’
“You don’t really love me? You don’t care, do you?” you say.
But you don’t wait for an answer as you leave the place you once considered home, stepping out into the sun for another nine to five.
Yeah, but who the hell wants to read a story in second person? Okay, you make a good point. But you can change the passage and it still works. I’ll prove it now.
Dressed like a bum that begs for ten dollars only to drink it away later. Junk food plasters a two-weak-old shirt. A wrinkled brain pan pictures back alleys where people go to hide and pick at garbage left by others who have the guts to face the world. And when he steps close, a sour smell of a too-many-hours-of-video-games sweat fills the tight space. She thinks her boyfriend isn’t even trying, but he’ll probably try another reassurance of, ‘Next week. I applied at several places.’
“You don’t care about us, do you?” she blurts out.
She doesn’t wait for an answer. The front door slams behind as a painfully bright sun boils the morning away.
It’s a little rough, but the translation from second person to third is taking shape. And it’s beginning to feel intimate.
See, that’s what I’m trying to get across: deep point of view pulls us in as readers and helps bring a story to life. You can find any page on your manuscript and apply it. So give the tool a spin. Help Linda. Help you, the writer.