For some strange reason, The Jacksons: An American Dream was on TV a couple weeks ago (gee, I wonder why). My dad and I got sucked in near the beginning, expecting to understand Michael’s descent into . . . well, madness.
It started off promising. The beginning showed the Jackson 5 practicing their music and dancing, and the rigors of their lives. It showed the psychological relationships of the characters. But instead of delving deeper and deeper into Michael’s psyche over time, the movie seemed to pull back. As Michael seems to push his family away to pursue a solo career, we see less and less of him—and it feels like we’re being pushed away, too. We go from seeing his insecurities and fears to looking in at Neverland from the outside, just like we always have.
Part of the problem was that this movie was made in 1992, after Michael established a successful solo career, but before he began the descent into . . . well, you know. But as my dad and I discussed how disappointed we were with the movie’s lack of depth or resolution, I realized that sometimes our attempts at deep POV do the same thing to our readers. We leave them watching from the outside when what they really want is to be inside the characters, living and understanding them.
I think part of the challenge with writing deep POV, as Alicia Rasley points out in The Power Of Point Of View, is that many of us see the action of a story in a very cinematic way—as if we were watching a movie (185). In a movie, the camera follows a character, but jumps around between perspectives easily. You can be in the front of the courtroom watching Jack McCoy as he questions the witness, then quick-as-a-flash, you’re in the gallery, watching the witness crack.
While this is a powerful technique, point of view has always been a limitation of film. There has never been and may never be a satisfactory adaptation of Jane Eyre or The Great Gatsby, because in those works and in works like them, the experience isn’t just about what we can see happening—it’s about what happens inside the narrators.
Without narration, we can’t see that Gatsby’s smile assumes the best of us, as if he had faith in us. When Robert Redford smiles, it’s attractive, of course, but it’s just a smile—because that assertion, that his smile assumes the best of us, isn’t rooted in empirical fact. It doesn’t come from just what Nick Carraway sees. It’s rooted in Nick’s perception and interpretation of what he sees.
As writers, we can give our readers the connection they want with our characters’ thoughts and feelings. We don’t have to just watch what has played out on the screens of our mind. We are not camera men! We can get into our characters’ heads, show their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes, and truly transport our readers so they feel like they’re living the experience with us. This is a strength of the medium—so use it!
But that’s not to say deep POV is always best or even right for our story. Soon we’ll have a guest post on when not to use deep POV!