Gimme Three Steps

Gimme Three Steps . . . and New Point of View
Pam Uphoff

Dave’s post Monday—mentioning parasitism being a matter of point of view—reminded me of a post I wrote back in the Pleistocene, probably on Baen’s Bar. Which, of course I didn’t save. But it was brilliant! It was Yugh! With luck this reboot will at least be coherent.

Take this song, think of it as a scene in a story:

Here’s some poor schmuck who unknowingly has danced with the local Boss Bad Guy’s girl. And he’s trying to explain his way out of getting shot for it. All flight instincts fully engaged, and he fast-talks, and no doubt is backing toward the door and ready to run.

Or is he that scared? In a book, you can stick some internal thoughts in there. Maybe he did know who’s girl he was dancing with, and did it gleefully, knowing he was stirring up trouble and he thinks if he has to, he can get his gun out fast enough . . .

Or you could write the exact same actions, but tell it from the girl’s POV. Is she horrified that her thoughtlessly accepting a dance from a stranger didn’t matter? And now the poor guy is going to get killed!

Or does she not give a damn? Is she gleefully delighted to have men fighting over her?

Or could it be a cold blooded calculation to make Boss Bad Guy realize that she’s still very desirable and he’d better pay more attention to her?

Maybe she’s seriously psychotic and is going to enjoy the humiliation of a complete stranger and maybe even get to watch him die.

And what about the Boss Bad Guy? What’s his POV? Is he furious, and only constrained from killing the interloper because of the public venue?

Or is he sick at heart, realizing that he has to kill this fool. Knowing that if he shows weakness his gang will pull him down? But he has no desire to kill this naïve idiot. Maybe he can just back him out the door, begging for his life . . .

What about that stranger, sitting in the corner? Personally, I think he’s a spy, who’s watching his meeting with an informant about to go to hell . . .

Yep. That stupid song was a real eye-opener for me about how critical the POV was for a scene. Do you have a scene that just isn’t working? Who else is there, or can be added, who has a different perspective on the same actions? Whose POV will engage the reader, steer them toward looking at the scene in a different way?

Or an entire book.

I wrote my cross-dimensional espionage story from the POVs of the infiltrating spies. Didn’t like it. Wrote it over again from the POVs of a government political analyst and a presidential bodyguard. Not bad, but it created as many holes as it filled . . . so I brought out the original version and intertwined them. Voila! Worked pretty good.

Now, by the time this posts I’ll be in Taiwan being given the personal tour before the Big Traditional Chinese Wedding Dinner. Ten courses. All vegetarian. Only forty guests (my very sweet daughter-in-law was trying to keep it small.) The vast majority of the guests speak little English. Just picture me offending them as I try to pronounce the written phonetic phrases on these flash cards . . . Completely incapable of understanding replies. I shall smile a lot, and rumor tells me that translators can be hired. I expect to have a great time and become a local legend for malapropisms.

Which is a long winded way of saying I may not be replying. So tear into it. Grab the last scene you wrote and write it over from a different POV.

Oh, and buy a book. The groom’s parents pay for weddings over there . . .




  1. This song, on the radio on the way to school, was my kids introduction to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and they loved it. And since the station play list was canned and they weren’t swift about changing it much, we heard it again and again and again.

    I also have it on my MP3 player collection, and heard it just yesterday. So unfortunately I have a pretty fixed idea about the characters. I take it as a poor schmuck out for a good time who runs up on either a jealous boyfriend or a wanna-bee boyfriend with an attitude. Is he scared? Well, he talks about shaking like a leaf of a tree and the water falling on the floor, so I’d say yeah.

    It’s fun, though. He at least knows Linda Lou, but he doesn’t know the guy pointing a .44 at him and the guy doesn’t know him. All we get from both are descriptions. The guy seems to be one of those angry, jealous, types. I take him as abusive because he turns to scream at Linda Lou (who may have been doing screaming of her own – staring straight down a .44 marvelously concentrates your attention). If I had to write it from his POV, that’s how I’d do him – angry, jealous, and violent.

    I don’t get that he’s so much broken hearted as angry. For broken hearted we’d have to turn to Kenny Rogers and Lucille. Of course, you can be broken hearted and cover it up with rage, but I think Linda Lou’s whatever is just possessive and angry.

    Linda Lou could range from wanting to make him jealous to having broke up with him to being one of those floozies who just does crap like that. At the moment I’m seeing her as a floozie who wants a good time and isn’t as serious about the gun toting dude as he is about her. Then she starts screaming that all they were doing was dancing and that’s when he turns and screams at her – and our yellow haired protagonist heads for the door.

    1. I will say, the first time I heard this song I missed the opening and thought that the POV character had actually succeeded in seducing the woman in question, and that the man had caught them in flagrante delicto.
      Which puts an entirely different spin on the song.

      1. Well, I wasn’t planning on you guys analyzing the song, just pointing out how a change of POV changes the readers’ reactions to exactly the same actions. Picking the head of the person viewing the scene cab seriously change to effect.

        1. What’s really ironic is that anybody who knows the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd knows that this song is based on a true story from their first tour after they released their first album. I’ve got a short story I wrote back in the early 1980’s for a creative writing class floating around somewhere where I am doing just what you suggested in your post telling it from the other points of view.

  2. Enjoy the ‘fun’ with round, slick chopsticks… And if you don’t like looking at the head of the fish you’re eating, just move the lazy susan around. Great idea, and thanks! I need to do something with a chapter, and this might be it.

    1. When my sister married a Chinese feller, my brother in the NYFD arranged the entertainment. Halfway through dinner the HIbernian bagpipe detachment of the New York Fire Department came marching up the driveway — THE WHOLE DETACHMENT — in full kilted regailia. I looked over at my new Chinese inlaws and they were sitting stock still looking straight ahead, not even at each other… “Nobody move…”

  3. I was going to start Book 2 of my Pride’s Children trilogy with a scene – and then it got way too long, and I wasn’t even finished with everything I wanted to put in.

    So I split the TV interview into four parts, gave the first and the last part to the original character’s pov, and used the middle part, split, with appropriate overlap, to give the two other pov characters a place to react to what was happening in that interview.

    So all three got some time and space, and the individual pieces were much better, and the extra stuff I needed got in – via the other characters’ reactions.


    But it was the devil to write! Because I’d locked into the single pov at the beginning.

    I think, though, that it works.

    And I learned how to do something new and complicated.

  4. The parents of the groom usually pay. But there is the matching custom where guests at the banquet give red envelopes with money, which helps defray the cost. And yes, 40 guests is on the small side – the last we attended was closer to 200.

    My wife and I avoided the cross-cultural marriage expectations by eloping to Reno. Though we ended up hosting an extended-family banquet the first time we visited her family in Hong Kong a few years later, it was at our (rather than my parents) expense, and about the size of yours.

    1. They tried to keep it small, sans red envelopes, but it’s gotten out of control. Fifty guests (now!) is borderline red envelope affair, so every one’s confused. And then we asked how we ought to address theparents of the bride. Hmm, apparently relationships get real dtailed and complex, and . . . we don’t quite know . . . ah well. Mr. and Mrs. Chen? That’s what makes a trip memorable.

      1. Well, if nothing was on fire, and nobody died, than I guess the novels seriously exaggerate things.

  5. And here I am wrestling with trying to get the villains’ factions and motives into a story where the heroine is the POV character, and they want to keep her in the dark.

    And I don’t think it’s a story that will benefit from multi-character POV.

    1. Then have her mentally speculate on the motives of the various factions. Try to read from expressions if any of her wild surmises could possibly be right. Or ask leading questions and get into really big trouble.

      There’s more than one way to clue in the reader while keeping your character ignorant.

      1. Also, I, at least, am glad you’re not putting us into the Bad Guys POV. I’m mostly getting tired of this from television, but in shows like Gotham and the second half of Luke Cage, we spend way too much time with the Bad Guys. I don’t like them. I don’t want to know all their icky inner workings. I am perfectly content to have some glimmer of their motivation without getting all up close and personal at length. (I stopped watching Gotham long ago.)

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