Friday, June 15, 2007

Head-hopping And POV Shifting

Who is telling the story? You write your novel, but someone in the book is there, facing the reading audience. Whoever you choose, that character is possessed of the Point Of View.

Is it first person POV? Lots of 'I' this and 'I' that, with the occasional 'we' thrown in for good measure. And what becomes of the bits of the tale that are never witnessed by the 'I'? The author has to tred carefully here, because changing the POV, shifting from the thoughts and impressions of 'I' to a different character, can result in some unpleasant and disconcerting head-hopping.

Good authors can move in and out of the heads of characters, but they let the reader know that someone else is doing the story-telling. The girl looks at the boy, describes his ratty jeans or his shaggy locks. Can't have the lad pop up in the very next sentence to describe the ant crawling on the girl's back when she can't see it or feel it. And then hop back to the girl, to get her reaction to the boy brushing her back. The reader gets confused about who is talking, who is seeing, and a lost reader is a reader the author has lost.

If you watched the last episode of The Sopranos, you may or may not have liked the ending, but you have to like the newest conspiracy theory that has erupted. The problem is, if you accept the latest suggestion that the director went all artsy and philosophical, then you would find yourself a bit disconcerted. It's a case of head-hopping, a shifting POV that makes for some very confused viewers.

The suggestion now being floated is that Tony was indeed whacked in the final minutes. There was foreshadowing, it is said, with some flashback scene in which death was described as everything going black. Well, there's the final few minutes right there. The screen went black.

And before that? As a television viewer, the program happens through your POV, not that of Tony Soprano. You saw the family enter the diner, one by one. You saw the daughter struggle to park her car, outside, where Tony could not see her. The story was not coming out of his POV at all, but you were the eyes that witnessed the events.

If Tony was whacked, and the foreshadowed blackness was meant to indicate death, then it was death from Tony's point of view. Only seconds before, it was your point of view, but hop over to another head and there's an artistic statement. To hold the POV, the whacking would have to happen before your eyes, but it did not. Was Tony murdered? You watched it, through your eyes, but if you could suddenly jump into his head, then maybe he was. Getting all existential or whatever sort of philosophy might apply; a bit deep for a Sunday evening.

Or maybe the screenwriters and the director wanted to create enough confusion to keep people talking about a series that has ended its first run. After all, who would buy all the DVDs if they knew the main character died at the end?

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