Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Accessing Deep Point of View Via Description—A Writing Exercise!

By Bonnie Randall

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: POV is a vital and powerful tool for writers. Bonnie Randall shares a fun writing exercise to sharper your point-of-view skills.

Shout-out to the cable news personality who recently described a certain Canadian Premier as a “demonic hedgehog.” It didn’t just make me laugh, it also inspired this month’s column on accessing Deep Point of View via descriptions.

The way an individual sees the world offers insight into how we, in turn, see that individual. In other words, a benevolent and soft-spoken anchor would be unlikely to pair demons with hedgehogs. A sarcastic wise-guy though…? It’s demonic hedgehogs all the way, baby!

Think of the last time a character in your fiction was in a setting. Was the sun blistering their skin, or was it beaming? Did that same sun illuminate everything they’d rather not look at, or did they have to squint away their chronic hangover? Andrew, the hero of my paranormal suspense Within The Summit’s Shadow—and an acerbic, pessimistic kinda guy—travels to Vancouver for a stakeout where he “Sat in the pissing rain. Typical Vancouver.”
Anyone else—particularly the woman he’s in love with—likely would have said it was drizzling. Maybe even just misty.

My point here is that we can reveal a lot about a character simply by the way they view whatever is in their vicinity. A pro at this skill is one of my fave authors, Jonathan Kellerman. Kellerman’s sleuthing psychologist, Alex Delaware, is not just a keen observer—he’s also a man of means who is quite taken with his own affluent lifestyle, a fact revealed by more than just the koi pond in his yard. Alex’s penchant for the finer things in life reveals itself whenever he notices someone dressed in Armani….or in a “tired, off-the-rack suit.” Alex is aware of the muted sparkle of a Tiffany bracelet…versus the garish glitter of paste bling.

Gads. How tacky.

(Here’s more with 4 Ways a Strong Point of View Strengthens a Novel)

Today try this exercise to develop your POV skills. 

Grab a few pictures of scenery. A combo of street scenes, nature, bistro, bodegas, waiting rooms, kitchens, porches—you name it. Make an eclectic collection. Now, for each setting, describe it from the point of view of an individual who is:
  • depressed
  • optimistic
  • surly
  • compassionate
  • grief-stricken
  • love-struck
  • peaceable
  • (add more that may occur to you)
Change each exercise up by adding a gender, or an age, to the aforementioned dispositions. How does the language change? What does the surly male see that the peaceable child misses? Or vice-versa? Be aware of your own feelings as you put yourself in the shoes of each disposition. Was the busy street scene in New York exciting for your inner, love-struck ingénue, but clogged and claustrophobic for your grief-stricken grandma? Feel it. See it. Write it.

(Here’s more with Is Your Description Helping Your Story or Holding it Back?)

Now scour Google images or Photobucket for pictures of people—again, change it up and make sure you have an eclectic variety of folks your “characters” can look at. Apply the same exercise, again noticing what one disposition hones in on that another does not.

Be aware of how your more pleasant dispositions tend to be more forgiving or magnanimous in their assessments than their cranky counterparts are. (There is a world of difference between noticing that someone’s hair would “Gleam if it was shampooed” versus saying it was “A curtain of grease.”). Be ruthlessly cruel when you’re surly. Be Polly-freakin’-anna when you’re compassionate. Get completely out of your comfort zone and remember—this is authentic for the way your character would see somewhere or something, not how you might necessarily see it.

That said, be aware also of how even the kindest character will view the world differently after a monumental conflict has upended their life; someone who once saw dandelions as little balls of wishes in the grass now sees nothing but pain-in-the-tush weeds. A child’s charming giggle now becomes the shrill, attention-seeking squeal of a damn brat.

Hey. It happens.

Beyond that, if your character is, in fact, depressed, be aware that by its very nature depression tends to blunt things—so recalling details about the blue-eyed blonde in the mint business suit might render her into nothing more than a muted collection of pastels; a Monet moving on legs.

Go deep into the disposition. Reflect on times when your own disposition has colored your perception—either lending it a cutting accuracy…or a kind and generous inaccuracy. Have fun with it! 

And, if you choose, toss some of the examples you come up with in the chat below.

Looking forward to seeing them!

Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls. The series continues with her newest release, Within the Summit's Shadow.

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Andrew Gavin knows he's a train wreck. Before he even became a detective, Andrew’s first trauma—at only seventeen—occurred when he witnessed a gruesome suicide. Ever since, a delusion he calls The Dead Boy appears when his anxiety spirals too close to the edge…


Goaded by The Dead Boy, Andrew shoots and kills an unarmed teenage bully in what appears to be a fit of rage. Suspended from the force, and awaiting a possible murder charge, he retreats home to the Rockies. There The Dead Boy taunts him daily. Except…


Elizabeth McBrien, the childhood sweetheart he scorned, is back home in the mountains too, and shocks Andrew by revealing that she too sees The Dead Boy. Astonished that the spirit is not a delusion, but real, Andrew is further unnerved when he learns that The Dead Boy has ‘befriended’ Kyle, a gravely ill kid Elizabeth adores.

Now it's specter vs. cop in a race to save Kyle's life, and The Dead Boy insists that Kyle’s survival hinges on secrets Andrew holds about that long-ago suicide. Yet Andrew knows the entire truth will destroy him, and also annihilate any new chance he may have with Elizabeth. But they are running out of time; Kyle is dying, and The Dead Boy is ready to sacrifice anything in order to once again walk among the living…

Within the Summit’s Shadow is a paranormal romance unlike any you’ve ever read. Set in the resort town of Jasper amid the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, this novel combines love, mystery, and a persistent, deeply psychological, very personal haunting. Randall really delivers the goods with this one.”

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