Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Using Alternating Points of View in Fiction

They pulled up in front of Mayor Dutra's insurance office, killed the engine and walked to the front door. Grant could see the man inside at his desk, watching them through the glass door.

They entered and the mayor said, "How you guys doin'? You here about Marina?"

"Sure are," McKay said. "You heard about her murder, Mayor?"

"Everyone calls me Manny."

"Okay Manny. I guess you heard about the murder."

Manny shrugged. "Stevinson ain't a big town. Real tragic, losing a good council member like that." Then he quickly added, "And she was a good person. Why don't you guys take a seat. You need some water or something? I got instant coffee somewhere." He looked around the office, as if looking for the coffee.

"No thanks," McKay said as he and Grant sat. "How well did you know Ms. Terra?"


"Marina Terra, the woman who was murdered last night."

"Ah shit. I been calling her Marina for so many years, I forget her last name."

Manny offered them a toothy smile, stalling while he tried to recall if he'd told anyone about his and Marina's affair. He didn't have any close friends, so who would he have told? Had he bragged about it to someone? He might have, he never had much to brag about when it came to sex, but couldn't recall for sure if he had.

He stood. "I'm gonna get a cuppa water. You guys sure you don't want something?"

"Since you're having some, I'll take some water," the taller detective said, the one whose eyes bugged him.

Manny plodded to the back of the little office and stepped behind the partitions to get the water. He drained a cup, then another, trying to remember if he'd told anyone. He didn't think so, but thought it best to not bring up the affair. That way if she hadn't told anyone it'd be like it had never happened.

He wadded his cup up and dropped it in the wastebasket, filled a cup for the cop and returned to his desk.

Grant took the water and said, "Thanks," and took note of the mayor's appearance: he didn't look so good, like he'd had a rough night. Like he'd been up all night drinking cheap liquor. And there was something else that bugged Grant, something he couldn't put his finger on.

He decided to bring it up. "Did we come at a bad time Manny? You look a little... Ragged."

Manny averted his eyes and said, "I had better days. This thing with Marina got me shook up a little. Stevinson ain't used to people gettin' murdered." He tugged at his collar with a fat finger; Grant noticed his hand was shaking.

And then realized what about the mayor's appearance bothered him: he was wearing a necktie, and it was strangling him.
"So," McKay said, "you've known her for a while..."

"Yeah. We got elected the same year so we've worked together on the council for a couple'a years. She had a stubborn streak, Marina did, but in the end she usually came around."

"Argumentative, huh? She have any run-ins with other council members?"

"Sure. Like I said, she could be stubborn."

Sorry he'd said anything negative about Marina, Manny felt sweat trickle down his forehead. He gave them another smile and said, "But what Portagee ain't?"

"Anything specific come to mind?" the tall cop said.

Manny shook his head. "Nothin' important. Hell, Stevinson council don't ever discuss anything important 'cause there ain't any money to do anything." He forced a chuckle, unconsciously pulled at his collar again then quickly dropped his hand back to his lap. He was beginning to think the tie was cutting off the oxygen to his brain.

McKay said, "The council ever have heated arguments that could lead to ill feelings?"

Manny shrugged. "Naw. We hash things out, vote, then go home. If there's any bitching, the next day everyone goes to work and forgets about it." He shrugged again, which this time had the effect of tightening his tie, which made him tug at his collar again.

The cops paused for a few uncomfortable moments, seemed to stare at him, which made more sweat run down his face, then the shorter one said, "Do you know if she was seeing anyone?"

"Marina? Hell, I don't know. We weren't close or anything and I never heard no one talk about her seeing anyone."

The tall cop said, "Did you know she was married once?"

Manny had to think again. He knew Marina had been married, she'd told him once before sex, but if he told the cops wouldn't they wonder how he knew? It was kind of personal. He decided to give them a weasel answer: "I don't think so, but maybe. With her working for the church, she wouldn't exactly want anyone to know. Catholics ain't too hot about divorce."

"When was the last time you saw her?" the tall one said.

"At the council meetin' Wednesday night."

The shorter one jumped in, "You haven't seen or talked to her since Wednesday night?"

It felt like they were tag-teaming him, and it was pissing him off. "That's what I said, ain't it?" As soon as the words left his mouth, he knew he'd made a mistake; the cops' eyes drilled holes through his head.

The shorter one said, "You were seen talking to her yesterday, at the church."

"Right. I forgot about that." He offered the smile again. "I stopped by for a few minutes to chat with her about the meetin' the night before."

"Oh?" the tall one said. "Unfinished business?"

It was then that Manny realized the cops would find out about the pot deal when they talked to the other council members, which they would eventually do because Marina was on the council. They might already know but were playing dumb to see if he would lie about it. He felt things spiraling out of control.

This is a scene from the first, and rough, draft of the novel I'm working on, the second Grant Starr thriller. I have no working title, sadly. I'm not worried, though. I didn't think of The Mighty T until several months after the book was done. One of my sons called my original title "dumb," so, wisely, I changed it. The text will certainly change in edits, hopefully for the better.

The scene is an example of alternating points of view in fiction. Used sparingly, it can add dynamic variety for the reader who may grow tired of straight narrative and dialog. Used too frequently, it would likely lead to confusion: who's saying and thinking what?

If you use this technique, be careful to keep track of whose point of view you're writing in. When writing in Manny's point of view, I refer to Detectives Starr and McKay by a rough description: the tall one and the shorter one. Hopefully the reader will remember that Grant Starr is six-six. They may not; I'll have to keep that in mind in edits.

(As a side note, because I'm using Scrivener, I went to the scene I copied from for this post and made a note to make sure the reader remembers Grant is six-six. When writing in Word, I'd have had to write that in my draft notebook and hope that I'd see it when editing.)

When writing in the detective's point of view, I called the mayor Manny because he asked them to.

Try it sometime in your writing. I think you'll like it and it will expand your skill set.

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