Writing Exercises and POV (Part 1)

Lost Star

When I first started this blog I did a series of writing exercises.  Every now and again I do more.  I’m not talking about just following the various challenges, like Friday Fictioneers or Sue’s #writephoto, I am talking about experimenting.  As anyone who read the story I posted yesterday, Honor, knows, I am doing a bit of experimentation again. This time it was triggered by the Ursula K. Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft, which I received for Christmas.

Point of View (POV) and tense are two big choice any writer has to make when starting a story.  They are also areas that are very easy to screw up.  Before i started a blog, I spent some time over at the forums on Writer’s Digest and found that people were very militant with POV.  Pretty much only first person and limited third person from a single person was acceptable.  There could be no changes whatsoever in any work.  One POV, solid like granite.

i have experiment with POV, but for the most part have stuck with that.  I recently posted a story, Indian Summer, where I alternated POV between two characters, but in an obvious way – chapter by chapter.  One thing to note is that I wrote Indian Summer before I discovered the forums. Many in that forum frowned upon things like Indian Summer, which I don’t understand, but I can see their point on some things.  read this paragraph:

Joanne dreaded Greg’s return.  She had been moping all day, mostly sitting at the kitchen table staring at the single sheet of paper.  She didn’t want to tell him the news! Greg walked in.  He saw the look of misery on Joanne’s face and his heart skipped a beat. He instantly guessed what was going on.

Notice something funny?

If this is in Joanne’s POV, how does she know what Gregg saw or thought?  Perhaps it should say “Gregg walked in.  He stopped, looked at Joanne and his face fell. She knew that he guessed what was going on.”  That would be something Joanne could observe.

Fine, so if we are staying strict in a single person’s POV, you should only write what that person would see.  But does all of your writing have to be strictly in one POV?

In Ursala Le Guin’s book, she has exercise on POV.  In one exercise, the reader/writer is to write a small scene from one POV.  The exercise continues with other POVs, including one where it jumps from one POV to another.  besides just doing the first person and limited third person, that same scene was also written in a detached author, fly on a wall, POV, which for me came out about 1/4 the length of any of the third person POVs I did.  And then I wrote the scene in what she called an “involved author”, also known as omniscient, POV.  In that case, my scene more than tripled in length.

I thought these exercises with POV were great and I plan on creating other scenes and doing them again and again.  Yesterday’s story, Honor, was writen in that last POV, involved author.  From the Writer’s Digest forums (at least in 2010), this was the most hated POV.  People writing in this should be shot!  And yet, some of my favorite contemporary authors have used this quite effectively!  Yesterday was the first time I tried to write a complete story that way.  Below is the scene I wrote for the exercise.  As I said, it is at least triple the size of the next longest POV I used, and more than 10 times longer than the “fly on the wall” POV.  Enjoy! (NotePart 2 is now posted!)


The giant freighter Argos perfectly matched speeds with the station, coming to a relative halt less than a meter away.  There were scars all over the hull of the mighty ship, fresh burns from particle beam weapons and close explosions, but the precious cargo was intact.

More than 1000 ships made up the blockade, including cruisers, battleships and destroyers, with enough firepower to vaporize 100 ships the size of the Argos in an instant.  But guided by the expert hand of the crew under the steely eye of Captain Wer, they had run the gauntlet relatively unscathed.

2,345,000 metric tons of ship, of which over 2 million were the highly needed cargo, the Argos ran next to the station as the dock slid out that meter and married the two.  The arms, armaments and food would be offloaded soon, giving the station hope, the only hope they’d had in month.  They would be able to out wait the blockade.

Perhaps, though, all was not well.

Before the Argos was totally secured, Admiral Hin had ordered a hatch and door opened.  She had mixed emotions about it.  Yes, it was great that the freighter had run the blockade, but Captain Wer had risked too much.  If he had failed, the station would have failed.  Captain Wer was a bit of a hot-shot.  The admiral had to put him into his place on more than one occasion.  He had once almost lost an entire squadron of fighters due to his cockiness.  Yes, it had been a great success, but only by luck.  And now this stunt.  Yes, he had saved the station, but there was no denying that he was reckless.

The crew section of the gargantuan ship was tiny.  From the door being opened until the admiral was on the bridge was only a few brief seconds, not giving those onboard time to register that someone was coming, let alone prepare.

When the admiral entered the bridge, everyone turned.  Ensign Brif, stopped paying attention to the docking procedures of the ship.  Lieutenant Exle was distracted from the engineering report that would monitored all data of the ship, including the fine position between the ship and the station and the relative motions.  The rest of the crew, including even the totally dedicated Lieutenant Commander Gliw, completely ignored their duties.  The sight of anyone on the bridge so soon after matching orbits was extremely unusual, but having the commander of the entire quadrant on board in any circumstance was such a strange experience that everyone froze.  The screens flashed and flickered without an eye on them. Lieutenant Exle stood and took a step away from her station.

Captain Wer was angry.  The reason he was in command of a freighter instead of a large fighter, perhaps even a cruiser or battleship, was Admiral Hin.  She hated him.  Back before the war they had gone on a couple of dates, but he had found her too gung-ho military.  He had joked that he would have to salute her if they ever made love and so broke it off before he could be proved right or wrong.  He knew that she had hated him ever since and had done what she needed to do to hinder his career.  Sure, she was a fantastic officer, the best in the fleet, but a personal vendetta was a personal vendetta.

On the other hand, he felt that he had done such a fantastic job running the blockade that she would have to admit he was a good officer.  He smiled and prepared to meet Brabra, that is, Admiral Hin.

Unknown to anyone on the bridge, one of the crew hands from the station had not properly secured the ship.  It should have been done before the hatch was opened for the Admiral, and so once the hatch was opened, nobody went back to check.  The fault showed up on Ensign Brif’s monitor, but he was watching the admiral.  Another deck hand moved some machinery against the Argo to start the procedure to empty the cargo bay.  But he wasn’t careful and hit the ship too hard.  It shouldn’t have mattered, if the ship were secure.  But the ship wasn’t secure.  It started to move, despite the massive weight, yes, very slowly, but it was moving.  As Newton had said, once in motion, it would continue in motion, at least until it hit something.  If the motion wasn’t stopped, it was very probable that the connection between ship and station would be ripped off in such a way to as to doom those onboard the ship.  There was even the possibility of catastrophic damage to the station itself.  The unwanted motion showed up on Lieutenant Exle’s equipment, but she had walked away and her back was to it.

When the movement of the ship went beyond certain preset parameters, an alarm was tripped.  The crew immediately snapped back to their task at hand.  This was a routine that had been drilled over and over, so Ensign Brif was able to perform it without thinking.  It was just as if he were back in training.  Flip off the gravity, correct the movement of the ship.  Put the ship into place and make sure everything was stabilized.  Return the gravity.  It took little more than a second.

Lieutenant Exle verified the new orbit while Lieutenant Commander Gliw contacted ground control. The dock was shifted and put back into place.  The door between ship and station closed.  The ship was secured again, this time correctly.  All connections were checked and double checked both internally and from the station.  The crew of the Argos acted together as a machine, saving both the ship and the station.

Unfortunately, even though the crew was able to act immediately, the admiral was not.  She didn’t know the significance of the alarm, just assuming it was a standard sound. She had been walking and so was launched when the gravity was cut.  She floated up and had only realized that she was floating when the gravity returned.  The deck of the ship was hard, very hard, and hitting it hurt.  A lot.

Because of the emergency procedures, the crew of the ship only half paid attention to her.  Captain Hin did check to make sure there were no serious injuries and made her somewhat comfortable, but then he went into full command mode.  Admiral on board or no, the ship was his command and his responsibility and he was too much of a professional to let anything distract him from that.

It was a full five minutes before the door to the station was reopened and an emergency team could board the ship.

As she was being carried out, the Admiral tried to mentally blame Wer.  It had to be 100% his fault that she was injured in such an undignified manner, but deep down she knew that Wer and his crew, though initially distracted by her unwarranted presence, had acted in a very efficient and professional manner.  She knew that any inquiry would absolve them.  And they were heroes.  It was never good to dis everyone’s heroes.  She would steam internally, but outwardly praise the crew of the Argos.

Part 2




5 thoughts on “Writing Exercises and POV (Part 1)

  1. D. Wallace Peach

    I’m pretty happy with any pov, Trent, including switching by scene or chapter. But I am sooo bothered by head-hopping that I have to put the book down. I notice many writers attempt omniscient and end up head-hopping because the narrator/author lacks a “voice” of his or her own. The exercises are interesting, aren’t they?? There’s always something to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. trentpmcd Post author

      There is always something to learn and I think using the Masters, as I consider Ursula Le Guin, a great way to do it. I am still experimenting with this and will be for a while, but, as you’ll see if you move to part 2, I think I’d have a hard time sticking to the omniscient POV for a book – it is hard for me to write! But I can see using something similar for scene setters, as I did on part 2 here. That is, creating atmosphere and scene setting and then going straight limited third person. Perhaps switching POV by scene or chapter, as you said. Still experimenting. But I do like the way the above scene turned out when I combined the first half of it with my limited third person from the Captains POV.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. D. Wallace Peach

        I agree. I avoid omniscient on the whole because it’s so hard to do. But I do use third person like a telescope, zooming in tight to the character’s experience as much as possible, but occasionally panning out for a slightly broader view. This helps a bit with the setting the scene or providing backstory without actually switching pov. This seems like what you did at the start of Part 2. :-D

        Liked by 1 person

        1. trentpmcd Post author

          Zooming in and out makes sense, something that I’ll have to experiment with a bit more. I think my experience on the forum from 8 years ago where if anyone said one thing that their POV couldn’t see, feel or experience there would be a huge pile on. Luckily, for me, I was never at the bottom of one of those piles of criticism, but it burned into my psyche the phrase “only write what the POV can experience!” Reading this book is great because here is some I admire so much, one of the best authors of the 2nd half of the 20th century, telling me, “no, you don’t really have to stick to that one POV. Experiment and have fun!” And when else have been encouraged to write a 500 word sentence ;)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Writing Exercises and POV (Part 2) | Trent's World (the Blog)

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