How Bad Can it Be?

Implementing Deep POV

I had a month off with respect my writing experience blogs. Then again, it was NaNoWriMo, so it was onlydeeppovcover fair wasn’t it? Well now NaNoWriMo is over, and it’s time to dig back in.

Here I will be picking up where I left off – following and applying the principles of this little beauty of a book. And this month I start to get stuck in with a series of recommended actions and applying tests to the live version of Mandestroy. Now, I thought Mandestroy was pretty tight (see my Writing Mandestroy page if you don’t believe me!) but applying the tests in here opened up an eye-watering number of “errors”. Bloody hell. Read on to find out more.


Recap

Before we go further, just a recap on where we’ve got to.

Firstly I pondered the value of deep POV and whether it has a place in my writing. After all, there are plenty of books out there that don’t apply deep POV, especially in Fantasy – think Tolkien for example. Hang on, you don’t know what deep POV is? Well come and take adeeppovheader look at my previous blog. I also ask the question as to “whether I need deep POV”, and conclude that the answer is yes. Come now: if I’d said no then we wouldn’t be here would we?

The toomanypovheadernext thing I asked was “whether I had too many POVs”? The basic principle here is that deep POV throws the reader right into the head of the protagonist, and so connecting emotionally with too many people is likely to be overwhelming. Time to break out the rule of thumb – we’re allowed 3 POVs, tops. Now, Mandestroy (where most of my deep POV work has been done) focuses on one character. Great! But Fear’s Union didn’t pass the test. Fifteen. Yes that’s 15 POVs. Gulp. Admittedly it was never written in deep POV, not by a long way, but still. That is too many.


A Note on Tools

In her book, Marcy recommends (and indeed instructs) on the use of the “find and replace” functionality within MS word. Great! But one thing I do have from my earlier work is an Excel tool which pulls a manuscript into an Excel file. I was then able to code in the tests that are specified in this great little book, and run them all automatically. Yes, I did then have to go back and correct errors of course, but this allowed me to see the test results in a database type environment, and to therefore get at loads of great statistics.

And we all like statistics, don’t we? Well I do.


Onward…

First things first, here are a few vital statistics for both books:

MandestroyFear's Union
Total Words34275129058
Sentences298411465
Average words per sentence11.511.3
Max words per sentence49.054
Potential deep POV errors22948872
As %age of total77%77%
Actual deep POV errors8153521
Actual sentences with deep POV errors6722383
As %age of total23%31%

Now, on the face of it this doesn’t seem to say a lot, does it? But let’s dig a little further. Here are some thoughts on the core statistics:

  • Average sentence length is 11(ish) words. Does this seem about right? The cat sat on the mat and then ate some fish. That’s eleven words and that seems okay. Let’s move on.
  • Average sentence length isn’t much different between the two books. That surprises me. I was expecting Mandestroy to be a little more concise, but then I haven’t read Fear’s Union in a long time…
  • Longest sentence: 49 / 54 words. WHAT! That seems very long. We’ll have a look at this in a bit more detail below. 
  • 77% of the sentences in Mandestroy have potential ‘editorial’ problems related to deep POV.  That’s over 2,000 sentences! And I thought my last edit was good…
  • But actually, when we boil it down and tease out the indicators that aren’t actually issues, we end up with c. 23% of the sentences having deep POV errors. It’s still a lot, but not quite as eye-watering. This is similar on Fear’s Union, though I have had to extrapolate rather aggressively here.
  • But if we twist our statistics a bit, although 23% of sentences have “errors” in them, that can be attributed to 31% of the word count. This therefore suggests that is the longer sentences that have the issues attached to them. I can buy that.

Question: does this mean that deep POV is going to shorten our sentences? We’ll find out in a future blog.


How about that 49 word sentence?

So, what was the offending item from Mandestroy? Let’s find out:

And yet he retained a sense of personal pride, refusing to be sucked into the vortex of self-deprecation that seemed to plague a majority of the city’s lost – though lost seemed entirely inappropriate when the unfortunate population were actually one of the more common sights in the city.

Okay, so I don’t think that’s as bad as I was expecting. It’s sort of two sentences, each reasonably long but not offensively so. Could it be trimmed? Probably. And I think that “Lost” should be with a capital if they are a group of people, but nonetheless, not too embarrassing.

How about that 54 word monster in Fear’s Union?

The rain of steel would yield many casualties for certain, but its greatest contribution would be to embed a forward momentum in the enemy ranks, an impetus borne of a natural desire to escape the deadly squall that would drive the enemy’s front line into the second key component of the Mandari war machine.

Hmm. I don’t like that at all. Whoops! How could I rephrase that with my new deep POV hat on?

The arrow storm was claiming many casualties, yes, but that was the least of it. The archers’ greatest contribution was to encourage the enemy ranks forward. And there, waiting for the eager files of the opposition, was the second key asset of the Mandari war machine: the infantry.

Much better. Still not perfect, but I’m much happier with that already. And with an average word length of 16, it already feels more succinct. Only 11,500 sentences to go…


How many errors can I make…

…in a sentence? A lot, apparently. I’ve split my POV errors into four broad categories as follows:

  • Showing versus telling
  • Point of view error (i.e. wrong voice)
  • Depth issues (i.e. writer intrusion)
  • Causal issues (i.e. timing of event issues)

In one sentence I managed to pick up three of these four. Whoops. Here’s the offending mite:

Kantal let the odd-ball weave his magic, calming himself as he watched on.

So where are these errors? Well, using the deep POV tests, these are the offending words that got picked up:

  • Calm (show vs tell): this is telling. How is he calming himself?
  • Let (show vs tell): this is less clear, but I attacked it anyway. Let is again a “telling” action word rather than a showing word, although in this context it feels like it’s ok – he let the “odd-ball” get on with it. Nonetheless…
  • As (causal issues): which came first? The calming or the watching? Probably the the calming was conscious and the watching was unconscious. In fact, watching is probably show vs tell in this context too. Argh!
  • Kantal (depth issue): we know Kantal is the subject because it is single POV. So why do we have his name? All it does is serves to add authorial distance from a reader’s perspective.

Errors identified, how do we go about solving this? This is what I’ve come up with so far:

He concentrated on managing his breathing while the odd-ball wove his magic.

Hmm, that solves the POV issues (I think) but the “while” connection is actually rather unnecessary. These events aren’t really related. How about I have another go:

He sucked in a lungful of air, exhaling as quietly as he could manage. The odd-ball was weaving his magic, drawing the attention of the room, so he kept at it. Breathe in, and breathe out. The rhythmic repetition was soothing.

That’s a lot better. And interestingly, we’ve actually ended up with quite a lot more text. But it all feels richer, which is the key. Not all sentences will be elongated by this process, but some will, and this is okay where the extra verbiage adds value. I like it.


So what’s next?

Well I obviously have a poor record of adhering to strictly enforced blog schedules, but this is what I think I’ll do:

  1. January: Statistics from the modified prose.
  2. March: Showing versus Telling.
  3. May: POV errors.
  4. July: Depth issues.
  5. September: Causal problems.
  6. November: Final thoughts and adjustments.

I’ll probably end up pulling all this together into a single web page too, so keep an eye open for that. And I’ll also make the pre and post POV versions of Mandestroy available on the website. Just for those who are interested.

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