Summary of this month’s movie:
Here come the spoilers! Jibran and Leilani are a bickering couple who have been together for four years. While driving to a dinner party, the two agree to break up. Distracted, Jibran hits a cyclist with their car. The man refuses help and flees the scene. A man with a mustache suddenly commandeers their car, claiming to be a police officer and that the man on the bike is a criminal. He pursues the cyclist, but after catching him runs the cyclist over with their car several times, killing him. Mustache prepares to kill Jibran and Leilani but flees after hearing police sirens. Jibran and Leilani then flee the scene themselves, worried they look guilty. Their story is too unbelievable and racial profiling will ensure they are blamed for the crime. Having taken the dead man’s phone, they see he had planned a meeting at a bar with a woman. In order to clear their names they decide to follow the lead and find out who the victim and murderer are. They follow clue after hilarious clue, getting into all sorts of antics, all while the cops continually try to reach them. Eventually they find their way to a secret society filled with masked attendees. After accidentally revealing themselves, the party is raided by the cops, Jibran and Leilani are taken into police custody. There, they learn that there was video footage of the murder, and they aren’t suspects at all. The cops have been trying to track them down to keep them safe. After taking their statements they send them home with a police escort. But on the way they see that the cop assigned to them is actually Mustache, he is a corrupt cop working to keep the secret society under wraps and had used the bicycle messenger to blackmail some of the members of the society. Eventually, Jibran and Leilani are able to overcome their bickering and work together to defeat the crooked cop.
Jeni: Okay so I have to say--I was invested in this couple from the first scene. These actors’ on-screen chemistry is killer, and I wanted them to have their Happily Ever After as soon as I saw them together. It’s one of those things where I’m a little sad they aren’t together in real life. Haha The other thing those opening scenes did is play with the viewer’s expectations, which we talked about last month. You’re lulled into this sense of security, like, aww, look at the happy couple and their adorable meet cute; this is going to be such a fun story. But then right away we get that curveball of reality settling in, seeing things aren’t as perfect as we’d want them to be. So we get the conflict and also a sense that we can’t know exactly what to expect. Which is good because this movie has a lot of twists in the story. Some of them are definitely a little tropey and expected, but they do a great job with having the characters react in unexpected ways when that happens. All in all, I really enjoyed this movie and could watch it over and over I think. What about you?
Carly: Umm… agreed. I love this couple so much. And honestly, even bickering they were adorable. I wish I was that witty in an argument. I was super invested in them getting back together. It seemed like they both just needed to get over their insecurities and communicate more, which feels so real for a lot of couples. Honestly, I haven’t laughed like that at a movie in a while. I feel like good comedies have become fewer and far between lately. Or maybe I’m just not amused easily? Anyway, I would watch it for a third time, for sure. I agree that a lot of the twists were tropey and expected, but I think they were pulled off in refreshing ways that made them enjoyable again. It somehow made a movie that has been done before, refreshing and hilarious. I know this is a bit of a slapstick comedy, and maybe it doesn’t seem like the most writerly movie to choose, but I think you can really learn a lot from it. Jeni, what did the movie do well that writers can use in their own work?
Jeni: You actually had a great idea about this when we were first discussing, which is that because we only see what’s happening to Jibran and Leilani, there’s a limited point-of-view which allows for a lot of assumptions to be made, and in this case, most of them are wrong. Haha I think that’s what makes this movie so brilliant. A lot of things happen that would often happen in this kind of story, but because of the assumptions the characters make--and because we only see their side of things--the things that happen in the plot aren’t always what we might expect. I’m gonna bust out a quote from our Knives Out episode from the brilliant Ms Carly Hayward: "Everyone is unreliable because they view the world through their own particular lens."
Before we get into that too much, though, I want to talk about what limited POV is, and to do that, I just want to do a quick POV overview. So, there’s first, second, and third person, which has to do with how the reader relates to the narrator. In first person, we use the pronouns I, me, and my so it feels as if the reader is the narrator. Third person is he, she, and they, and I want to mention here that I’m seeing more neopronouns showing up in manuscripts. These are non-binary pronouns like ze and zir, and it’s a really cool development in our language so that’s exciting for us word nerds. I can go on about this at length, but I won’t. Haha and then for second person the pronouns are you and your, and this one isn’t really used all that often because readers have a hard time connecting to it and it’s really limiting in how you can use it in fiction. So first and second person POV are always limited, meaning the reader can only see inside the thoughts and emotions of one character--the narrator--at any given time. Third person, though, can be limited or omniscient. Omniscient means the narrator knows all and sees all at all times. It can get head-hoppy pretty easily, and it’s fallen out of favor for limited POVs (first or third person). Instead, most books with multiple main characters opt for multi (but still limited) POV. I’m not going to get into that too much because that’s a whole other show. Most movies are told from a third person POV, if you think about it, because we can see the main characters from the outside. I remember there was a movie a few years ago that was first person to mimic first-person video games, and it was weird to watch, even just the trailers.
Carly: Honestly, that just gives me a headache to think about. Makes me dizzy. Anyway, yes, most movies are in third person, and because we often get to see scenes without the main character, movies can easily be omniscient. But this movie was definitely in limited third person because we only saw scenes from Jibran and Leilani’s POV. And this was a very intentional choice. Because we are in limited POV, we only get to know what Leilani and Jibran know. And they don’t know anything. Because they don’t know anything, viewers get to be surprised along with them. We can follow their false assumptions and feel the twist when those assumptions are upended. That can be a huge benefit in limited POV, because not knowing information is a useful tool. You can have your characters act on false information or incorrect assumptions, and readers will fully support them and be along for the ride. So for example, the big unexpected twist of this begins with Jibran and Leilani fleeing the scene of the murder because they assume they will be falsely accused. They have a lot of reasons to think this, racial profiling, witnesses asking why they ran over the cyclist, and the fact that their story is extremely far fetched. They spend half the movie running from the cops and trying to clear their name. When the cops finally catch them, they reveal that they know they are innocent, there is video footage clearing them. Had they stuck around, there wouldn’t be a movie. And if viewers knew from the beginning that the cops knew they were innocent, they wouldn’t buy into the plot as well. If this had been omniscient, readers would know that the cops just want to get their statements and protect them. If readers know this information, they’ll view the main characters differently. They’ll judge them unfairly because they have more information than the characters do. They don’t buy into their reasoning and therefore are distant from the main characters. On top of that, you lose so much of the tension in the story. If readers know all the information, there aren’t any real stakes, only imagined ones in the character’s head. Knowing that they aren’t in real danger will lessen the tension and weaken the conflict. By keeping things in the limited POV, we hide secrets and reveals from readers, thus amping up the tension, creating believable conflict, and helping readers connect more intimately with the main characters.
Jeni: When you’re writing, it can be challenging to decide if a limited POV will work for your story. And while this isn’t the end of the world when you’re drafting, changing POV makes for a tedious revision. So, some things to think about when it comes to POV.
Limited feels more realistic, since we each experience real life through only one perspective. It allows for a deeper emotional connection to the POV character because the readers gets to know all the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. The POV character’s voice comes through clearly, so there’s little room for the reader to misinterpret the character’s motivations and reactions.
Omniscient. More distance means more can happen outside the protagonist’s presence, allowing a broader scope for the story. It can be less confusing for readers, especially with POV switches. It’s easy to show multiple characters’ thoughts and feelings. Easy to show more (and tell less) in general. But it feels more emotionally distant and can keep readers from feeling as deep of an emotional connection to the main character. It’s easy to info dump, i.e., have too much exposition. The main character’s emotions and thoughts are harder to convey. Knowing everything can weaken the tension in the plot.
So think about this in the context of a movie. Some movies, like Lord of the Rings, follow multiple characters in lots of different locations. It would be really hard to tell that story from only one, limited point-of-view. In order to understand everything, we really need to be able to switch between characters fairly easily. But The Lovebirds really relies on the viewer not knowing everything so a limited POV is essential.
Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong answer, and it comes down to the story. I usually think about three particular questions:
Carly: Okay so what makes for a good limited POV? First of all, it is all about connection to the main character(s). You want readers to feel like they are the main character. You want them to experience the world through their eyes. Limited POV allows you to get into their head, feel their emotions, understand their motivations, empathize with their goals, and cheer them on through the conflicts. That is hard to do in an omniscient POV because you are far away, looking down on the action. But with limited you get to understand their inner conflicts, understand why they are doing what they are doing, and look inside their heads. It turns your MC into a distinctive character that isn’t just moving through the plot, but a person that readers want to go on this journey with. A good limited POV lets you see the inner workings, lets you connect with the characters, and lets you live through them. The next thing that makes a good limited POV is tension and keeping secrets. I discussed this a lot earlier, but basically, you want to utilize the tools you are given. And if you can leave clues to a secret, but only reveal it when you are ready, you’ll have a great way to surprise readers. And finally, you need a strong voice. You want to make your character distinctive, worthy of being in their head, interesting and relatable. A strong voice does that. When you are in a limited POV that is multiple POV, you need very strong voices. You want each character to feel distinctive, and you do that through their voice, their signature, their personality. You should be able to tell which character’s head we are in without using their name, even though using their name is a helpful way to ground readers.
Jeni: Okay, I also want to touch on the term deep POV. Like first person versus third person, this isn’t really applicable to most movies because of the difference in the format of the media. While it’s certainly possible in movies to have a deep POV, it’s not very common so most modern movie audiences would feel unsettled by a super deep POV in a movie. In movies, I think this usually shows up as voiceover, which honestly is a huge pet peeve of mine because we don’t usually need it, but that’s another whole episode haha But in novels, most modern limited POV is deep, and it’s common to get feedback on your writing that says “you need to deepen the POV.” So deep POV is limited but takes it a step further than the traditional limited viewpoint. We’ve mentioned that deep POV seeks to mimic the way we perceive situations in real life. With a deep POV, the narrator only tells things that the POV character is consciously aware of. So, for example, a character can’t know that they are blushing since we can’t see our own faces (unless they’re looking in a mirror). This would need to be written in a way that focuses on the character’s experience. So what does a person experience when they blush? A rush of blood to the cheeks. Outwardly that looks like darkened cheeks, but inside, that feels like warm cheeks.
Carly: Exactly. I was about to be like, “I can tell when I’m blushing!” but then you nailed it. But yes, deep POV is wonderful for that type of feeling and showing. It pushes readers into the head of your MC. But the key to all these POVs is “voice.” I touched on it earlier, but it is so important for every type of POV. We’ve already discussed voice in another episode, and I’m sure we’ll discuss it again, but there are interesting ways in which voice interacted with POV. So in first person you are the MC, so their voice is every word written on the page. You want the voice to be compelling to keep readers engaged. With third person, it is basically the same thing. Creating distinctive characters with strong voices connects them to the reader. They don’t want to spend time in the head of someone that is boring and lacking personality. They want to connect with them, find them interesting and compelling. With omniscient this is where it gets difficult. Voice is harder because it isn’t your character’s voice. We are above them watching the action play out. The characters can be compelling, but without that strong personality to connect to, they can lack that intimacy. For me a strong omniscient POV is one with a very voicey narrator. Your omniscient narrator is someone that knows everything and can hop around to where the action is. A voicey omniscient narrator judges your characters, knows how things will turn out and can comment on things. Think about the narrator in Arrested Development. He knows what will happen, he knows when the characters are working against each other unintentionally, and he discussed them with the viewer in a humorous way. It utilizes that omniscience and distance to create comedic moments that engage the viewer. You want to do that in an omniscient manuscript. If we don’t get the intimacy with the characters, we need an opinionated and voicey narrator to serve as that connection. It is very tricky to pull off, but when it is done well, it is excellent. So when preparing to choose your POV, take into consideration how you want to show voice and how that voice will interact with readers.
Jeni: As much as limited and even deep POV is most common right now, it can be...well, limiting. The reader can only know what the narrator knows. This means location, back story, and other characters’ thoughts and feelings. Again, some of this doesn’t apply as much to movies because it’s a visual and auditory medium, and in a book you have to simulate that. So the things in a book that can be problematic with limited POV generally have to do with exposition. For example, working in personal details about the POV character—physical description, name, etc.—can be tricky, kind of going back to that thing about considering what the narrator would notice and think about. In a movie, we just see that so we don’t need the POV character to explain it. But in a book, that can be problematic. There are some classic examples like having the character look in a mirror and describe themselves in extreme detail. But there are other ways to handle this, like giving small details about the main character’s appearance by comparing themselves to other characters. For example, the narrator might describe another character’s height as a few inches shorter than the main character. Then you can throw in some voice like “but then again, most people were” to give more weight to that comparison. Another problem is the larger amount of introspection can lead to too much telling (rather than showing). Switching characters’ point of view can be confusing for readers, especially if it’s in first person. This isn’t to discourage you. Like I said before, omniscient narration has its share of issues too. It’s just that when you know where the potential for problems is, you can have a plan to keep from falling into those traps.
Carly: Exactly. There are pros and cons to every POV and everyone has their favorite. You want to utilize the one that fits your needs and feels the most natural. Third person limited is probably the easiest to get right, because it gives you options yet still limits you so that you don’t get overwhelmed with options. But all of them are good options, just find what works for you. Anyway, next up is our query critique. This month our query is a middle grade fantasy. Jeni, what did you think?
Jeni: This story sounds fabulous! You honestly had me at a Labyrinth comp, let’s be honest. Overall this query is pretty strong already, but you need some more detail. The good news is you’re on the low end of the sweet spot so you still have plenty of space to add. Specifically, give a little more detail about the allies she makes and then how she will have to face her emotional wound/inner demons in order to resolve the plot. Couple of little tweaks though, and I think this query will be great.
Carly: I agree, the only thing I was missing was some detail. I wanted to know the characters the MC comes into contact with, I wanted a little more about the relationships she builds and the ones she is trying to save. Giving us a little more intimacy will polish this query up and help us to understand the internal stakes. When we get a query, we don’t know anything about an author’s background. But just as a general note to all authors, be sure that you are the one that should be telling this story. Other than that, I just want to go rewatch Labyrinth now.