The Wrong Point-of-View

Last week we identified Point-of-View (POV). This week, let’s consider some common POV misteps.

What’s My Line?: When POV/voice doesn’t fit the character.

Here’s an example. The POV character is male and a construction worker. So is the following appropriate for his POV?

She walked toward him, wearing a white organza dress with a white dimity underskirt. Both were hand-embroidered with yellow sprigs and her matching yellow satin sash was tied into a swag at her left hip.

Yeah, not so much. Not unless he’s on one of those Style channel design shows. Make sure your character’s voice matches who and what he is.

I’m Gettin’ Dizzy: Head hopping.

This one drives me nutty. The rule of thumb? Stick with one POV per chapter or scene. Hopping heads at will ends up being confusing and frustrating for the reader. And the last thing you want to do is give said reader a reason to put your book down–or throw it. Now, I know head hopping tends to be more common in romances, which jump from the hero to heroine. But even in those cases I’d urge writers to stick to one POV per scene.

Here’s an example of head hopping:

Sarah knew Charles was angry. She could see it in his eyes, his stance, the way his fingers opened and closed. Tense. White knuckled.

He turned away from her, wondering how she’d gotten to him. She was making him crazy.

Sarah wanted to stop him, but she couldn’t. All she could do was watch him walk away.

Where’s the jump? Yup, when we get inside his head and have him wondering. Stick with one POV per scene or chapter. Your readers will thank you. So, for that matter, will your editor.

To See the Impossible Scene: Things POV character can’t see or know

I see this most often with descriptions. Writers want to sneak in physical descriptions of their characters, but end up doing so in ways one normally wouldn’t think. For example, this is from the Third Person POV character in the scene:

She pushed back her sumptuous, curly hair, a glint in her eyes.

Looks good to you? Well, try this trick to see if you’ve gone outside of POV. Put the section into first person:

I pushed back my sumptuous, curly hair, a glint in my eyes.

Yeaaahhh…not so great now. Unless your charcter is a narcissist, having her describe her own hair this way doesn’t work. And unless she’s staring into a mirror (please don’t use that old ploy) she sure can’t see there’s a glint in her own eyes.

So, to recap:

  • POV is the eyes through which you’re seeing a scene. Also called character voice.
  • There are three types of POV: Omniscient, First Person, Third Person
  • Omniscient POV is where you’re not in any particular head. This POV lets you tell and know all, but lacks intimacy.
  • First Person is where you’re in one character’s head, and speaks in terms of I. This POV is immediate, emotive, and intimate, but can be limiting and difficult to write.
  • Third Person can be in a limited number of heads, and speaks in terms of he/she.

Last but not least, here’s an exercise for you to try, if you’re so inclined. Write one of the following scenes from all three POV angles:

  • Someone sitting by a loved one’s bedside, waiting with that person as s/he prepares to meet the Lord.
  • Someone waiting for a letter bearing the answer to an important question.
  • Someone driving a car who just manages to avoid a collision with a semi.
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Out of Their Minds: The basics of point-of-view

Ever been reading a novel, cooking along with the character, when you realize you’re not seeing things through that character’s eyes any longer? Somewhere along the way, something shifted and you’re inside a different character’s head. Jarring, huh? Probably jolted you out of the story, if only for a few seconds while you figured out what happened.

That, my friends, is what you want to avoid at all costs: Bumping your reader out of the story. Because once they’re out, any number of things can pull them away before they get back in.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Point of view. First, what is POV (point of view)? Anyone? Yes! That’s exactly right. (Hey, I’m a novelist too, remember? If I want to hear my imaginary class answering me, I can.”) Point of view is the “eyes” through which we’re seeing the story.

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True Words

Several months ago someone challenged me to read an article by Marilyn McEntyre entitled “Letting Words Do Their Work.” Because I respected the editor who made the recommendation, I hopped right on over the the link.

It’s not easy reading. Nor is it a “quick read.” But I’ll tell you what it is:

Powerful truth. If you’re a writer, speaker, agent, reader, or simply one who loves–truly loves–words, you’ve got to read this article. A few salient points that resonated:

“It is hard to tell the truth these days, because the varieties of untruth are so many, so pervasive, and so well disguised.”

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The Care and Feeding of … WORDS!

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
Pearl Strachan

“By words the mind is winged.”

“The turn of a sentence has decided the fate of many a friendship, and, for aught that we know, the fate of many a kingdom.”
Jeremy Bentham

Amazing, isn’t it? Something so small as words can have such huge impact.

The right word in any circumstance can bring peace, comfort, laughter, tears. It can elicit emotion, stir action, deliver forgiveness, change lives. For generations, words have moved and motivated. Writers, steeped in the wonder of words, have poured their hearts out on stark paper, only to have those pages come to life in ways they never imagined, and to have their words live on in the hearts and minds of readers long after they’ve been read.

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