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.
Head hopping is my greatest pet peeve. Especially in the same scene. Even if the author spaces between so that know it’s coming. It still takes me out of the story.
Karen, you list the three points of view that I learned in school. but it seems that people have added many more options and variations to the list.
After a while the options overwhelm me so much that I don’t even know where to begin!
Also, thanks for suggesting an intriguing exercise — I just wish I had time to pursue it.
Thanks for clarifying with examples. Those characters in my head are impatient and don’t like to wait for their scene. They’re like preschoolers, all clamoring to share their thoughts at the same time. Discipline, discipline.
Pat Jeanne Davis
Many thanks, Karen, for the excellent words on craft. I read your earlier blog posts in June and discovered many gems there, too. The advice you gave was so needed by me. God bless you for your efforts on behalf of other writers.
The construction worker may have had the wrong POV but the dress sounds lovely! =-)
Sharon A Lavy
Love your helpful blog posts Karen. Can’t wait to see you in St. Lewis. ACFW conference is the highlight of my year!
Great post, Karen.
Head-hopping also gets on my nerves. I think it’s because it pulls me out of the story as I readjust from being in one head and suddenly being in another who is (and should be) quite different.
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