My View on Point of View
DISCLAIMER: I’m not an expert on point of view (POV). And I’m not going to talk about all types of point of view. This is not an exhaustive study. I just thought I'd talk a little about what I’ve learned from reading, judging contests and critiquing. I love reading and writing in first person and third person. But today I’m talking about writing in third person since that’s what I use for my Love Inspired books.
So…for any newbies, you may be asking what exactly is POV?
I like to think of POV as strapping a camera on the character's forehead so we only see what that character can see...as well as planting a bug in that character's brain so we can "hear" what that character thinks.
So as you're writing, you can only write what this character would see or think. To let the reader know what other characters are seeing or thinking, you can only do it by having the POV character watch and draw conclusions. For example, if you're in Jane's POV, and she breaks up with John, then you can't suddenly have John thinking about his broken heart. You can only show what Jane sees: tears in his eyes or a scowl on his face. Or you can show him pacing or racing out of the room. Then she draws her conclusions. Of course, you can also show how he's feeling (or how he's acting like he's feeling) in dialogue.
Let's look at some examples of problems we can run into with POV:
1. Head Hopping.
For those who don’t know what this is, it’s when you frequently move back and forth from one person’s point of view to another.
Jane couldn’t bear to wear John’s ring for another moment. Not when he’d turned his back on her at the moment she needed him most. She slipped the engagement ring off, took hold of his hand and placed the ring in his palm
John gasped as pain arrowed to his heart. How could she do this? “I don’t understand.”
“I think you do.” She couldn’t resist the pleading in his eyes and hurried from the room.
In that example, I switched from Jane to John to Jane. In my writing, I usually stay in one character's point of view for a whole scene, then have a scene break. Every now and then, in a particularly emotional or important scene, I might switch one time during the scene. But for the most part, I remain only in the point-of-view character's head.
I’m not a POV purist. But I do suggest staying in one POV because I think we need the time to bond with a character. We need to stay in his or head long enough to care about his/her hopes and goals. If I’m reading a book that bounces back and forth, I don’t feel as invested in the main characters. And that’s NOT GOOD. Because that makes me able to put the book down.
2. Characters think things that don’t make sense or make them unlikable.
If you're in a female character's POV in an opening scene where you want to describe your main character, would you write something like this?
Jane Doe's glorious golden hair flowed down her back, waving in adorable ringlets that made other women jealous.
|Photo credit gromovataya/Crestock.com|
Well, probably not. What's the problem here?
Most women won't think of their own hair in that manner. Plus, they don't normally see how their hair looks in the back unless they're holding a hand mirror while looking into another mirror.
What might a woman feel or see in her hair? Would this description work better?
Jane Doe's golden blonde hair hung heavy down her back, the curls wild from the humidity.
So yes, she can feel the weight of it. And she can think about it being wild, which doesn't seem like bragging. Or if the point of the original sentence was to show that other women admire her hair, you could do that but would have to be careful that you don't make her seem conceited. I've seen something like this before and thought it was fine:
Jane Doe brushed her wildly curling blonde hair and swept it into a ponytail. Her mom and friends always told her it was her best feature, but they didn't have to deal with the unruliness.
So something like that example gets the point across while making the character seem likable.
NOTE: I'll add here that unless you're writing in only one POV, it's my opinion it's best to save the physical description for when you're in the POV of another character. So, John can describe Jane's hair as glorious and adorable. And if he's wanting to run his fingers through her hair, then it's a great way to show his emotion as well, doing double duty. :)
3. Writing that uses “distancing” words that aren’t needed and that also end up telling the reader things that are better shown.
Writing in deep POV helps prevent this problem. I won’t talk much about that. Camy did a great post on this (click here). I just wanted to share an example.
John wanted to throw down his cell phone to get rid of the words Jane had written in the text message. He wondered why she didn't love him anymore. He thought maybe he could change her mind. But then he felt a sense of despair when he realized she hadn't initiated contact in over a week.
Okay, so there's probably nothing technically wrong with that example. But it doesn't use deep POV. Words like "wondered" and "thought" and "felt" and "realized" are all distancing words that aren't needed. They're like a layer between the character and the reader, and are "telling" words. Plus, despair is naming an emotion, which you want to avoid as well.
|photo credit: iofoto/Crestock.com|
Remember: camera on forehead, bug in brain. Using that bug in the brain, let's re-write this passage as if it's coming straight in John's thoughts.
John jammed his cell phone with the offending text message into his pocket. Jane didn't love him anymore. Why? Could he possibly do something to change her mind? A quick glance at his cell phone proved she hadn't called in over a week and set up a jagged ache in his chest. No, he wouldn't be changing her mind.
See how that cuts out all the "stuff" you don't need? You're right in John's head, not telling how John is thinking and feeling.
Those are the three POV problems I see most often. I know I still have trouble with forgetting not to name emotions! That’s one area I continually work on. I hope showing examples and talking about them helped.
So what do you think? Do you agree with how I handled the examples? Did you find you've got POV problems? Feel free to share any examples of your writing if you’re not sure. We can all pitch in a help.
Oh! And any author worth her salt would leave links to pre-order her next book! :)
A Pattern For Love...
After inheriting her great-aunt's failing yarn shop, Lilly Barnes is determined to make it a success. All she wants is stability, something she doesn't think possible in the small town of Corinthia, Georgia. Then Pastor Daniel Foreman rents space in her store to hold meetings for his growing congregation, and this proves to be her lifeline. At first Lilly wants nothing to do with Daniel's big dreams, but she soon finds herself starting to share his goals. Yet trouble between her customers and his congregation make them both doubt the path they're on. That is, until practical Lilly shows him that love is a risk worth taking.
Visit Missy at www.missytippens.com