POV-Common Mistakes

0e3e1fc513972cdcccbdac6802ebb6acThink of your POV character as your camera. He/She walks through the story giving you a personal glimpse of what’s happening. If your POV character can’t see it, you can’t describe it for your readers. If he can’t hear it, you can’t let your readers hear it. If your POV character doesn’t know it, you can’t tell it. You are bound to your POV character.

Character can’t see it

Suzy stood staring straight ahead. Her ex stood behind her, his arms crossed over his chest, his blue eyes scowling.

  • Problem  Unless she has a mirror in front of her, she can’t see her ex standing behind her. She wouldn’t know his arms were crossed and he was scowling.
  • Fix  Use other senses. She can smell him, she can hear him, and she can imagine what he is doing.

Character can’t hear it

Suzy walked down the dark hall. Several floors down, another set of footsteps echoed in the darkness. Suzy had no idea she was being followed.

  • Problem  For the purpose of this example, we’re assuming she can’t hear two floors down. If she can’t hear it, she can’t describe it. Moreover, if she didn’t suspect it, who is telling the reader this information? It’s not Suzy.
  • Fix  Set the mood that hints at what you want the reader to fear. You can also have your character imagine the worst.

Character doesn’t know that

Suzy’s ex stood behind the door with a gun, waiting for her to enter. As she approached, she had no idea what was waiting on the other side.

  • Problem  To be a true third person, you can’t write what your POV doesn’t know. The POV police refer to this as omniscient voice or author voice.
  • Fix  Your POV can suspect, sense something isn’t right, have a funny feeling, or if her ex is heavy handed with the Old Spice, she may smell him. I think you get the picture.

Other omniscient or author slips

  • Suzy got out of her car and headed for the gym. She never realized she had left her keys in the ignition.
  • Suzy accepted the date. She wouldn’t find out for several months that it was the worst decision she would ever make.
  • Suzy walked by the window and never noticed that someone had left it opened.

I am guilty of committing all of these POV sins. I hope this post helps you as much as it helped me.

-Jan R

POV-Common Mistakes

18 thoughts on “POV-Common Mistakes

  1. This is a great to the point post. POV is always tricky. In the midst of a scene it is easy to give the emotional response of the other character. If Sally is kissing someone we can’t know how that person feels about the kiss. But Sally can describe how he responded whether it was melting into her or jerking away. He might stomp off and the reader never knows his internal thoughts. But they have a pretty good idea how he might feel from his body language. In romance it is hard not to fall into head hopping within the same scene. We know as the writer what both characters are thinking when they hold hands. But if we are writing Sally we can only reveal her thoughts. But if George is stroking her hand with his thumb we can get a taste of what he’s thinking.Sally’s response tells us a lot too.
    A teacher at a conference once said imagine you are wearing a ball cap. Whatever direction you turn wearing the cap is all your character can see. I found that helpful. Another point he made on POV that helps keep me from drifting is the character himself. A teenage boy will see a setting differently than his middle-age mother. I love reading a book where the hero finds the whole event boring and can’t wait to leave while in the next scene the heroine is enjoying every aspect of the event. He describes the room full of snobs while she sees only wealth and dignity. POV has many layers and I have yet to truly master it. Thanks for sharing this information, I loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    POV is essential to good writing. Too me POV makes or breaks a novel, and I don’t write until I’m certain whose POV I will use for the story. This includes the decision for first or third (I rarely use omniscient). Jan’s post provides a good starting point for POV.

    From now on, if you’re serious about writing, you should read every novel through the lens of POV. What POV did the author choose? How well do they adhere to it? Does she use any techniques you can borrow?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It sounds like you’re mostly discussing first and third limited deep.

    While far less common, and more difficult, third omniscient could switch between perspectives effortlessly. And there’s always the option to write from a more removed third limited, as if the audience is an unseen observer.

    In regards to writing about the future, I’d probably start the story as a journal or account by an older version of the POV character. Lovecraft often used “characters looking back” as a way of justifying a limited level of foresight.

    I think third deep, as if from within the mind and through the senses of the POV character is often what comes most readily to me, and I do agree that POV needs to be consistent, but there are definitely other options out there.

    Liked by 2 people

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