Common Writing Pitfalls #2–Point of View

Common Writing Pitfalls Series

Common Writing Pitfalls #2

Point of View (POV)

Last time in Common Writing Pitfalls Part One we talked about Mechanics and Style. Then we mentioned the need for Back-up. Today we are back to Common Pitfalls in regard to POV (point of view).

1. Most common POV’s: Third Person

You’re in this POV if you use the character’s name and he/she.

Choosing this POV allows you to change the eyes you look through in different scenes or chapters.

BUT no split views please: Do not head hop. Imagine yourself literally inside your character’s head. His name is Ben and you are looking out his eyes. Ben is having a conversation with Jerry. You can’t suddenly switch to Jerry’s head and know his thoughts or see Ben through his eyes. Ben wouldn’t think of himself as narrowing his eyes, but he could see Jerry do that.

You can only know what your character knows in that moment. (more on this below)

When you want to change the scene and look at life from Jerry’s eyes, use a scene break or a new chapter. Then look away. But remember, when you switch back to Ben you need a scene break or a new chapter again.

2. Most Common POV’s: First Person

You’re in this POV if you use the word “I.”

Choosing this POV usually keeps you in the head of a single character throughout the book. Most books with the “I” perspective don’t change POV. Some do. An example is the book The Help. Great book. Three different characters use first person POV. But it’s not common and you should really give it thought before you go there. Most readers want to have one “I” character that they can relate to and identify with throughout the book.

3. Most Common Error: Pick a point of view and stick to it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing first person or third person; place yourself behind the eyes of your character. Think of them as a window to the world.

If her back is turned, you can’t see what’s behind her. If she’s out of the room, you have no idea of the conversation going on inside the room unless she’s eavesdropping at the door.

4. Keep the perspective as intimate as you can. The reader wants to be your character, live her life, and experience her sorrow, joy, and adventure. The fastest way to rip your reader out of your character’s head is to drift out of POV.

Out of POV: Ben was mad. So mad. So very mad that his face scrunched up into tiny little wrinkles and his hands fisted at his side. (this feels like you are looking AT Ben—like say if you were Jerry.)

In POV: Ben stepped inside the doorway. Not ten feet away, Jerry was dancing with Anna. His Anna. He had a choice to make. Turn around and walk away or punch Jerry. Ben pulled his hands into a fist at his sides. (here you are feeling poor Ben’s anguish at losing his girl to Jerry)

Using first person keeps the perspective pretty intimate but you can make third person feel intimate too. Some writers draft a scene in first person and then go back and change it to third person. If you’re having trouble staying intimate and you want to write third person, give it a try.

5. The second fastest way to lose your reader’s connection is with filter words. When Ben looks, hears, sees, feels, etc. the reader is pulled out of the intimate connection because you’ve put a filter between his eyes, ears, hands. Just say what they saw or heard or felt without those words.

Filtered: I watched Ben swagger across the room and noticed how Jane’s face lit up.

Unfiltered: Ben swaggered across the room. Jane’s face lit up.

Side note: Be careful with the word “seem” or “seemed” also. It can pull the reader right out of intimate POV.

COMMON WRITING PITFALLS #1

COMMON WRITING PITFALLS #3

11 Comments

  1. This is an excellent post. I’m reviewing my WIP for EditPalooza. Working title for this one has changed to “Lucky” and I’m doing the full read assignment. In writing this New Adult paranormal, I decided to part from my preferred POV, first person, and try a third person alternating between heroine and hero. Head hopping is an issue I’m noting.

  2. Excellent post. As someone who critiques and edits a lot on writer’s sites, choosing and remaining in a single POV is probably the most common error I see behind grammar issues. I admit when I was first starting out years ago, head-hopping was one of my downfalls. Now I know what to look for to make sure I don’t do it. Practice makes perfect.

    • Lori Freeland |

      I can’t believe how many published authors do this and get away with it. I guess before I learned a lot about POV I didn’t notice as much. Now it drives me batty.

  3. I love your blog. That’s why I’ve nominated you for a Kreative Blogger award on my blog. Here’s the link: http://jennykellerford.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/kreative-blogger-award/

  4. Nice post. This is something I think a lot of people struggle with. Especially the watched and noticed part.

  5. You asked me if I home school. I do indeed. I have two daughters who have graduated. I have freshman and junior sons I’m still home schooling. How long have you home schooled?

    • Lori Freeland |

      I have three kids at home. A senior, a freshman, and a fourth grader. This is our sixth year (in a row) to homeschool!

  6. Thanks, Lori, this helped clarify things a lot – and you know how much trouble I’ve had with POV!

  7. I like your explanations of these two points of view. They are right on target. One question though – how come you don’t go into more details regarding omniscient and limited? Isn’t it more than just first and third person but also whether they are all knowing or limited in their knowledge as well? Otherwise, great information!

    • Most of the things that are published in fiction today are from some form of personal point of view. People like C.S. Lewis can get away with an omniscient point of view but I can’t. The reader will identify with the main character or characters point of view and see through their eyes. So if I’m Kyle and he’s having a conversation with his brother, Alek, Kyle doesn’t know what Alek’s thinking. He only knows what he’s thinking. Does that help?

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