Monday, February 18, 2013

A Talk About Point Of View

Another busy weekend with very little time for writing, and here we are again, Monday. I have enjoyed doing these little lessons on creative writing the last few blog posts. It has helped me also to remember the 'rules' and I hope that it has jolted your own skills as writers, or even readers. 

Today, as I said, will be on Point of View. I have seen this used incorrectly, (in my mind) a lot lately. The reason this one topic should be discussed and not to mention, implemented, is because if you switch POV's in your manuscript you can confuse your reader, and therefore, they might put down your book.

Now, I'm not talking about scene or even chapter POV switches, I'm talking about right in the middle of a scene, you go into another character's head. There are usually two types of writing that are used in today's fiction, first person and third. There is also omniscient which is a type of writing where the author is actually playing God by being in everyone's head. This type of writing is not suggested for most writers since it can really confuse the reader if not done properly. 

The most common error in POV shifting is when you have two people in your book that are in love and they are in the middle of a love scene. The writer tends to jump back and forth between the thoughts of both characters. The author claims that they are both their main characters, but I was taught there is only one main character and the other is a secondary one. I believe that you can stay within one character's head in the next love scene, you can be in the other one's POV. 

Your main character is the one that is telling the story, not your secondary one. Yes, you can go into other POV's as long as you separate them by scenes or chapters. There is also your antagonist who tends to have his/hers own POV. This is widely accepted as long as you again, separate them. 

Another suggestion is try to limit yourself on the amount of character's whose POV's you go into. I have seen books where the author stays within protagonist and antagonist's POV's and I have also seen where the author jumps into more that 4 different character's POV. You really need to watch how many heads you are jumping in because it is the main character's story. I know there are times where important information needs to be told and the protagonist is not in the scene, and that is fine, just watch how much of this you are doing.

The other issue is when you are writing in first person and you want to have another POV. I have seen this common practice lately and my suggestion would be to make sure you separate the different points of view with chapters. Also, have a header on top to let the reader know who's POV you are in now, otherwise the reader will get really confused. A good book for an example of this is 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett. Excellent book by the way. With third person you typically don't have to start a new chapter, but you do need to start a new scene.

I want to leave you with a few examples of POV shifting so that you can see where this can confuse the writer and I feel it is amateurish writing. You really do need to watch your tenses.

Example: Carol worried how telling her friend Mary the truth. Although, Mary was an excellent gymnast, Michele really was better. She didn't want to hurt her friend. "I do believe you are well on your way to being picked for the US team, Mary, I just don't want to see you hurt if your not."

"What do you mean by that, Carol? I have worked night and day for this." Does Carol think I'm not going to be chosen for the US team? 

"I know you have, but I just don't want to see you get your hopes up." She wanted to see Mary make it, but knew how picky the coach was.

Now, as you can see, this started with Carol's POV and when it switched to Mary talking, there was internal thought in Mary's POV. That is a POV shift.

Example: Jan ran down to the store to grab the milk for the baby. Sue came with her and Jan would have rather her stay at the house to keep an eye on Bob. He wasn't that great at responsibility when it came to the kids. "I really can get the milk by myself, Sue. I will be right back."

"But, I want to come with you. I want to get out of the house." Sue would never let Jan have any alone time. She felt she had to know everything Jan was doing.

Okay, not the greatest of examples, but I think you could see where the writer 'implied' how Sue felt. That is also a POV shift.

Well, that's all for today. I would love to hear whether or not you struggle with POV shifts and do you try to catch them or is it a 'free for all' in your book? 

It is hard for the reader to keep up if you switch back and forth between heads. Until Thursday, I hope you have a great week. I am planning for a few different guest author's in the near future. But, until then, Thursday will be on words to avoid using and stronger verbs to avoid passive voice.

Love, Lisa


  1. Hi Lisa,

    I probably don't need to comment at all knowing my issues with this, but I have read several books (not self published) where writers do what you say not to do with the POV shifts. I may be unusual, but I'm not confused by it at all. I'm beginning to think that maybe all my reading is not exactly helping me in the POV area.

    I wish I could go to my bookshelf right now and pull out the books I've seen with writing like this, but I probably have 1000 books, so I'm not going to do that right now.

    I still haven't gotten to the library to get the book you mention, but I am planning to.

    I like this series you're doing on writing. I think it will help everyone here, just a reminder of the rules, if not in any other way. That has to be a good thing for all of us.


  2. No, I agree Sunni. It is American based books that are doing all the POV shifts, not European. The new 'rule' here is there are no rules, and I think it's pitiful! It takes away from great writing and leaves me looking at these authors as 'lazy'. I went to a mini-conference with Angela James, a big editor, and she is the one that said there are no rules. I think it degrades the art of writing personally. I'm so glad that my writing coach was British, I got to learn the value of writing 'clean text books and I think my book is the better for it!

  3. I so agree with you, Lisa. It's very disorienting for the reader when the POV shifts suddenly within a scene. Takes me right out of the flow of the story. I just finished a beta reading for a writer friend, and she had that going on. She's a good writer, though, and I'm sure it was one of those too close to see it inadvertent errors.

    1. Yeah, I did it at first too because I didn't know any better. I am so glad i had it pointed out to me and I learned how it should be. There is always room for learning.

  4. mmmm, very interesting thank you! I have learned a valuable pov so again thank you. Will continue to bear this in mind.
    Thanks for these tips Lisa ... will continue to read and learn from them.

  5. Thanks Susan, I'm not always the best at explaining things perfectly, so I guess it would be called head hopping. It is still a POV shift. Thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate it!