If there is a part of writing that gives me fits it’s POV, aka point of view. I can’t count the times that an editor or first reader has returned a manuscript with the notation POV!! written across several pages. I’ve always struggled with it and truth be known I still do. That said, I decided to do a blog on POV and how to avoid conflicts in it.
Once the first draft is completed and I enter the rewrite or self-edit phase of a project. I have a checklist of things that I look for; some of the items are: Show and tell, characterization and exposition, and, of course, Point of View. I find that I have to discipline myself to go through the manuscript several times, keying in on a different item each time.
In the show and tell pass I try to identify scenes or passages that are narrative summary with no specific setting or characters. In a court of law tell equals hearsay evidence. It’s the difference between getting a second hand report vs being at the scene. I try to follow the R. U. E. Rule. R. U. E=Resist the Urge To Explain.
When keying in on characterization and exposition I have always believed that there is no need to go into a great deal of detail in describing my characters . . . the reader will form an image of the character that usually relates to some aspect of the character that reminds them of someone. For example, Ian Fleming could spend three pages describing James Bond, but to me he’ll always look like Sean Connery. However, it is probably a good idea to provide the reader with enough specific details to help them capture the essence of the character. It is preferable to use exposition to gradually reveal a character’s personality versus an information dump. In short, introduce your characters in the same way they meet people–gradual discovery. I also strive for believable and a realistic characters. I have a friend who will not read my work; she doesn’t like my usage of profanity in dialogue (I received a review from a reader who said: I received this book as a goodreads giveaway. I couldn’t finish it because of all the swearing. What I did get through was intense and I didn’t want to put it down. But if a book has more swearing than a PG-13 movie is allowed then I don’t want to read it.) I’ve never met a criminal type whose vocabulary was PG-13.
Finally, the POV pass. I write in third person (the three forms of POV are: first person, third person, and omniscient) which allows me to easily move from character to character. First person restricts the reader to a single point of view, omniscient is not written from inside anyone’s head–it reached its most extreme form in the nineteenth century: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”–it was not uncommon for the author to address the reader directly.
For the longest time I had a problem with shifting POV within a paragraph or scene. I have had to discipline myself to change the scene when I want to change POV. By establishing whose POV we’re reading early in a scene gets the reader involved. It is probably best to establish POV in the first paragraph of a scene–ideally in the first sentence–to orient the reader.
In their book SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS (Quill/Harper Resource, © 1993) Renni Browne and Dave King present a POV Checklist:
- Which point of view are you using and why? How much intimacy do you want to create between your readers and your characters? Which point of view will make it easiest for you to unfold your story?
- If you’re writing in first person, how reader-friendly is your viewpoint character? Is it someone you would want to spend three or four hundred pages with?
- If you’re writing in third person, take a look at each scene. Whose head are you in? Do you stay in that head for the length of the scene?
- How soon do you establish point of view? Where in the scene is the first line that tells your readers unambiguously whose head they are in?
- Are you writing your scenes in your characters’ voices, describing their surroundings in terms they would use? Do you want to write in your characters’ voices or do you want something more neutral, more distant, more unobtrusive?
Probably the most important reason for watching POV closely: constant POV shifts can confuse a reader and keep them from finishing your book and from buying the next one.
In closing. In a little over two months My Brother’s Keeper, the second of my Ed Traynor crime/thriller will be released.