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Slamdunk Your POV and Move On!

Looking in mirror

Katherine noticed her reflection in the mirror. She gazed
at her delicately arched eyebrows and observed her full lips.
“Why–THAT’S ME!” she exclaimed.

See if you can find the mistake in the following lines:

“Hi! I’m John! Won’t you sit down? Hi! I’m John! Would you like a bite to eat? Hi! I’m John! Did you find your way here OK? Hi! I’m John!”

If you’re truly a sharp reader, you’ll notice that John is either what used to be called a broken record, or else suffers from truly short-term amnesia.

We would never put these utterances into the mouth of a character, but even experienced writers may find themselves introducing and reintroducing their point of view, alienating and boring the reader.

We writers often feel we must justify each observation our POV character makes. But once you establish your POV character, there’s no need to excuse every observation she makes with a she saw, she noticed or a she smelled. 

Of course, it is important to introduce us to the point of view of your story, novel or chapter at the opening bell to avoid confusion. Let’s take a typical beginning:

Rima looked out over the meadow, waiting for Drew’s return.

Great. We know this part of the tale will be from Rima’s perspective. Let’s see what happens next.

She watched as mariposas swayed in the breeze, running her hands over the rough wood of the railing Drew had built on their veranda. In the distance, she could see clouds as they threatened to block out the sun. She noticed a smudge against the horizon. She knew it must be a campfire. She wondered if there would be visitors at this time of year.

See how the writer (OK, it was me) reintroduces the POV in each sentence. What is happening in this description? Rima watched. Rima could see. Rima noticed. Rima knew. Rima wondered. OK! We get it! It’s Rima! We’re seeing this through her eyes!

We writers often feel it is somehow necessary to justify each observation our POV character makes, to show that she could realistically have observed it. However, once you have established your POV character, there is no need to excuse every observation she makes with a she saw, a she noticed or a she smelled. This is like old broken-record John, above, re-introducing himself at a party before each and every sentence. Nail the POV, and then make all observations (anything your character might reasonably know or perceive) without further preamble.

Rima looked out over the meadow, waiting for Drew’s return. Mariposas swayed in the breeze beyond the rough wood railing Drew built on their veranda. In the distance, clouds threatened to block out the sun. A smudge grew against the horizon–a campfire. Visitors at this time of year?

Mariposas swayed. Clouds threatened. A smudge grew.

Notice how much better a summary the main verbs of this paragraph make than the previous, “She watched, she saw, she noticed.” Snarky readers may point out that even more improvements could be made. Yet with this simple measure, we have trimmed the fat off our little description.

Speed bumps like the ones detailed here are fine for you first draft. Don’t get bogged down with revising before the first draft is ready!

 

You may grumble that the five senses are all important. But why say, “Randy could smell bacon cooking,” when we can say, “The smell of bacon drifted in from the kitchen”? If the sentence is about bacon, make that the subject! We can all guess that Randy smelled it.

This is what Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk calls “the part where the character looks into a shiny mirror or teapot so they can describe themselves—all those hackneyed, obligatory 19th-century things.” I want to watch people doing things, not watch the character looking at someone doing something. And the revised version is truer to our natural flow of perceptions. I assure you, as I sit here, your faithful Scribe, I am absolutely not “watching my fingers fly effortlessly over the keyboard.” I’m typing.

Speed bumps like the ones detailed here are fine for you first draft. Don’t get bogged down with revising before the first draft is ready! But when it comes time for revision (after you write THE END on your first draft), take care to eliminate superfluous point-of-view elaborations that distance the reader from what is really happening.

Permanent link to this article: http://goldenkeyscribes.com/blog/slamdunk-your-pov-and-move-on/

3 comments

  1. phonisten

    I have a story I am working on and the people in my writer’s group complained about my way of handling the point of view of the story. It it OK for me to change the point of view, or must I just keep it the same at all times.

    I just know that I have seen professional writers who tell the point of view of 10 different people on one page.

    1. ScribblrScribe

      That’s not so simple to answer. I think it is better to establish a POV and stay with it to avoid confusion. Countless classics and popular books as well have adhered to this well-oiled, smoothly working formula.

      That said, some popular writers today do mix several points of view on the same page, jumping into the heads of character after character without so much as a by-your-leave. If you take this approach, make sure it is clear whose thoughts and impressions we are hearing at any given time. For example, you might use the POV of the last person mentioned or the last person to speak.

  2. RobZ

    It’s really irritating when people say I am talking too much in my stories. I think I talk a lot about my character in order to get in all right in my head. It took quite some while before I started to think that this was for me, and not for my audience. On thing I may do at this point is totally cut all backstory, then let my peer review circle take a peek, then answer all their questions right there in the story, right at the point where they asked the question.

    I do this, and it usually works!

    Peace.

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