Monday, July 20, 2009

Common POV Errors in Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

A character experiences POV in a story through the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and introspection of emotion. As the author, you have to imagine the scene happening as if you are that character. If your character is in a room, he/she cannot see what someone else is doing in a different room. Instead, you will have to show the scene through the noises that character hears. He/she may have to guess at what they think they might be hearing.

Example: Footsteps crossed the ceiling above toward the bathroom. Jared must be up. She poured him a cup of steaming coffee and prepared it just the way he liked it.

Unless a character is looking in the mirror, he/she isn't going to see his own expression, eye color, and hair. But that character will feel a smile tug at his lips, a heated blush, or force a smile if he doesn't feel like smiling. That character can also refer to how he/she looks based on what they think they might look like, especially if they've spilt something on them or the wind has blown their hair.

One way of checking your work is to take a passage and replace the names with pronouns to see if you still know who is thinking and/or speaking. If it doesn't make sense, you might want to reword some of your sentences and rephrase things.

Avoid head-hopping, which is changing character POV within the same scene. A new paragraph doesn't give an author the license to change character POV. Some well-known authors have earned the right to do this in their work, but new authors or mid-list authors will not be able to get away with it quite as easy. It's one of those unspoken rules a writer learns once they've hung around the publishing world a little while.

Always start a new scene or chapter identifying whose POV the story is being told. Do this by identifying whose thoughts are being read or who is speaking in the dialogue.

Example: Kate linked her fingers in her lap, wishing the moonlight would cast more insight upon Gregory's expression than the mere outline of shadows.
Even though two characters are named in the sentence above, it is clear that the piece is in Kate's POV since it is her thoughts we are reading. There is no doubt as to whose POV this scene begins in. Don't ever leave the reader in doubt.

2 comments:

Thank you Jennifer! I've been struggling with POV issues lately, trying to decide between first person and third limited. Your tips are very helpful reminders. It really changes the way your entire story is constructed when you go monkeying with your POV!

~Tara

Your post is the third one I've read today about POV, how interesting.