Writers In The Storm is delighted to have Janice Hardy back. We love her and the fabulous writing resources on her blog, The Other Side of the Story.
Decades ago, a detached, omniscient point of view was all the rage. Readers wanted to be told a story, so the stories read as if someone was indeed telling them. That style faded as readers sought a more immersive read, and tight points of view became popular.
Regardless of who the narrator is, that's the person the reader experiences the novel through. A tight first person narrator, an omniscient third, a limited third, it's all filtered through somebody's eyes. Sometimes this filter is invisible and the reader doesn't feel any distance between her and the point of view (POV) character. Other times the filters are obvious and the reader feels the wall between her and the characters. One style looks through the eyes of the POV, the other looks at the POV.
What adds this layer?
Filter words distance the reader from the POV character. They remind readers they're reading, explain things that are obvious, and often lead a writer into telling. Even worse, filter words are frequently found with their passive, telling cousins, pushing the reader even further away.
If you're after a tighter and more immersive POV experience, you might try looking for and eliminating these filter words.
Redundant Filter Words
The easiest fix is to get rid of words like, saw, heard, felt, knew, watched, and looked. What makes these words feel detached is that they're explaining that a character saw or heard something, and then the narrative goes right ahead and shows it anyway. POV characters by definition are relaying everything they sense, say, and think. If it's described, readers know the character experienced it in some way. It's like saying, I'm going to look at something, and now I'm telling you what I looked at.
Let's look at some examples:
Lisa wandered through the field and saw three crows sitting on the fence. Their black feathers glistened in the morning sunshine. She heard them caw the way crows do, and watched them take flight and soar across the bright, blue sky.
I could hear cars whooshing past. The sound of horns blared against my ears, muffled by the morning fog. It felt cold and clammy, sticking to my skin like a layer of wet cloth. It smelled musty, though I knew fog couldn't possibly be musty.
Notice the extra layer. The character is relaying information in a detached, after the fact, watching-me-do-this tone. There's a feeling of an outside person describing what the character sees and hears rather than experiencing the same things through that character's senses.
Look at these same paragraphs without the filter words:
Lisa wandered through the field. Three crows sat on the fence, their black feathers glistening in the morning sunshine. They cawed the way crows do, then took flight and soared across the bright, blue sky.
Cars whooshed past, their blaring horns muffled by the morning fog. It lay cold and clammy against my skin like wet cloth. Musty, though fog couldn't possibly be musty.
Now the POV character is describing what they experience without telling the reader that they're looking or hearing or smelling. The reader feels closer to the POV, and can imagine themselves in the story instead of watching the story from afar.
Revising to eliminate filter words is an easy way to achieve a tighter POV, and even fix any told prose in the process.
Do you prefer a tight or a distant point of view? Why? What about it captures you as a reader?
Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE. DARKFALL, from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her online at www.janicehardy.com, chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.