by Lori Freeland
If you’ve whipped around the writing block a time or two, you may have lots of experience with POV. If this is your initial test drive, you might be Googling—P . . . O . . . What? Either way, this post is for you.
First, you can stop Googling. POV stands for Point of View. Some of you are nodding and saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We got it.” Others might be asking why we care about a view.
We care because the view is everything. You’ve heard the phrase, location, location, location when it comes to prime real estate. And where is the prime real estate on the page? Inside your POV character’s head.
Before we jump in, let’s define a POV character. It’s your main character. The one telling the story. You might have one or two or three depending on your genre. But unless you’re George R.R. Martin, be careful not to have too many. But that’s another post.
Sometimes it’s hard for writers to remember that their characters are supposed to feel like actual people to the reader. At least that’s the idea—to make a character so real, the reader can imagine living in their world. Better yet, living in their head.
I’d like to point out here that actual people, in general, don’t have psychic or omniscient abilities. They’re not mind readers, and they’re not gods, unless that’s part of your story world. If it is, feel free to check out here. If it isn’t, stay with me.
You can go really deep when it comes to POV. There’s a lot of information, dos and don’ts, tips and tricks. It can be overwhelming. But if you start with two rules, you’ll almost always get it right.
While you’re writing, put yourself in the scene and become your POV character.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Imagine you’ve literally stepped into your character’s skin. Then keep that in mind as you take the movie running through your head and translate it onto the page.
If you are your character, this means in each scene “you” can only:
This holds true whether you’re writing in first person (I) or third person (he/she). And if you have multiple POV characters, you will become multiple people as the point of view switches from scene to scene. Sometimes it helps to take a minute to really get into a particular character’s head. That’s okay. Give yourself that time. It will make the writing process that much smoother.
Don’t let your character do anything you (as a real person) can’t do.
This one is a little more involved. Let’s try to make it simple. The idea is to hold your POV character accountable as a “real person.” And that isn’t always easy. Below are some questions that can help you dig deep into POV.
Remember, you are your main character. So if you, as a real person, answer “no” to the questions below, your character has to answer “no” as well. Spoiler alert: the answer to every question below is going to be “no.”
I had a sparkle in my eye. / She had a sparkle in her eye.
Unless you’re looking in the mirror or experiencing an astral projection moment, the answer is “no.”
“My tone was one of condescension.” / “His tone was one of condescension.”
We don’t often think about how we’re speaking. Sometimes that gets us in trouble when others take our tone the wrong way.
Side Note: you (as your character) can choose to be deliberate about speech. That’s different. It’s purposeful. A conscious choice. It looks something like this:
I made sure to pour on the condescension. / He made sure to pour on the condescension.
You could say: Myron handed the baby to me. Myron handed the baby to her.
I would think of myself as “me” in first person and “her” in third person. And so would your character.
But you can’t say: Myron handed the baby to his mother.
I wouldn’t call myself “his mother” in first or third person. This is an omniscient, eye-in-the-sky view, not a personal, I’m-in-the-character’s-head, I-am-the-character view.
I hope you see that the examples above are things you (as your POV character) would not observe about yourself. They’re things you would observe about someone else. Someone outside of yourself. Someone who is not you (as your POV character).
So, let’s move onto more things you (as your POV character) would observe about someone else.
We can’t say: Hillary hated it when Julie and John argued.
How do you (as the main character) know that? Without any context clues, dialogue, or past experiences, you can’t know and neither can your character.
We can say: Hillary’s eye twitched the same way it had the last time Julie and John argued.
We can’t say: Hillary hated it when Julie and John argued, so she left the room.
The “movie” in the reader’s head just shows Hillary leaving. There’s no bubble over her head that reads, “I hate it when Julie and John argue, so I’m walking away.”
We can say: Hillary pushed out her chair, threw her napkin on the table, and yelled over Julie and John’s shouting match, “I’m not listening to this anymore.” Then with a twitch in one eye, she stormed out of the room.
The point of writing as if you are your character is so that your reader can become your character.
Readers want to live lives that aren’t their own. They want to experience what your character is experiencing. They want an intimate view of someone else’s life. The only way for them to get that is to feel as though they’ve stepped behind that character’s eyes.
The only way for you to set up the framework to make that happen is to write behind the character’s eyes. When it comes to drawing your readers in, “the view” is everything.
For more information on POV, check out my other post P-O-What?
As a writer, do you put yourself into your character’s head? Are you willing to try to see the world from their eyes? What are your POV stumbling blocks? What are your POV strengths? Have you thought of POV this way before? Share your tips, tricks, and struggles in the comments, and let’s talk about them.
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An encourager at heart, author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s presented multiple workshops at writer’s conferences across the country and writes everything from non-fiction to short stories to novels—YA to adult.
When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head.
You can find her young adult and contemporary romance at lorifreeland.com and her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com. Her book, Where You Belong: a runaway series novella, is currently free on Kindle Unlimited.
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An excellent explanation. I will be referring clients to this post.
Thank you. I wrote it for my clients 🙂
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Hi Lori! Your pointers for Point Of View are spot on.
I have a manuscript that I thought was pretty well polished until it was pointed out to me that I've mixed third person close with omniscient. To really dig into the emotions I need third person close. So, I'm using the points you mention to edit chapter by chapter. No fun, but necessary.
Sometimes it can be fun. But other times, it is a chore. Especially when you just want to finish. But it will be so, so worth it!
Great post. Thanks for the clear examples and reminders. Big hugs!!
You are welcome. And hugs back!!!
Nicely done, Lori. I am a big believer of deep POV for storytelling. Aside from being good writing, it is also FUN. One of the best parts of being a writer, imo, is being able to explore different lives and different situations.
I think exploring other people's lives is one of the best things about being a reader too. Being able to go places I'll never actually be able to see. And to become people I won't ever be. A good read is a good adventure.
Exactly this, Lisa! THIS IS THE BEST PART. 🙂
That's a great way to make POV better.
This simplifies POV for me. Thanks so much! I'm writing what I hope will be my first novel.
Congratulations, Janet! Keep writing, and run a search for any of your pain points in the right sidebar. You'll find TONS of useful writing tips.
Thanks for writing this post, Lori. POV is one part of writing where I've always had to struggle. I usually find a lot of errors on the re-write. *sigh*
Great post on POV. I can use some help with staying focused most days. 🙂
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