Thank you for having me, Terry.
I’d like to share some thoughts about the bane of my existence when I first began writing full time—point of view.
You see, I’d majored in English and retired as a technical writer. So I knew how to craft a sentence. What I didn’t know was the craft of writing. Character arc? Conflict resolution? Dialog tags and beats? GMC? Isn’t that a truck? Point of view? After all the classical literature I’d studied, I certainly knew about that. I was good to go.
Yes, folks, I was blissfully ignorant.
My soon-to-be agent phoned to tell me I had some real point of view issues. When I told her I was using third person omniscient, I’m sure I heard her fall out of her chair laughing.
My learning curve just shot upward at a forty-five degree angle.
Gee, and I thought I knew so much.
Yet editors cite point of view (POV) errors as the main reason manuscripts are rejected. POV is more than whose head are we in. Properly used, POV is a writer’s tool to draw the reader into the story to the degree that when the reader reaches the end, the reader says, “Man, I just couldn’t put it down.”
If Darla is your POV character, you can only show us what Darla sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels and thinks.
Think about it. Isn’t that how you perceive the world?
Can you read minds or feel another person’s worry or scheming motives? No. Neither can your POV character. When you’re talking on the phone can you see the other person’s movements? No. Neither can your POV character.
This restrictiveness and uncertainty feels more realistic because it's how we perceive the world.
You can’t write about things the viewpoint character can't know. You can’t write that your POV character didn’t notice the car following him. If your POV character doesn’t know it, then you can’t write about it. Can your POV character hear criminals whisper in another room or see a younger brother stick out his tongue behind the POV character? Not hardly. So don’t tell your readers about it.
Writers often inadequately utilize point of view. I’m not talking about head-hopping. I’m talking about a very distant use of point of view that doesn’t get the reader into the character’s head or emotions.
Avoid using “she heard” or “he saw” or “she thought.” These phrases distance the reader from the character and are not needed. If we are in Jason’s POV, for example, the reader already knows you, the writer, are writing about what Jason experiences. Let me show you—
Jason pulled out of the driveway for his first solo drive to the mall. He watched his mother wave and heard his dad issue one final safety warning. Man, he thought this day would never come. For the first time in his life he felt free.
Without those “distancers,” you can get us deeper into Jason’s head by writing Jason pulled out of the driveway for his first solo drive to the mall. His mother waved and his overprotective dad yelled one final safety warning. At long last, he was on his own. What a feeling of freedom. Awesome didn’t begin to describe it.
Now we can feel his excitement. We can almost visualize his smile. And by being in his head, sharing his experience, we feel the power of the scene.
If we want our characters to be realistic, then we must infuse them with realistic emotions. I don’t know what it’s like to be chased by a werewolf, but I have been chased by a swarm of bees. So I take the memory of that experience—the fear, the flush of heat on my chest, my heart pounding in my ears and the clenching of my stomach—and ramp it up a degree for my POV character.
Don’t tell the reader Darla was angry. That’s so lame. Show the roar in her ears as her heart beats faster, the ache in her jaw from gritting her teeth and the pain in her palms from her fingernails pressing into them as she clenches her fists. Make us feel her anger by taking us deeper into Darla’s POV. Show the reader these things and the reader will think man, is she angry. Your reader becomes part of the story because he or she feels it.
There’s great power in point of view. It’s more than whose head are we in. By utilizing its power, we become authors of page-turners.
For more about Vonnie, you can find her at her blog, her website, and on Twitter as @VonnieWrites
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