5 Steps to Stronger Point of View

34178310_sPOV – Point of View. Three little letters are the bane of every new writer’s journey. If we were writers forty or more years ago—now that would have been a completely different story. In the ‘good ol’ days’ we could write from everyone’s point of view at any time. Now—it is a big No-no.

Readers want you to pick a character and crawl in their skin, their thoughts, their motives, and their goals. You are allowed to change your POV character—but not without appropriate warning to the reader. Start a new chapter or create a scene break so readers will know you’re switching points of view.

So how do you do it? How do you keep in one POV consistently? Fellow Inspire writer, Loretta Sinclair describes it this way:

“If I am a character in your story and a fly lands on the back of my head, I can’t know it.”

 

1. The POV character can’t know anything that happens while she is not present until someone tells her about it. If she doesn’t know it, you can’t write it.

First Draft: She didn’t know he was in the room until he spoke.

Final Draft: When he said hello, she jumped off the couch with a yelp.

Let’s practice:

Example: King Edmund threw his tankard across the room, not knowing Mariamne had slipped into the room.

If he didn’t know it your reader can’t either. Try this instead:

King Edmund threw his tankard across the room.

Yelp!

He spun—heart pounding, hand on the hilt of his sword.

(With the second version, you have pulled your reader in and have them turning the next page to see who yelped and why, and what’s going to happen next.)

 

2. Stay in only one character’s POV at a time. Otherwise, you’re head-hopping and it’s not considered good writing. Your reader needs to be in only one character’s head at a time in order to relate to the character. 

First Draft: A shiver ran down Jane’s back when she realized Greg had been spying on her. That made him feel awful.

Final Draft: A shiver ran down Jane’s back. “You’ve been spying on me haven’t you?”

Greg looked at his feet and said nothing.

Let’s practice:

Example: Shawn glared at Meg. She hated him. His stomach knotted as she plotted his demise.

Try this instead: Shawn glared at Meg. Her lips were drawn in a thin line, and her breath rasped through her throat. Her finger flexed and moved toward the axe leaning against the wall.

 

Ready to go deeper?

 

3. Your characters can only experience life through their own senses. You can’t see your own face (or back) without a mirror, so neither can your POV character. They can’t know if their mascara is running, whether their tears are making muddy trails in their face, the look in their own eyes, or what color their face is turning.

First Draft: Alexis’s face flamed as bright as a fire engine. Her eyes flashed with rage at the detective.

Final Draft: Alexis narrowed her gaze on the detective blocking her path. Heat crept up her neck and pooled in her cheeks. She held his stare unblinking, fisting her hands until her nails dug into her palms.

 

4. Alert your readers when you’re changing POV characters in the middle of a chapter.

First Draft: Aria rose with slow purpose and left the king with his steward. She wandered to the outer bailey, letting the clop of her boots on the paving stones drive all thought from her head.

The king turned to his steward rubbing his hand over his neck, trying to work the knot free. “Should we keep her secret?”

(There is no way Aria, the POV character, can know what is happening in the king’s chamber. If you insert a POV shift (* * * or ####) between the above paragraphs and remain in the king’s for a while this works fine.)

Final Draft: Aria rose with slow purpose and left the king with his steward. She wandered to the outer bailey, letting the clop of her boots on the paving stones drive all thought from her head.

***

The king turned to his steward rubbing his hand over his neck, trying to work the knot free. “Should we keep her secret?”

 

5. Don’t tell your readers what your character is doing, just have him do it.

First Draft: Drew wondered what Alexis would do if she knew he had been in her apartment.

Final Draft: What would Alexis do if she knew he’d broken into her apartment?

Let’s Practice:

Example: She felt scared.

Try this instead: A floorboard squeaked behind her. She clenched her breath, her heart pounding in her ears.

Tip: Do a search for the following words: thought, knew, wondered, realized, speculated, decided, wished, felt, saw, and other similar words. These words are all telling the reader what your POV character is feeling for thinking. Instead show the reader these same things in deeper POV. Draw your reader in—and don’t let them go.

Be patient as you master POV, it won’t happen overnight. With practice, you’ll get it.

Here are a few sentences with POV violations for you to fix:

  1. Rachel waited for Bryce to knock on her door, but he was busy tying his shoes.
  2. Max felt powerful surf threaten to overturn his boat. Jackson gulped hard on the shore, fearful for his friend.
  3. Roxy stepped out of the ladies’ room, toilet paper trailing from her left shoe.
  4. “I’m sorry Dillon, but it’s over.” Marissa punched the button on her phone. Dillon was frantic, punching her number as fast as his thumbs would fly.
  5. Justin felt angry.

Add your favorite fix(es) in the comments below for a chance to win Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.

michelle_murrayMichelle Janene  writes Christian Fantasy and Bible curriculum for students and adults. She teaches Middle School and leads a thriving Inspire Christian Writers critique group. She’s passionate about the Word of God and medieval history. In the summer of 2014 she founded Strong Tower Press to publish her own works with the first novella coming soon!

Michelle also serves as the Inspire Anthology Coordinator and oversees the selection, editing and distribution of our annual anthologies.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “5 Steps to Stronger Point of View

  1. Thanks for such an insightful article about point of view. Your exercises definitely challenged me. Here’s my fix for #1:
    Rachel paced behind her door as she waited for Bryce’s knock. His car door had closed a full minute before. What was keeping him? She looked through the peep hole and smiled at the figure kneeling on her front porch. “That poor guy never can keep his shoes tied.”

  2. Thanks for the five steps about writing POV better. How about posting some examples for the writers who get caught up in the moment, and slide from one person’s point of view, to mixing it up with a narrative voice. That’s one mistake I would love to more clearly identify when rewriting.

    Blessings to you for your dedication to help writers write better for God.

    Embarrassed…

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