Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Writing Tip: Stick to the Point (of View)

Jill Elizabeth Nelson here with a tip for the writers among us. (For those blog followers who aren't writers, this post may still provide interesting insight to the writing process.)

 The term Point of View is defined as a position from which something is considered or evaluated, a standpoint, or a place of perception. In fiction writing, the position from which anything is considered in any given scene should be the character through whose head we are viewing events. This particular character is the point-of-view character. For simplicity, I will refer to point of view as POV and the point-of-view character as POVC.

 In order to remain firmly inside the POVC’s head, nothing in a scene can be presented for reader consideration that is outside that character’s awareness. When judging writing contest entries, I often see POV violations similar to:


 At a long creak from the attic above, Karen froze, heart pounding. Was that a footfall? Unaware, Karen’s hold on the vase of flowers relaxed, and she dropped it.


Now, if Karen is the POVC and isn’t consciously aware that her hold on the vase slipped then it is a POV violation to mention that she dropped the vase until the very moment when she realizes her unconscious action. The segment could be rewritten like this:


Karen froze, heart pounding. Was that long creak a footfall in the attic above? She held her breath.

Crash! 

Cool moisture splashed her ankles. Karen shrieked and jumped back. That sound hadn’t come from above. She gazed toward her feet at a tangle of bright blooms scattered amid shards of glass and splotches of water on the hardwood floor. Her heart sank. What a fraidy-cat she was. One little out-of-the-ordinary sound and she dropped the beautiful vase of flowers Glen had given her.


 See how this sequence flows in a linear and logical fashion with only what Karen sees, knows, thinks, and experiences in the moment? We remain firmly in the now. We haven’t run ahead of events, lagged behind, or inserted information that could only come from an invisible narrator. How much more poignant this event becomes when we stay inside the POVC’s head.

 Another type of POV violation I commonly see is something like this:


Bill turned away and didn’t notice Chet slip out the door.


If we are in Bill’s POV, and he didn’t notice Chet’s sneaky retreat, then the incident cannot be mentioned. So how does the writer convey to the reader that Chet has escaped? Here is a possible rewrite:


Fists clenching and unclenching, Bill gazed around the kitchen. Where was that louse? He had to be here somewhere.

“Chet, I need to talk to you. Now!”

Silence answered Bill’s shout. He strode toward the living room. A gentle whoosh of air behind him stopped him in his tracks. Bill whirled. The screen door was settling back into place. The coward was on the run.


Now the reader knows that Chet slipped out the door, but we haven’t left Bill’s POV. By refusing to take the lazy way out and “tell” the information through a POV violation, the story becomes much more immediate and exciting. Isn’t the result worth the extra effort?


This blog post is an excerpt from Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, a handbook by Jill Elizabeth Nelson, available on Amazon.com.


ABOUT JILL: Award-winning author and writing teacher, Jill Elizabeth Nelson, writes what she likes to read—tales of adventure seasoned with romance, humor, and faith. Jill is a popular speaker for conferences, writers groups, and libraries. She delights to bring the “Ahah! Moment” to students as they make new skills their own. Visit Jill on the web at: www.jillelizabethnelson.com or look her up on Facebook or Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/JillElizabethNelson.Author or @JillElizNelson.

8 comments:

  1. Jill, those were great examples you used. By showing the wrong way and then providing the correct way to stay within the POVC, I could easily see what you meant. The ability to stay true to the character's POV really makes a difference in the believability in a story. It is the difference of seeing the story happen through the characters eyes, being in on the action, or sitting back and being narrated to by a third party. Very interesting!

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    1. So glad the examples came through clear for you, Brittany. That was my hope. Thanks for taking the time to respond and let me know it worked. :-)

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  2. You always make great points, Jill.

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    1. Thanks, Anne. A treat to have you drop by the blog.

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  3. Well, I'm a nonfiction writer but, I use fiction techniques. Thanks for sharing Jill :-) Oh, and I also tweeted this post to my twittersphere.

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    1. Thanks, Brenda. I write some non-fiction, too. We frequently need to relate anecdotes, and that's one time that fiction techniques need to cross over.

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