Watching the prostate exam clip from “Father of the Bride II” makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time. Watching pretty much anything with Steve Martin makes me laugh. But I digress.
What does Steve Martin have to do with a blog post about writing? It’s all about point of view (POV).
POV issues plague almost every new writer. We probably have never noticed POV because the books we read have been so skillfully done, we don’t pick up on it. What does POV even mean?
From literaryterms.net: Point of view (POV) is what the character or narrator telling the story can see (his or her perspective). The author chooses “who” is to tell the story by determining the point of view. So how does it become an issue for new writers?
When we write with several POVs, our readers never get the chance to know our characters deeply. Putting the inner monologues of every character in our novel into the page creates what we call “head-hopping.” We get a quick glimpse into Character A, then the reader is yanked from her head and plopped down into Character B’s mind. Rinse and repeat. By the time our reader gets into Character G’s head, we have exposed them to the superficial knowledge of so many characters, they never get to know them. And that means our readers never learn to care about our characters.
And that’s not a good thing.
I learned a cool POV technique from Rachael, a member of my critique group. A speaker at a conference she attended taught them to imagine looking through a pair of binoculars. The speaker provided “binoculars” made of 3-inch long PVC pipes she glued together. She asked everyone to look through their binoculars. “If you can SEE it, you can WRITE it. If you can’t see it, neither can your character. “
That has helped me so many times. I’ve sat in front of my computer with my fists curled into tubes held up against my eyes, imagining what I can see.
If your main character (MC) is in front and the action is behind him, he can’t see it. You can’t write about it.
If your MC is blushing, she can’t see her own face. You can’t describe it as a color.
If your MC is with people in the scene, and the others have feelings, your MC won’t know them. You can’t write about them.
However, your MC can hear action. You can write about that.
Your MC can feel the heat of a blush creeping up her neck or turning her ears hot. You can write about that.
Your other characters can visibly show their feelings with gestures, sighs, or glances. You can write about that.
Sometimes I get so drawn into what I’m writing, I forget to be on the lookout for POV issues. Following is an example where my crit group busted me.
“Before his fist could connect with Orin’s face, pain exploded on the side of his head. The world went black. His body slumped bonelessly onto Orin’s chest.”
Manny, my MC, is in a fight with Orin. He gets conked on the head by Orin’s friend, which causes him to lose consciousness. I loved the visual of Manny collapsing onto Orin’s chest. One small problem—Manny is now unconscious. He can’t know what happens next. Simple fix—cut that sentence and add it to the next paragraph which is told from Orin’s POV.
“Before his fist could connect with Orin’s face, pain exploded on the side of his head. The world went black.
Orin grunted when Manny slumped bonelessly onto his chest. He shoved the limp body away with a curse.”
It isn’t always that easy to fix a POV issue. Sometimes we have to create an entirely new scene, or cut something we really liked. The extra effort is worth it, though. When we write in our MC’s deep POV, we allow our readers to get to know them. As the author, we invite our readers into their minds, their hearts, their worlds. We invite them care.
An editor recommended these two books to me. I found them both to be helpful.
Deep Point of View, by Marcy Kennedy, and Writing Deep Viewpoint, by Kathy Tyers
Good luck with your POV issues. If you have examples to share that could help other writers, post your before and after in the comments. Let’s continue to learn and grow together.