Staying in Your P.O.V. Lane
A Session with Lynn Voedisch
Point of View is something that many readers don’t notice much, but it’s essential that authors still get it right every time. I can’t tell you how many fine authors I have read who can’t resist the urge to bounce from one character’s thoughts to another’s. It’s called “head hopping.” It’s confusing and just plain wrong.
There are many P.O.V.s that can be used: single character, two- or three-character (more gets confusing), or the good old (and rarely used) omniscient view. The omniscient view is very much like God is telling the story. All thoughts are known, destinations seem pre-ordained, and usually a whole life story is mapped out. It was popular in the early days of the novel and you can still see it in Charles Dickens, George Eliot or Louisa May Alcott.
These days singular P.O.V. is preferred. The story can be told in first person or related as if the author is closely looking over the shoulder of the protagonist. Sometimes there are two or three characters the author follows, showing contrasts in focus and differences in personalities.
In my urban fantasy, Soundrise, I chose to follow two characters closely—the protagonist, Derek Nilsson, and his father, Charlie. At first they start their stories separated by five years, but they catch up with each other by the middle of the book.
It’s incredibly tempting to want to write about what other characters are thinking, but the only way to do that is to have the other characters talk aloud about their thoughts in dialog. For instance, when Derek decides to follow an elusive computer code on a long road trip, his girlfriend Kyra begins to act out by putting down all his ideas. It isn’t until he gets her to talk about her feelings that he finds out she’s simply jealous and wants to go along on the journey.
Head hopping would have been faster, but you’d lose the little temper tantrum Kyra threw and you’d already have figured out how unclued-in Derek is to thoughts of people closest to him.
My best way of finding if I’ve veered off the path of solid P.O.V. is in a writers group where other writers will read my work and circle sections in red pen with “P.O.V.!” on top. Oops. Yeah, they are right and I can go back to the draft and fix it.
It’s better to learn about mistakes that way than to get a message from one of The Story Plant editors pointing out a P.O.V. foul up, because it’s a lot harder to solve the problem by then.
Still, I read novels by well-published authors that mess up the P.O.V. constantly. One of my favorite writers, Alice Hoffman, has been doing this so long that I just sigh and read over it. I asked a writing professor once about her work and he said she’s just making mistakes, but is so popular that no one is going to tell her to fix it. Lots of sales seem to trump copy editing sometimes.
However, discipline is what it takes to keep storytelling on track, and I’ve learned that in hundreds of ways.
As I work on my next novel, I’m trying to stay solid in my P.O.V. I read my draft over meticulously to make sure it’s correct.
But the day will come when I get a red circle and a segment of a charter with the dreaded comment, “P.O.V.!” Because no one is perfect.
About the Author…
Lynn Voedisch writes contemporary fantasy like no one else. Technorati called The God’s Wife, “a feast of romance and excitement, keeping the reader in its thrall with suspense,” and Windy City Reviews said of Dateline: Atlantis, “Voedisch is able to project a variety of places and times, a blend of people with different ages, genders, educational levels and interests, and miraculously connect the dots for a greater good.” http://www.lynnvoedisch.com