Getting POV right


EyesIf there is one thing that I see writers getting wrong when I judge contests, it’s POV or point of view. This one thing can make a huge difference in your story. It is the key component in creating an emotional experience, which is the standard we measure our story by. Getting POV correct makes a huge difference in the emotional experience for your reader.

What is POV?

POV is only what the character whose head you are in can see, feel, think, know, etc. Notice what I said here: the POV character. Depending on the scene and how many POV characters you have, this could be the hero, the love interest, the villain, etc. Whoever it is, this is their scene.

No head hopping

If you use more than one POV per scene, it is called head hopping. When you maintain one POV per scene, it allows the reader to fully get into the character’s skin. If you yank the reader out of that and pop them into another character, it gets confusing. And it breaks the emotional connection we as readers were forming with the POV character.

We can only know in that scene what that POV character knows. No, “Little did she know…” Or “Soon she would find out…” Or “Looking back later, she would realize.” These are signs of omniscience which pulls us into an out of body experience looking down. Not fun unless you’re a ghost.

What I find is that because we watch TV and movies, we muddle POV. When you watch a TV show or a movie, they are showing you the person’s face as they talk or react. When the director wants us to know what the heroine is feeling, he shows us her face, actions, and dialogue.

So often I’ll see something like this:

“I cheated on the test.” Mary confessed, wringing her hands. She felt awful about it. How could she make it right?

“I can’t believe that,” Mr. White replied. Mary was his best student. What was the world coming to if his best student cheated?

First we are in Mary’s head. We know this because we hear her internal monologue. Then we are in Mr. White’s head because we hear his interior monologue. This doesn’t let us actually be in either of their skins and denies the reader an emotionally compelling experience.

Instead, it should be written like this:

“I cheated on the test.” Mary confessed, wringing her hands. She felt awful about it. How could she make it right?

“I can’t believe that.” Mr. White shook his head and frowned.

Clearly he was disappointed in her. That made two of them. She was disappointed in herself.

 We stay in Mary’s head the whole time so we can more deeply feel her emotions. The same scene could also be written from Mr. White’s POV depending on the goal of your scene. Additionally, you can write the same scene from different POVs to see which gives the greatest emotional experience and use that scene in your final work.

Writing is very different from video. We need to crawl inside the hero’s skin. When we do that, we don’t see their eyes or their faces.

Apply it

Put yourself in the scene as your character. What are you thinking, feeling? What are you doing with your body? What things are your five senses picking up? Show what it’s like to be that person from deep inside of them, not by showing us from the outside.

Pressing on!

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