Death by POV
By Michelle Janene
POV – Point of View. Three little letters that must be the bane of every new writer’s journey. Oh, if only 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 the same time. Now agents, editors, and readers don’t like head-hopping (rapidly switching between characters who are telling the story).
Readers want to be introduced to a character and crawl in their skin, their thoughts, their motives, and their goals. Writers are allowed to change POV characters—but not without appropriate warning to the reader. Make a new chapter or denote a divide within a chapter to make sure they know of the switch.
So how is it done? How does an author write in one POV consistently? A good writer friend describes it this way: if I am a character in a story and a fly lands on the back of my head—I can’t know it. Anything that happens in another place, at another time when the character was not present, or out of the character’s view—they can’t know until someone tells them about it.
She didn’t know he was in the room until he spoke.
If she didn’t know it—than it can’t be written.
She jumped off the couch with a yelp. Her heart pounded in her ears. When had he come in the room?
This is a way of staying in the character’s POV. This way the reader is as startled as the character.
A character can’t know what another character is thinking or feeling.
She thinks I knew about her all along.
Nope, the character can’t know that— not unless the story is a fantasy and the character is telepathic.
It’s called head-hopping and it’s considered poor, or newbie, writing. Now a character can: see another person roll their eyes or smirk; hear them sigh or chuckle; turn away with a dismissive flip of hand. In the POV of the character, these can lead them to jump to conclusions based on those visible indicators. But no character can know what another is thinking.
Here is another stickler. A character can’t describe what their face or hair looks like without being in front of a mirror.
My face turned ten shades of red.
My tears left mud trails down my ashen cheeks.
With hair standing out in all directions, I moved to toward the door.
Nope! Not unless they are looking at their own reflection.
Now the character may sweat, feel the heat rise in their cheeks, feel the pounding of their heart. All these are correct POV.
Once POV is mastered—and be patient, it won’t happen overnight—then the next step is to work on deep POV.
Yes, you can still pull your reader deeper into your characters’ skin.
Deep POV removes words such as: thought, felt, heard, and more. As I tell my middle school students in my day job, “Don’t tell me what you are going to write about—just write it.”
Don’t tell readers what the character heard.
She heard footsteps. Make them hear it too.
The slow click of heels falling on the polished wood floor grew louder.
Like a metronome ticking off the beat, the rhythm never broke. Click.
Click. Click. Closer and closer down the hall. It stopped outside her door.
Her breath caught in her lungs. The latch scraped and the hinge whined.
Do you feel the difference? You can make the hair on a reader’s arms rise, drawing them into your story and never let them go.
Let’s try another.
She felt a tear slip down her cheek. Nothing wrong with that sentence, it denotes emotion—strong feelings, but could it be done deeper?
Tears filled her eyes, blurring her vision. Don’t cry. Don’t let them see you’re hurt. She blinked once, and again quickly. Then one hot drop slipped from her lid, trailed along the crease of her nose, teetered on her upper lip. She released a slow breath as it dropped to her lower lip burning a hole where it landed.
Better? Let the reader feel the slow slip of the tear as though it were on her own face. This is what we want to do for the readers. Draw them into the character’s skin.
Take the time to learn POV—then make the extra effort to dig deeper. Readers won’t be able to put the book down. And isn’t that what every author wants?
For more on Deep POV, read the fabulous book, Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson.
Meet the Author
Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer.
She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.
You can read Michelle's column, "The Writing Life" on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.