Thursday, April 26, 2012

Point of View - Part II

Writers' Corner
Welcome to Writers’ Corner. Thank you for the great response to last week’s point of view post. Due to that response and questions posed, I’ve decided to address point of view again before moving on to another subject.

To recap, three basic points of view exist: first person, third person, and omniscient. Select one POV and stick with it. You can access the archives for an in-depth look at each.

Within these, the writer must choose a character point of view (POV) to drive the scene. If you want to change character POV, move on to another scene. Take a look at this example from last week. I’ve inserted an error. See if you can spot it.
“Have some juice.” John extended the orange juice pitcher.
Brenda didn’t want juice. In fact, she didn’t want to be sharing a table with someone who had betrayed her. Besides, she hated orange juice. And he knew it. Probably the reason he offered it. “No, thank you.”
John thumped the pitcher on the table, sloshing the juice over the top. Heat spread through his chest like wildfire when he thought about the times he’d tried to please her without success.
“Now you’ve done it.” Brenda reached for a dishtowel. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times.”
“You’ve told me what?” John scowled over his forkful of eggs.
“Clumsy.” Brenda returned his scowl and reached for her fork. If she tried hard enough to ignore him, maybe he’d take the hint and disappear. For good.
We established last week that this scene is told from Brenda’s POV. However, the way I’ve rewritten it, Brenda is also a mind reader. Let’s take a look at the third paragraph.
John thumped the pitcher on the table, sloshing the juice over the top. Heat spread through his chest like wildfire when he thought about the times he’d tried to please her without success.
Brenda couldn’t have known the highlighted portion about John. I head-hopped into John’s thoughts, which detracts from the scene. Instead, I should have ended Brenda’s thoughts and wrote another scene, if I wanted to share John’s thoughts with my reader.

Here’s an example:
John gulped his oatmeal. The lumpy mixture went down like a pallet of rocks. Didn’t this woman know how to cook anything else? He glanced at her chomping through her toast and oatmeal like a bulldozer. Wouldn’t do to ask for a bowl of cereal instead.
“Got plans for today?” Her eyes bored through him like a woodpecker on a fresh branch.
“The usual.” John didn’t want to spoil his surprise. He’d asked Cindy Martin to help him pick out an anniversary present. If Brenda only knew how much he cared—maybe it would change things between them.
“The usual? Does that include another date with Cindy Martin?”
The oatmeal lodged somewhere deep in his esophagus, sending a dull, throbbing ache through his chest. A date? This woman was nuts!
Though very basic, hopefully, the preceding scenes have helped illustrate the differences between the characters’ POV.
Obviously, scenes are much longer than this. You won’t write a dozen little scenes within a chapter. Two or three long scenes are plenty. Make sure the main character gets the most scene time since it’s his/her story.

If you have any other questions about POV, please feel free to leave a comment. Also, I’d love to hear any suggestions for future writing topics.


  1. I'm fairly new to your blog, so you may have already suggested this. There are a couple writers in the critique group I attend who are genius at spotting POV. This is a weak area for me, and I've enjoyed learning from them. Here is an explanation they gave that helped POV click with me:

    Let's say your scene is told from Harry's POV. Imagine we strap a camera on Harry's head. The only things I can write about are what Harry takes in with his five senses: what he sees, what he hears, what he smells, what he tastes, and what he feels (this can be physical touch or emotions).

    While in Harry's POV, I can't say, "Mary was very angry." However, I can show Mary's anger by describing how her face looks to Harry, "Mary bunched up her mouth and narrowed her eyes. The more she tensed her mucles, the more brightly her cheeks glowed." The reader would know by the description that Mary was angry.

    I still get POV corrections, but this tip has helped me spot some of my own!
    Great, informative posts, Laura! Enjoy learning from you!

    1. Thanks for your suggestion, Janey. Most writers struggle with POV, not because we don't understand it, but because we know what our characters are thinking. Your description is a good one. It matters a great deal as to whether the character's face grew hot or reddened. You also touched on something I've mentioned before--the importance of a critique group/partner. Another set of eyes will catch POV when your own slide past the mistakes. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion!

  2. Great stuff on POV!!! Love your blog Laura!! Holly

    1. Thanks, Holly. I'm glad it was helpful! Good to hear from you again.

  3. Hi Laura:

    It's so easy to change point of view without even realizing. This is very helpful. (I had to read through twice before I caught it.) It is much more difficult to catch our own writing mistakes.


    1. You're right, Joan. That's why the revision process is so important, as is having a critique partner. I'm glad you stopped by and joined the conversation!