Friday, January 10, 2014

Under the POV Microscope

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Point of View (POV) isn’t that hard once you get the trick of it. It’s just the mastering of the trick that can prove difficult. ;-) But once a couple key elements have been identified, it’s simple to correct the errors and move forward with your story.

Be aware of head-hopping. You’ve probably heard this talked about in the escalators and elevators, in the clusters of attendees and lunch tables, not to mention classes—at conferences: don’t head-hop. Head-hopping is the big picture term. The root cause of so much evil in your novels. (Just kidding…sorta) Once you learn what to spot, it’s easy to see head-hopping in the future. Example: You’re in Mary’s head. Hearing her thoughts. Having a view from what she is seeing. She’s talking with Amy. When you are in Mary’s head, you can’t hear or know what Amy is thinking. You can only interrupt her body language and listen to her dialogue. Head-hopping occurs when we leave Mary’s head and jump into Amy’s thoughts without there being any break in the physical story layout on the page. It’s the most jarring and unsettling event for a reader.

Assumption is your friend. It’s actually your enemy in real life, but in fiction, your characters will have to assume a lot. Why? Because they don’t know what their fellow characters are thinking. A subtle shift of POV can come when the author makes a statement about a character whose head we are not in that scene. These statements can be as simple as “the light was too bright for her eyes”. No, no, no. It’s so tempting to make these comments and most readers might not pick up on it, but once you’re shown the problem, you tend to notice it glaring all the brighter. If the light was “too bright for her eyes” that means she is thinking that it is too bright. If we aren’t in her head, we cannot know her thoughts. However, what we can do is see her reaction. What would the character do if the sun was too bright? She’d squint. And that is definitely something your POV character can notice and mention in passing to the reader.  These little comments are the ones most likely to slip past us. The ones most likely to squirm their way into the story and start to take over.

The key to spotting problem POV areas is to think in terms of, “is this a thought or an action that my character might do?” If it’s not the POV character and it’s something you would stand on the street corner and think, it can’t be in your book—unless of course your POV character is a mind reader. Which, I don’t know…maybe he/she is. ;-) So flip the thought on its head and do an action/reaction: what is the action that your non-POV character is thinking about and what would their reaction be to that thought? Like squinting in the bright sun.

Action is always more powerful than thought. It’s an extension—sometimes involuntary action of their thought. Like a knee-jerk reaction, it can’t be stopped or helped. And how your POV character interprets this becomes a fascinating and fun dance for the reader as the characters clumsily tango across the page.
POV only has to be as difficult as you want to make it. Once the key points are exposed to the light of an editor’s eye, it becomes easier to find those problem areas and edit them clean—usually with minimal work at best.

What are your biggest POV struggles?

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. 


Joanne Sher said...

As soon as I learner about head hopping, I began noticing - and being ANNOYED by - it in my reading. It has made my flesh crawl on occasion. Not that I necessarily recognize it in my own writing - but I will gladly cast that first stone :::eyeroll:::

My biggest struggle with POV is going deep enough. I love deep POV stories, but getting my writing like that is a LOT of work.

Great post, Casey!

Unknown said...

Really good stuff, Casey! I love deep POV that's so well-written I'm instantly in the head of a character. It's my favorite. :) But like you mentioned, I sometimes catch myself letting a character notice/feel/see something they shouldn't be able to notice/feel/see. The other challenge is sometimes giving the reader an idea of the character's physical description in a way that doesn't have the character describing her own hair or eyes or clothes or whatever in a non-realistic way.

Great stuff today!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow...girl, this is good. Like Joanne, once I learned about head-hopping, I noticed it EVERYWHERE! It's funny how learning about writing makes you more aware of mistakes in other people's work.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Great tips, Casey! I hate wondering whose head I'm in... this is particularly why I separate POV's in chapters (and I label them) :) takes out the guess work. I have read several big time authors who change POV's without even a break in the page or a marker to identify the switch. This is too much work for the reader and always frustrates me. I like consistency.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great explanation, Casey. I still catch myself (or my critique partners catch me) slipping up on this sometimes.

Now even I notice when the great Nora Roberts does it - though most times she does it skillfully - and I cringe a little.

Deep POV is still a struggle too. Worth the effort though!

Hope everyone is staying warm and dry!


Casey said...

Joanne, Deep POV is a tough problem, isn't it? But it's sooo good when done well. Maybe I should try tackling that topic sometime. ;-)

Casey said...

Melissa, true. True. And it's SO easy to slip into that temptation, but way easy to spot once you notice it. :) And yes, deep POV is definitely the best to read, but it's such a challenge for me to write. I still don't think I've mastered that one. :)

Casey said...

Sherrinda, no kiddin' there! I HATE it when I see head hopping in a published book. The only way I tolerated it was in Siri Mitchell's book once, because they came right out and said it's be omniscient. But I felt so disconnected from the story the whole time.

Casey said...

Amy, right there with ya. It's like we want to tell them that they should know better!! LOL!

Casey said...

Susan don't you notice those things quite often in the writers who have been around for a while? I think it's something that they've always written that way and because they ARE so well known and loved they can get away with it. Until one of us fellow writers spots it. :)

Unknown said...

Great explanation, Casey. I still catch myself. These are Great tips, I hate wondering whose head I'm in... this is particularly why I separate POV's in chapters.I sometimes catch myself letting a character notice/feel/see something they shouldn't be able to notice/feel/see.

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Casey said...

Lia, that is an excellent form of keeping heads separate and many authors use it. It's tried and proven very true. :)