Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Deep POV: Three mistakes and how to fix them, Part II

Story can be defined many ways, but one of my favorites is “internal conflict made external.” This definition informs the fixes to two additional problems writers might face while trying to adopt a deep point of view. (Click here for Part I of this topic).

2. The mistake: Point of view breach. A POV breach occurs when a character knows something he or she shouldn’t reasonably know given the limitations of the POV choice. Moving forward in our example from the last post to the confrontation between our POV character and the husband she suspects of having an affair—and switching POV to show the technique works equally as well in third person limited—such a mistake would manifest itself like this:
How long had this been going on? She skewered him with a hate that only years of mistaken adoration could produce. She couldn’t speak. Didn’t have to—he read it all over her face.
The reader is left wondering—um, how does she know he read it all over her face?

The fix: Translate internal feelings into external actions. By doing so, you as author will allow a reaction that will make your character’s feelings all too clear to this man. When he reaches out for her and she smacks her 2-carat diamond into the bony back of his hand, he’ll know her feelings—and so will your readers.

3. The mistake: Hanging out too long in the character’s head. Remember that POV colors your story by creating a lens. Let's recall our high school physics for a moment. In order to define the work of a lens, you need a light source (backstory), which shines through the lens (thoughts and opinions and prejudices and feelings) onto the situation being viewed (character actions). This movement—from remembered motivations through internal thoughts expressed as external actions—keeps your story moving by creating plot. Writers can complicate point of view problems by stalling inside the character’s head, where even the author can get confused as to what’s going on.

The fix: Let something happen. If you notice that your character is unusually silent, or else constantly trembling while refraining from taking physical actions, try taking the lid off the pressure cooker of her emotions and letting it rip. A verbal or physical tirade unwound from deep within a character’s point of view can be downright satisfying.

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Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Formerly a dance critic and arts journalist for 19 years, she now writes literary women's fiction.







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12 comments :

  1. Wonderful tips. I especially love the smacking of the 2-carat diamond into the bony part of his hand!

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  2. As I've come to expect - great help from you! I have a little piece of paper taped to my computer that reads "realized, thought, saw, noticed, glanced." now I'll have to add another that says "give it an external action".

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  3. Yes, showing through action is always a great fix. Good point. Thanks for the reminder.

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  4. Good point to bear in mind. I must take a look over some of my older work and see if I can pick up any of these mistakes.
    Thanks very much.

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  5. Very useful tips. I liked the lens analogy (since I'm a physicist) >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  6. Great series on POV, Kathryn. Learning a lot.

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  7. I'm really enjoying this series Kathryn. Very well explained.

    Elle
    HearWriteNow
    Blood-Red Pencil

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  8. Point of view seems to be a problem for all writers (at least the ones with whom I've worked). I even have to watch it in my own writing. Its proper use, however, is vital to keeping the reader engaged. When the reader is pulled out of a story by a "huh?" that comes from reading a line or passage in the POV of a character who can't know what he/she just thought or said, that reader finds the book less credible and may even put it down. Excellent reason to apply the very practical writing wisdom of your post, Kathryn!

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  9. Excellent reminders! We have to be so careful, anyone can slip..

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  10. It's so easy to head hop. Great tips!!!

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  11. I'm working on some POV issues in my WIP. This was most helpful.

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  12. True, to slip out of pov is the easiest thing. 'I ran through the field, my hair swirling behind me in the sun'. How did she know what her hair looked like?

    But even worse is when the author slips into their own pov and assumes that the reader has knowledge that they don't. One moment, the character is in Miami, the next she's in Denver. How come?

    That's where a friendly copy editor can spot the snafus before the reader does. Problem is, a lot of authors don't like being told they're fallible!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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