Friday, October 15, 2010

Writing to Sell: POV

L. J. Sellers’ excellent post entitled “Publisher Evaluations” provided invaluable information on the various aspects of our manuscripts that publishers review when deciding whether to take on our book (story). One of those areas in particular—point of view—often challenges writers, including some of us with considerable experience.

Point of view has been addressed before, but let’s play with it another time to see how different POVs change the same scene. The paragraphs below depict three points of view in this abbreviated lesson from my writing manual. The first one—omniscient—is the most cumbersome and least effective. See if you can figure out why?

Spot glanced over his shoulder. The dogcatcher’s vehicle turned the corner and began following him. Sprinting across the street, he headed down the block toward the park.
“There he is!” the driver shouted to his partner.
“Let me out!” his partner yelled. The man hit the sidewalk at a full run. “I’ll get that mutt if it’s the last thing I do!”
Spot heard the sound of footsteps and picked up his pace. If they catch me, I never will find my Troy. He needs me.
The truck passed him and screeched to a halt a short distance ahead. He slowed down to look at the dogcatcher, who jumped out, grabbed the animal snatcher from behind the seat, and ran into the almost deserted street to block him from the front and the side. “Gotcha this time!” he muttered under his breath. “You’re not gonna get away from me again.”
His partner took a deep breath and sped up from behind. “You’re goin’ to the pound, Buster,” he hissed to himself.

Now let’s consider the dogcatcher’s POV:

The dogcatcher spied the greyhound as soon as the truck rounded the corner. “Let’s get him!” he hollered at his partner. “You approach from the rear, and I’ll come at him from the front.” He slowed the truck down just long enough for his partner to hit the pavement running and then stomped on the gas.
Ten yards ahead of the animal he screeched to a stop, reached behind the seat for the animal snatcher, and ran into the street.
“He’s heading for the park where the kids are playing. Don’t let him get away!” he yelled at the man running up from behind. A grin inched across his face. You’re cornered, Buster. You’re not going to outfox me this time.

And the dog’s POV:

Spot glanced over his shoulder. The dogcatcher’s vehicle rounded the corner and headed toward him. His heart thumped in his chest. The sound of the engine slowed. Feet hit the pavement and pounded in his direction. He broke into a fast trot.
The truck passed him and screeched to a halt. A man jumped out and charged in his direction, waving a long stick with something hanging from the end of it. Closer and closer the man came.
One thought bounced through his mind: If they catch me, I never will find my Troy. He needs me. Tapping into the power of his racing ancestors, he propelled himself ahead of the long stick that grazed his back as he passed.

Which scene exerts the greatest impact on the reader? Why? Do you think POV is an important factor in hooking your readers? How would you write this scene?

Linda Lane heads up a team of three editors to form, the editing arm of Pen & Sword Publishers Ltd. She specializes in fiction, and one of her team is an award-winning nonfiction editor. The third member specializes in content editing. The three together can polish almost any manuscript to excellence. and

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  1. My first writing lesson was on POV. As a reader, I never noticed. As a writer, I'm now very sensitive to it. As a matter of fact, my first published work, a short-short story was actually an exercise in POV. It's a vignette, told first from his POV, then from hers.

    Using the 'right' POV for a story or scene can really help intensify the story.

    (And, BTW, that short story is now a free read on Smashwords, called "Words."

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. Writers really have to consider POV. Your idea of writing scenes in differing POVs is a good one. It lets you see the differences in intimacy, information exposed and reader identification with the character. And whether you the writer want to spend the full story or book in that POV.

  3. Linda, your first example, in having to cover everything that's going on, shows well how clunky omniscient POV can be. And in an action scene such as this, "clunky" certainly isn't a word you'd want used to describe it!

    The other two are better, since they are streamlined to a specific point of view. They move! I am partial to the dog's POV, because it is unusual. And I think you are too--the dog used much more sense imagery in his description!

  4. Interesting. I didn't see the first example as Omniscient, but as multiple POVs--head-hopping. Definitely not good.

  5. Kathryn, the dog's POV has the most heart, and the longer version of that example inspires the reader to cheer him on in his search for his autistic young master. (not enough room here to go into all that)

    Dogcatchers aren't very sympathetic characters, but perhaps this one's young child or little sister was once attacked by a stray dog. This would create a different reader response. (again, not enough room here)

    Kae, head-hopping often is omniscient, and it's a very ineffective story-telling technique. Yet, you'd be amazed how many manuscripts I read that use it. The stories are cluttered, telling instead of showing, and they lack any gripping drama that would compel a reader to keep turning pages to see what happens next. Why? The reader is held at arm's length, so to speak, and doesn't identify with any one character.


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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