Do You Understand POV?

As an editor, I spend my days at a cluttered desk reading manuscripts. What is the most common problem I encounter with new and even some experienced writers? Point of view (POV) or more simply put, who is telling the story. I believe every writer (yes, even memoir writers) should have a basic understanding of point of view.

Beginning writers often don’t put a thought into point of view. They just start writing. They further exacerbate the problem by jumping into the different character’s heads whenever they like. In one scene we are reading about the feelings of one character and in the next sentence, the reader is in someone else’s head reading about his feelings. I call this “head jumping” and if I scribble those two words on your manuscript, you’ll know you have a problem.

One of the major decisions you must make when beginning your story is who should tell the story. Sometimes it’s easy. If the book is a memoir, the choice is obvious. In that case you always use the “I” voice and write from your own point of view. But when telling a fictional story your choices are endless. It’s not an easy thing to decide. Often writers will change their minds after writing a few chapters and decide the story could be told better from another perspective. Whatever you decide, the decision is important. It affects everything and the wrong choice can really make your book lag.

Each scene can only be told from one character’s point of view. Once you begin a scene, you must consistently stay in that point of view until the scene is complete. You can’t know what another character is thinking or feeling – you are only able to know what the scene’s main character notices. No head jumping.

Head jumping isn’t a mistake that only beginning writers make. An experienced writer can sometimes have this same problem. Point of view is one of the hardest concepts a writer needs to master. But you must master it in order to be a successful novel writer.

I have just scratched the surface on what there is to learn about point of view. But even this quick lesson can save you hours of rewrites. If you are interested in learning more about point of view and the craft of writing, Candace Simar and I will be teaching a Writers’ Boot Camp on Saturday, April 20, 2013, at the Crossing Arts Alliance in Brainerd, Minnesota. Please call Krista at 218-828-4719 to register. The cost is $15 and includes lunch.

If you have completed a book and are interested in a manuscript consultation, please visit my website for more information.

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