Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time To Talk Point Of View Today

It's time for that notorious P.O.V. discussion. We talk about it all of the time with authors when we bring up head hopping and shifts within a chapter. Today though, I want to focus on a slight twist. I don't want to get into the issue of how many times a person should be shifting in a chapter, or for that matter, why certain established authors can head hop and newbies can't. I want to focus today on remembering what characters can and cannot see within their POV.

I think, too often, we forget that our characters are human (or human like for you FF&P writers). This means that they are not mind readers and cannot see things unless it is coming through their own experience. What I am dealing with here are the times when a character can mysteriously know the feelings of another character they are in a discussion with. Let me clear that up.

Assume your current scene is in the heroine's POV. She tells the hero something and then somehow, in the narration, the reader knows how the hero is feeling. This is an impossibility. At this point in the story, the heroine can only respond to how he is acting outwardly and make a guess as to the feelings. We only know his feelings when we are in his head. This includes stories that are told, supposedly, in 3rd person omniscient. The scene is still only from one perspective.

Now the other twist to consider here is what the character is actually going to see and respond to. I always find it interesting when a story is in 1st person and the character is thinking about the historical backstory to the event, or they spend the time contemplating their own bedroom furnishings. When we walk into a room we know well, we don't describe things in detail. We know it too well so we gloss over things. Your characters need to do the same thing.

The same holds true with information dumping. A character is not going to unload a pile of backstory that is really only designed for the reader. In other words, if we are talking about a historical set during WWII, two characters living in Paris will not make statements like, "you know, the Germans have been really busy working over this city for the last several months..." Look, if they have been living there, they already know it.

Your homework today. Look at your POV. Are you characters seeing things and knowing things they should know? Are they seeing things that they would likely not pay attention to?

And no, you can't use psychics to work your way out of this one!



  1. Yes...but humans are very good at interpreting other humans' reactions.

    If I suggest something to a friend, and he frowns, I don't note the frown: I think, Oh, he doesn't like the idea. So I think it's allowable for the character to draw her own conclusions on occasion, as we all do. And further, sometimes one's character makes a wrong assumption about what another is thinking, while the reader gets it right, which can add to the story.

  2. What an interesting post. One of my characters spotted a little typo Scott-Are you characters seeing- *grin*.
    I will read my ms,I am sure I will need to adjust what young Kitty is seeing and doing.
    Thanks for the info.

  3. Scott, thank you for the post. I always learn so much from your words!

  4. Guilty as charged! One person reading my MS mentioned that it felt at one point like I was information dumping. Unfortunately I did have a lot of information I wanted the reader to know. I revised the section, however the information that I wanted to pass on to the reader did not get fully transferred. I am OK with this lack of content for now, however it will have to be done somewhere at some point, but clearly in lower doses.

  5. I would appreciate your opinion on mixing point of views. I have come across several seasoned authors who are alternating between first and third person. I find that I enjoy diving into more than one character's mind. At least for me, it enriches the story.