Not Just Another Post on POV

by Lori Freeland

Not Just Another Post on POV

If you’ve whipped around the writing block a time or two, you may have lots of experience with POV. If this is your initial test drive, you might be Googling—P . . . O . . . What? Either way, this post is for you.

First, you can stop Googling. POV stands for Point of View. Some of you are nodding and saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We got it.” Others might be asking why we care about a view.

We care because the view is everything. You’ve heard the phrase, location, location, location when it comes to prime real estate. And where is the prime real estate on the page? Inside your POV character’s head.

What Is a POV Character?

Before we jump in, let’s define a POV character. It’s your main character. The one telling the story. You might have one or two or three depending on your genre. But unless you’re George R.R. Martin, be careful not to have too many. But that’s another post.

Sometimes it’s hard for writers to remember that their characters are supposed to feel like actual people to the reader. At least that’s the idea—to make a character so real, the reader can imagine living in their world. Better yet, living in their head.

I’d like to point out here that actual people, in general, don’t have psychic or omniscient abilities. They’re not mind readers, and they’re not gods, unless that’s part of your story world. If it is, feel free to check out here. If it isn’t, stay with me.

Two Rules To Stay Focused

You can go really deep when it comes to POV. There’s a lot of information, dos and don’ts, tips and tricks. It can be overwhelming. But if you start with two rules, you’ll almost always get it right.

Rule #1

While you’re writing, put yourself in the scene and become your POV character.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Imagine you’ve literally stepped into your character’s skin. Then keep that in mind as you take the movie running through your head and translate it onto the page.

If you are your character, this means in each scene “you” can only:

  • see what your character sees
  • hear what your character hears
  • smell what your character smells
  • tase what your character tastes
  • feel what your character feels
  • know what your character knows

This holds true whether you’re writing in first person (I) or third person (he/she). And if you have multiple POV characters, you will become multiple people as the point of view switches from scene to scene. Sometimes it helps to take a minute to really get into a particular character’s head. That’s okay. Give yourself that time. It will make the writing process that much smoother.

Rule #2

Don’t let your character do anything you (as a real person) can’t do.

This one is a little more involved. Let’s try to make it simple. The idea is to hold your POV character accountable as a “real person.” And that isn’t always easy. Below are some questions that can help you dig deep into POV. 

Remember, you are your main character. So if you, as a real person, answer “no” to the questions below, your character has to answer “no” as well. Spoiler alert: the answer to every question below is going to be “no.”

Examples:

  • Can you see your own expression?

I had a sparkle in my eye. / She had a sparkle in her eye.

Unless you’re looking in the mirror or experiencing an astral projection moment, the answer is “no.”

  • Do you generally notice how you’re speaking?

“My tone was one of condescension.” / “His tone was one of condescension.”

We don’t often think about how we’re speaking. Sometimes that gets us in trouble when others take our tone the wrong way.

Side Note: you (as your character) can choose to be deliberate about speech. That’s different. It’s purposeful. A conscious choice. It looks something like this:

I made sure to pour on the condescension. / He made sure to pour on the condescension.  

  • Would you refer to yourself as “the girl,” “the boy,” “the naive child,” “Jim’s wife,” or anything else that distances you from yourself? This is mostly an issue when you’re writing in third person.

You could say: Myron handed the baby to me. Myron handed the baby to her.

I would think of myself as “me” in first person and “her” in third person. And so would your character.

But you can’t say: Myron handed the baby to his mother.

I wouldn’t call myself “his mother” in first or third person. This is an omniscient, eye-in-the-sky view, not a personal, I’m-in-the-character’s-head, I-am-the-character view.

I hope you see that the examples above are things you (as your POV character) would not observe about yourself. They’re things you would observe about someone else. Someone outside of yourself. Someone who is not you (as your POV character).

So, let’s move onto more things you (as your POV character) would observe about someone else.

Examples:

  • Can you read someone’s mind or know their thoughts?

We can’t say: Hillary hated it when Julie and John argued.

How do you (as the main character) know that? Without any context clues, dialogue, or past experiences, you can’t know and neither can your character.

We can say: Hillary’s eye twitched the same way it had the last time Julie and John argued.

  • Can you discern someone’s motivation without any outside clues?

We can’t say: Hillary hated it when Julie and John argued, so she left the room.

The “movie” in the reader’s head just shows Hillary leaving. There’s no bubble over her head that reads, “I hate it when Julie and John argue, so I’m walking away.”  

We can say: Hillary pushed out her chair, threw her napkin on the table, and yelled over Julie and John’s shouting match, “I’m not listening to this anymore.” Then with a twitch in one eye, she stormed out of the room.  

Why Pay So Much Attention to “The View?”

The point of writing as if you are your character is so that your reader can become your character.

Readers want to live lives that aren’t their own. They want to experience what your character is experiencing. They want an intimate view of someone else’s life. The only way for them to get that is to feel as though they’ve stepped behind that character’s eyes.

The only way for you to set up the framework to make that happen is to write behind the character’s eyes. When it comes to drawing your readers in, “the view” is everything.

For more information on POV, check out my other post P-O-What?

Let’s Talk About It!

As a writer, do you put yourself into your character’s head? Are you willing to try to see the world from their eyes? What are your POV stumbling blocks? What are your POV strengths? Have you thought of POV this way before? Share your tips, tricks, and struggles in the comments, and let’s talk about them.  

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About Lori

An encourager at heart, author, editor, and writing coach Lori Freeland believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s presented multiple workshops at writer’s conferences across the country and writes everything from non-fiction to short stories to novels—YA to adult.

When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head.

You can find her young adult and contemporary romance at lorifreeland.com and her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com. Her book, Where You Belong: a runaway series novella, is currently free on Kindle Unlimited. 

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