The Secret Ingredient for POV Magic—Capture Your Reader & Never Let Go

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Kristen has foolishly graciously handed her blog over to me today while she is recovering from the flu and is locked up in her NaNoWriMo cave.

But Marcy! I don’t want to go on the cart! 

*swats Kristen*

If she hits her word count, we can slide a gluten-free brownie to her through the bars later to get rid of the taste of that horrible Mucinex.

But I feel HAPPY! I think I can go for a walk!

Um, one minute. *hushed voice* Fine, you don’t have to go on the cart but get off Facebook and back to writing and let me do the blog for you so you can rest and write. Okay?

But I just—

Cart? *stern face*

Yes ma’am. But could you please get Jami Gold to stop tweeting BRING OUT YOUR DEAD! It’s freaking me out. I think she has it automated with my name in it.

If you would get off Twitter and write, Jami wouldn’t be bothering you, would she?

*sticks out tongue and slinks off with blankie* I WANT BROWNIES! *slams door*

Oh, sorry about that. She’ll be fine. Where were we?

Since Kristen is in captivity, that means no one is around to stop us, so I think it’s time to pull back the wizard’s curtain and reveal a secret to POV. For those who may not know, POV stands for point of view and almost always should be limited to one character at a time or things get very confusing.

Why POV is vital for your story is this is how you are going to slip your reader ever so subtly into the skin of your characters. Get your readers so comfortable they never want to leave. When we make POV errors? It shatters the fictive dream. That is why getting really good at POV is vital. We must maintain the magic.

Here’s the secret that a lot of writers don’t realize about POV.

Many point-of-view errors are simply the flip side of telling rather than showing.

What is telling when we’re writing about our viewpoint character becomes a POV error when we’re writing about a non-viewpoint character. So if we understand the difference between telling and showing, we’ll be better prepared to also spot point-of-view errors.

It’s almost as cool as being able to juggle plates while circling a hula hoop. (Actually, I’d settle for being able to do either of those alone. Tips anyone?)

Let me give you a little refresher on showing and telling first before I explain how telling and POV errors are dopplegangers.

Showing vs. Telling

Showing happens when we let the reader experience things for themselves, through the perspective of the characters. It presents evidence to the reader and allows them to draw their own conclusions, while telling dictates a conclusion to the reader, telling them what to believe. Telling states a fact.

Bob was angry dictates a conclusion. It’s telling.

But what was the evidence?

Bob punched his fist into the wall. (This is showing.)

The Black Plague ravaged the country dictates a conclusion. It’s telling.

But what was the evidence?

We could describe men loading dead bodies covered in oozing sores onto a wagon. Our protagonist could press a handkerchief filled with posies to her nose and mouth as she passes someone who’s drawing in ragged, labored breaths. Either of those details, or many others, would show the Black Death ravaging the country.

(If you want to learn more about showing and telling, you might want to take a look at another post I wrote for Kristen about How Star Trek Helps Us with Showing Rather than Telling.)

So How Does This Help Us Catch POV Errors Again?

POV errors happen any time we’re in a limited point of view where we’re supposed to stay inside one viewpoint character at a time and we write something that our viewpoint character couldn’t know, wouldn’t have experienced, or wouldn’t be thinking about.

At first this doesn’t sound like it has much of anything to do with showing vs. telling. Which means it’s time for some examples so we can see it in action. I’ll put the POV error/telling parts of our examples in bold.

Eric was too angry to listen to any more.

When Eric is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’ve told the reader that he’s angry. We haven’t shown his anger.

When Eric isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. Our viewpoint character can’t know that Eric is too angry to continue to listen.

Let’s look at another one.

Kate realized she’d locked her keys in the car.

When Kate is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’re dictating a conclusion to the reader. What do you experience? We can’t see “realized.” We don’t know how she knows her keys are locked in the car. There’s no picture here.

If Kate isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. How does our viewpoint character know what Kate is realizing?

A version of this that I see all the time in my editing work is something like:

He thought about that for a minute.

If he’s our viewpoint character, we’ve told the reader he’s thinking, but we’re not showing them the content of his thoughts.

If he’s not our viewpoint character, there’s no way the viewpoint character can know what he’s thinking about or even that he’s thinking at all.

Final one.

Elizabeth went to the woodshed to get the axe.

When Elizabeth is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’re told why she planned to go to the woodshed, but we don’t see her actually get the axe.

When Elizabeth isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. Our viewpoint character can’t know for sure why Elizabeth went to the woodshed. Maybe she was going in there to cry. Or maybe she planned to crawl out the back window and run away.

One of the things I love most about writing is how everything we learn works together. When we get better at one part of writing, other parts start to slide into place as well.

*COUGH COUGH COUGH*

Yes, it’s Kristen. Just give me a sec before Marcy boots me out. As an editor POV is a HUGE deal. So many new writers screw this up and if you mess up POV your reader will be left feeling like she’s been strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl. What is REALLY insidious about POV is, unless you get some training? You won’t see it because you are the creator.

So what often happens is we end up with a bunch of bored or ticked off readers who couldn’t keep in the story but even they can’t articulate WHY. Guarantee you very often the problem was POV. It one of THE most COMMON blunders even I see when I edit.

So please check out Marcy’s book and class because she is a ROCKSTAR at teaching this stuff. And now I am going back in my hole.

I WANT BROWNIES! *slams door*

Need More Help With Point of View?

Check out my book Point of View in Fiction. Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand or fall.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 7.26.00 AM

In Point of View in Fiction, you’ll learn how to choose the right POV for your story, how to avoid POV errors, how to choose the right viewpoint character for each scene, how to know how many viewpoint characters to use, and much more.

Itís available in print and ebook format and most places (so you can grab it from Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks, or Barnes & Noble).

Add some LIVE teaching to go WITH that book. I’m running a W.A.N.A. International Webinar How to Master Point of View on Friday, November 20 so sign up and learn how to make story MAGIC!

The webinar will be recorded and made available to registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience.

Click here to sign up for How to Master Point of View.

Thank you Marcy!

I LOVE hearing from you, especially when I have guests which is why all comments on guest posts get double-suck-up points. Hey, Marcy is doing me a solid because yes, I am on the mend from the flu, but I still had/have the flu and Hubby is lucky he is cute for getting me sick.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

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  1. #1 by thewriteedge on November 11, 2015 - 8:54 am

    It’s so easy to make some of these errors and think we’re still in the minds of our POV character. Thank you for the clear-cut examples!

    (Psst, Kristen, did you get your brownies? :>)

    As for the hula hoop, it’s all in the hip motion. Thank you!

    • #2 by Author Kristen Lamb on November 11, 2015 - 10:24 am

      Not yet *lip quivers*

      • #3 by thewriteedge on November 11, 2015 - 10:33 am

        Maybe if you get down on your hands and knees..? And threaten to reveal terrible secrets?

  2. #4 by conniecockrell on November 11, 2015 - 9:30 am

    Thanks, Marcy. This is something I’ve been focusing on in this NaNo WIP. Appreciate the reminders!

  3. #5 by sfarnell on November 11, 2015 - 9:49 am

    Hi Marcy, this is sometimes hard to get right, especially when you leave a piece of work for a while or you lose track, but it turns something good into something a bit crappy.
    As for Kristen, give here the brownies! Keep that girl going!! Go Kristen!!🙂

  4. #6 by ugiridharaprasad on November 11, 2015 - 9:54 am

    Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  5. #7 by Lisa Orchard on November 11, 2015 - 9:55 am

    Great post! Thanks for the tips!

  6. #8 by sharonhughson on November 11, 2015 - 10:29 am

    Thanks for the insight, Marcy. I had never actually made the connection between telling and POV errors. Now, I’ll probably see them everywhere. And as long as I’m not making them in my own writing, I guess we’re golden😉

  7. #9 by ShawnM on November 11, 2015 - 10:51 am

    Thank you Marcy. I can’t contain Kristen alone. you know, it takes a village…

  8. #10 by Nan Sampson on November 11, 2015 - 10:59 am

    Oh bother. I can see some of this “telling” in the scene I just fast drafted. Great blog, Marcy, thanks! Gonna have to grab that book of yours. Kristen – hope you’re on the mend soon. And if I could, I’d send you some Brownies! Thanks, y’all!

    • #11 by marcykennedy on November 11, 2015 - 1:11 pm

      I wouldn’t worry about them too much when you’re fast drafting. That’s all about getting words down on the page. You can always come back during editing and fix them🙂

  9. #12 by Carol Ann Erhardt on November 11, 2015 - 10:59 am

    Wow! Great info. And I thought I had POV mastered. Not so. So how would you rewrite the character went to the shed to get the axe? Maybe say something about what she sees on the way, describe the protest of the door opening, and how her hands feel closing on the axe handle? I am heading off to get your book! And, please stop Kristen’s temper tantrum and give her the brownies! Loved the post, Marcy.

    • #13 by Ellen Seltz on November 11, 2015 - 12:24 pm

      Well, that would turn her into a POV character. If she wasn’t supposed to be, then your POV character would just see her leave and wonder what she wanted in the shed, or notice she was gone and be looking for her, etc. Either way is a much stronger setup for what she does with the axe when she returns!

      • #14 by Carol Ann Erhardt on November 11, 2015 - 1:10 pm

        Yes, I was looking at it as the character being the POV character.

    • #15 by marcykennedy on November 11, 2015 - 1:14 pm

      If she’s the POV character, there are a lot of ways you could do it depending on what your character wants the axe for and what her personality is like. Here’s one possible way:

      Elizabeth went to the woodshed and yanked the axe from where it hung on the wall. She stormed back to the stump, ignoring George’s I’d-like-to-see-you-try smirk. She swung with all her strength and cleaved the stump in two. Take that, George. She didn’t need any man’s help to survive.

      • #16 by Carol Ann Erhardt on November 11, 2015 - 6:14 pm

        Thanks, Marcy. So it is okay if you are in character’s POV to say: She went to the woodshed, but in order to keep in POV then show what she does when she reaches the shed. But just to write Elizabeth went to the woodshed to get the axe isn’t correct in the character’s POV without showing her actions. I can sometimes think too much. Stuffing one of Kristen’s brownies in my mouth.

  10. #17 by thelonelyauthorblog on November 11, 2015 - 11:42 am

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  11. #18 by DM Watson on November 11, 2015 - 11:57 am

    Reblogged this on My Passion's Pen and commented:
    Makes a ton of sense that when readers struggle to enjoy the story but can’t explain why usually means there’s a POV issue.

    Terrific advice!

  12. #19 by Steph Beth Nickel's Blog on November 11, 2015 - 12:05 pm

    That is one super fantastic prize! Thinkin’ I may have to link to your blog from mine . . . and dust off my virtual copy of Marcy’s book(s) and get busy reading. Bonus points?😀

  13. #20 by Ellen Seltz on November 11, 2015 - 12:20 pm

    Another magical thing about cleaning up your POV is that it instantly raises tension and stakes in a scene. I’ve had bits I thought were bland but necessary go straight to Technicolor just by fixing POV. Magic, I tell you!

  14. #21 by Southpaw, HR Sinclair on November 11, 2015 - 1:19 pm

    That last one is a tricky one. Better keep my eyes peeled for that one sneaking in.

    Kristen I hope you feel better AND get your brownies.

  15. #22 by Parlor of Horror on November 11, 2015 - 1:37 pm

    One of my problems is I like to write using an omnipresent POV – changing POV for different scenes – sort of like a movie. So editors have told me to make sure I distinctly let the reader know ‘whose head we are in’ when I change POV. I’ve had quite a bit of success getting my short stories published but this year decided to try for some of the higher and top tier magazines with little success. Could my POV changes be keeping me from achieving my higher goal?

  16. #23 by Kessie on November 11, 2015 - 1:52 pm

    Yeah, I make a ton of these when I’m fast-drafting. One puzzle I haven’t yet figured out is that in this story, the guy’s soul is inside the girl, so she has “inside information” about how he’s feeling. So she can tell when he feels angry, but it’s in her POV. I’m going to have to be really careful in edits.

  17. #24 by Amy on November 11, 2015 - 3:37 pm

    Thank you. I think I have a lot to learn based on what I just read!

  18. #25 by Kate Johnston on November 11, 2015 - 5:03 pm

    I really can’t stand POV shifts (or head-hopping, as a teacher called it once); they are one of my big writing pet peeves. When I coach other writers, I look out for these problems, because they are so slippery and get right by us if we’re not careful. But I have to say, many big-time authors make it difficult to state the case against POV shifts. I notice many authors of fantasy series in particular get away with head-hopping a lot.

  19. #26 by Monique Desir on November 11, 2015 - 7:10 pm

    Reblogged this on adaratrosclair and commented:
    Delightful read. Well executed advice.🙂

  20. #27 by Michael K. Eidson on November 11, 2015 - 11:59 pm

    I’ve just added to my writer’s toolbox a great tool for finding POV errors. Thanks, Marcy! Get well, Kristen!

  21. #28 by katkent2014 on November 12, 2015 - 12:50 am

    Awesome post on POV, Marcy. You provided great examples to follow. My writing increased ten fold once I learned about anchoring my character’s POV and showing from one perspective (not head hopping).

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Kristen.

  22. #29 by katkent2014 on November 12, 2015 - 1:33 am

    Reblogged this on writersback and commented:
    Great post about POV and capturing your reader.

  23. #30 by Dan Frost on November 12, 2015 - 3:53 pm

    Do I get double suck-up points if I actually bought a book.
    (Can’t believe I done that.)

  24. #32 by Patrick on November 12, 2015 - 7:05 pm

    This is a great article. Filtering is one of those insidious things that makes you think you are doing your job right as the writer, because you feel like your are in the the characters head and providing their POV but really you are just adding adding a barrier between the reader and the story.

  25. #33 by The Meandering Matriarch on November 13, 2015 - 7:07 am

    It’s a great reminder, even for experienced writers. Just now bought the book. Now, back to NaNoWriMo…

  26. #34 by kdrose1 on November 13, 2015 - 8:53 pm

    Wonderful stuff as usual.

  27. #35 by kdrose1 on November 13, 2015 - 8:54 pm

    Reblogged this on authorkdrose.

  28. #36 by Ciara Darren on November 14, 2015 - 12:11 pm

    Gluten free brownies…..yum. I’ll avoid any point of view incase there’s someone here who can’t have them. *trots towards the kitchen and shuts the door*!

  29. #37 by TheFleaMarketeerWriter on November 14, 2015 - 2:30 pm

    I have always been conscious of this error and it is a pet peeve of mine in my writing. Now I’m even more paranoid now that I know it’s a recurring problem. Thanks for the informative post! I’m off to re-edit my work (for the fiftieth time), though someone told me not to over edit yourself. Is there damage in reading over your work too often?

  30. #38 by authormariagrace on November 14, 2015 - 9:12 pm

    I have programmed a macro in word to flag every filtering word I could find. I use when I’m working on editing my manuscripts. Nothing like seeing a document light up with those words to help you remember not to use them.

  31. #39 by emilyardenauthor on December 5, 2015 - 2:18 am

    Reblogged this on Emily Arden, author and commented:
    POV? Important tips here about juggling (and not misusing) points of view.

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