Point of view, or POV, can be tricky. POV can be defined as the character(s) through whose eyes readers experience the story.
Usually, the POV character is the main character, but that’s not always the case. Once you decide which character will be telling the story, you’ll also need to decide if it will be in first person (I) , second person (you), or third person (he, him, she, her). Only you, as the writer, can determine how best to tell the story, and which character needs to tell it. If you decide that more than one character needs to tell the story (mysteries and romances often employ more than one character POV) you’ll be using multiple POV.
First, you need to decide which character needs to tell the story and then how to best tell that story. To help you determine this, you can ask yourself which character grows and changes the most. Usually, that’s the best character to tell the story. If you’re unsure, try writing the first few scenes from different character’s viewpoints and experiment between first, second, and third person. (Most writers shy away from second person because it presents such a difficult voice).
Once you know who is telling the story, and why that character is telling it, you can start writing your novel. However, you need to be very careful that you don’t slip into the wrong POV. Unless you’re using omniscient (all-knowing, all-seeing), your character can only relate what he/she sees, hears, feels, thinks, remembers. If you find yourself describing what another character feels, sees, thinks, hears, knows, or remembers, you’ve had a POV shift.
Jenny felt scared. She didn’t know where the noise was coming from and she feared it was the intruder. She looked over at her best friend, Angie, who was remembering when someone broke into her house. Warning: POV shift! If it’s in Jenny’s POV, she can’t know what Angie is remembering unless Angie communicates that to her somehow. If you’re in Jenny’s POV, you can only know what Jenny knows. Otherwise you’re head-hopping (or in omniscient).
It’s easy to slip out of POV when you first begin to write. Beware. As you write, ask yourself, “Can this character see, hear, know, remember, think, or feel this?” If not, you’ve slipped out of POV and need to rewrite it.
Rebecca Talley grew up in Santa Barbara, CA. She now lives in rural CO on a small ranch with a dog, a spoiled horse, too many cats, and a herd of goats. She and her husband, Del, are the proud parents of ten multi-talented and wildly-creative children. Rebecca is the author of a children’s picture book “Grasshopper Pie” (WindRiver 2003), three novels, “Heaven Scent” (CFI 2008), “Altared Plans” (CFI 2009), and “The Upside of Down” (CFI 2011), and numerous magazine stories and articles. Her newest novel, Aura, was released in 2012. You can visit her blog at www.rebeccatalleywrites.blogspot.com.
3 thoughts on “Beware of POV Shifts by Rebecca Talley”
The example given was within one paragraph. Can POV change in different paragraphs or chapters?
You can change POV from chapter to chapter. If you change POV within the same chapter, you need to set it off with a scene break so the reader knows it’s a new POV. Otherwise, it feels like head-hopping.
Thanks for the tips. POV has been the bain of my writing. How do you decide if the POV is a character or an all-knowing narrator. Is there a minimum/maximum number of characters that determines this? I’ve become ultra-aware of POV as I read and find authors injecting thoughts and feelings from one character when I thought it was suppose to be the POV of another. I wonder if it’s just poor writing on the author’s part or if I missed something. In other words, is there a defining line between character POV and all-knowing POV?
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