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Posts Tagged ‘P.O.V. in fiction’

Today’s Writers’ Tip: Point of View in Fiction

Marsha Hubler

Over my twenty-year writing career, I have met many newbies to the fiction writing world who have struggled with one particular component, the mastery of which is essential to cranking out a “good” piece of fiction, whether it be a short story or novel.

I remember in my early writing days that I also struggled for a short period of time with P.O.V. as I developed my characters and gave them their proper place in my fiction works. Then the light bulb went on, and I figured out how to use the P.O.V. correctly.

Now don’t get me wrong. Even to this day I still slip up once in a while, but my crack critique group zeros in on some of my P.O.V. boo boos and helps me get it right. Slipping in and out of different P.O.V.s is extremely easy to do whether you’re a newbie or an experienced writer. Thus, mostly because of a request from a close writer friend, I’m reviewing the proper use of P.O.V. today.

Learning to use P.O.V. effectively involves two gold nuggets of information. The first one is that, as the writer, you MUST put yourself in your character’s head and see everything through that character’s eyes. If you can remember that one rule of engagement, you’ll never have trouble with P.O.V. again. Jump into your story and become that character!

The second most important rule is that a writer should have only one character’s P.O.V. in a short story or per scene in a book manuscript. With kiddie lit and juvenile fiction, the entire manuscript is best accepted from one character’s P.O.V. through the entire book. Of course, there are always exceptions, but children want to enjoy a good story and usually “become” the main character in a short story or children’s book. So staying with one P.O.V. in children’s works, especially for younger children, is essential. With adult fiction, some best-selling authors often skillfully present up to 10 or 15 different P.O.V.s, but they will NEVER present more than one in the same scene.

I’m going to give you an example of a short scene with three different main characters. The first scene uses P.O.V. incorrectly. The second example is the same scene rewritten with the proper use of P.O.V. Analyze each example and determine how the P.O.V. is used, then check out your own fiction work. Revise, revise, revise and keep working on that P.O.V.

 

Example One:

Sitting directly across from John, two young ladies reached for a tray of butter rolls in the center of the table. While John forked his mashed potatoes, he studied the girls in their white prayer kapps and Sunday-best dresses and the “awkward” situation that had developed. He bit his lip to suppress the urge to burst out laughing.  For a moment, the gals held on to the tray as though it were glued to their hands.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Sweet, kind Katrina Shoffler was the first to pull away. But I made those rolls, just for you, John! Oh, how I wish you knew how I felt about you. John smiled at Katrina as their eyes met, and she slid back into her chair. Her face with drab brown eyes and granny glasses, framed by mousy brown hair, turned bright red. She looked away from John, gave her glasses a quick poke, and nervously sipped her drink. But her kind heart and baked goods sure do make up for her plain looks, John mused as he took a bite of ham.

“I have got the tray,” Mandie Kauffman said as she tried to discreetly pull it from the other girl’s hand and move it toward John. I’m going to win you yet, John, if the other girls around here would just back off! Long black eyelashes fluttering, she gazed longingly at John while she brushed back a strand of loose jet-black hair and wrapped it around her ear. Ambitious Mandie, John thought. With her most attractive looks and urge to succeed, she just might be able to start that business she has got her eye on. And maybe she will get the husband she is after, to boot!

Crash! Right behind John, Sadie Hunsinger dropped a cup of coffee, and it shattered all over the floor.

 

Example Two:

Sitting directly across from John, two young ladies reached for a tray of butter rolls in the center of the table. While John forked his mashed potatoes, he studied the girls in their white prayer kapps and Sunday-best dresses and the “awkward” situation that had developed. He bit his lip to suppress the urge to burst out laughing.  For a moment, the gals held on to the tray as though it were glued to their hands.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Sweet, kind Katrina Shoffler was the first to pull away. Although she had probably made the rolls, Katrina had the gentle spirit of a newborn fawn. She would never deliberately hurt another soul on God’s green earth. John knew that all too well from the time they were sweethearts in first grade at Maple Grove Mennonite School. John smiled at Katrina as their eyes met, and she slid back into her chair. Her face with drab brown eyes and granny glasses, framed by mousy brown hair, turned bright red. She looked away from John, gave her glasses a quick poke, and nervously sipped her drink. But her kind heart and baked goods sure do make up for her plain looks, John mused as he took a bite of ham.

“I have got the tray,” Mandie Kauffman said as she tried to discreetly pull it from the other girl’s hand and move it toward John. Long black eyelashes fluttering, she gazed longingly at John while she brushed back a strand of loose jet-black hair and wrapped it around her ear. Ambitious Mandie, John thought. With her most attractive looks and urge to succeed, she just might be able to start that business she has got her eye on. And maybe she will get the husband she is after, to boot!

Crash! The sound of shattering glass right behind John startled him, and he turned quickly to see red-faced Sadie Hunsinger already bending down to clean up the mess she had made when she dropped her cup of coffee.

************************************************************************

 

Now, if you compare both examples, you will see that in the first sample, we have three different P.O.V.s, not only in the same scene but sometimes in the same paragraph! Also, when the coffee cup shatters, John’s P.O.V. is presented incorrectly. How does he know it’s Sadie who dropped her coffee cup until he turns to look at who, or what, caused the commotion? This type of dysfunctional writing only leads to reader confusion and a rejection slip from the editor to whom you’ve submitted. Nothing written this poorly would ever be published.

In the second sample, you can see that we are inside the head of John, and only John, the entire time. No one else’s thoughts should be included because we are seeing all the action through John’s eyes. When he hears the shattering glass and turns toward the sound, it is at that point that he knows that Sadie dropped her coffee cup because he is seeing what happened for the first time.

So, there you have a quickie analysis of P.O.V. I hope this helps clarify this pesky problem that many of us writers face as we work on our fiction masterpieces.

Next time, we’ll discuss character development and how to give that character of yours some “zap.”

Happy writing!

Marsha

www.marshahubler.com

www.susquehannavalleywritersworkshop.wordpress.com

Attention!If any of you are interested in receiving a brochure for our Susquehanna Valley Writers Workshop in central Pennsylvaniaon October 7th and 8th, please email me, marshahubler@wildblue.net . I can send you the brochure via email attachment or hard copy.

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