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Posts Tagged ‘writing proper P.O.V.’

Fiction: That Pesky Point of View

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. However, my excellent critique group zeros in on 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 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 story is best presented 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 rarely are two P.O.V.s presented 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’ve 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’ve 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.

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

If you compare both examples, you’ll 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 incorrect. 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 by a traditional company.

In the second sample, you see 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

http://www.montrosebible.org

http://www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

http://www.marshahubler.com\

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September 15, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Two: Switching Viewpoints in the Same Scene

 

In this series of blogs, we’re going to make our way through all twelve of these common mistakes us writers of fiction must tackle to perfect our writing and get our manuscript publishing ready. In my last blog we discussed Mistake Number One in writing fiction, Too Much Description and Narration. So let’s have a look at Switching Viewpoints in the Same Scene.

Point of view is a technique all fiction writers must master to write effectively. The point of view choices when writing any genre and the difficulty involved in writing the P.O.V. correctly are directly correlated to the “person” in which the author decides to write:

First person – fiction and nonfiction (including “how-to” books and devotionals)

Example: In reading the book of Job, I found that God is ready to console me through my troubles.

Second person – nonfiction (including helps books, “how-to” books, and devotionals)

Example: When baking a cake, you must remember to turn the oven on and allow it to pre-heat before you put the cake batter in to bake.

Third person – most fiction is written in this P.O.V.

Example: Cyrus entered his dog Hunter in a dog show in the Obstacle Course event. Cyrus has won all kinds of blue ribbons with that amazing Scottie. “I love working with this dog,” he told a newspaper reporter in a recent interview. He’s really special.” And he’s special to me even if he hadn’t won any ribbons.

Omniscient – fiction in which the author presents the P.O.V. as though the reader is watching everything happening, but no characters’ P.O.V. is ever presented.

Example: Betty, Jean, Mary, and Sally decided to take a trip to Florida. Betty decided to drive, Jean collected coupons for restaurants, Mary reserved hotel rooms, and Sally chipped in a few hundred bucks for gas. (No thoughts of any character ever appear in the story.)

Because much fiction is written in the third person, we’re going to concentrate on that P.O.V. and how to avoid “messing up” by writing two different P.O.V.’s in the same scene. Let’s look at a few samples of writing P.O.V. incorrectly:

Example One:

Fred came home late from work on Thursday, hoping beyond hope that Chloe would have supper still warm for him. But I wouldn’t blame her if it’s all put away. I forgot to call her, he remembered as he went in the front door. “Hi, honey! I’m home!” he said.

Chloe came trudging into the living room, her hair disheveled, her clothes covered with dirt and grass stains. “What a day I had! The washer broke, Sammy fell and got a bloody lip, and I just slipped and fell out back when I tried to chase the neighbor’s dog out of the yard.” And Fred, you better not say a word about no supper on the table!

Can you analyze this little excerpt and see two points of view? There’s nothing more confusing to a reader than to try to get inside two or three different characters’ heads in the same scene. So how do we fix this point of view problem in this excerpt? Easy! Just delete one of the characters’ thoughts and concentrate on getting into the head of only one character per scene.

Here’s the same scene in the correct P.O.V.:

Fred came home late from work on Thursday, hoping beyond hope that Chloe would have supper still warm for him. But I wouldn’t blame her if it’s all put away. I forgot to call her, he remembered as he went in the front door. “Hi, honey! I’m home!” he said.

Chloe came trudging into the living room, her hair disheveled, her clothes covered with dirt and grass stains. “What a day I had! The washer broke, Sammy fell and got a bloody lip, and I just slipped and fell out back when I tried to chase the neighbor’s dog out of the yard.”

Oh, brother! Fred thought. I better not say a word about any supper, or I’ll be in the neighbors’ dog house!

Let’s look at another example:

Example Two:

Bruce always thought Tammy, the sophomore gal who sat next to him in chemistry class, was the most beautiful girl he had ever met. His heart raced like a horse to the finish line whenever he smelled her sweet perfume and looked into her baby blues. Yes, Bruce was lovesick.

But Tammy, on the other hand, found Bruce to be just another ordinary guy and no one she’d ever want to date. Oh, sure, he was cute, but she never really thought of him as “her type.”

Now, in this example, we’ve not “gotten into the head” of either character to see his or her direct thoughts; however, the way the passage is written portrays to us Bruce’s thoughts and Tammy’s thoughts without direct quotes. Again, we have two P.O.V.s in the same scene, which only cause confusion to the reader.

Now let’s look at how we fixed this P.O.V. problem here:

Bruce always thought Tammy, the sophomore gal who sat next to him in chemistry class, was the most beautiful girl he had ever met. His heart raced like a horse to the finish line whenever he smelled her sweet perfume and looked into her baby blues. Yes, Bruce was lovesick.

But Bruce felt, just from her vibes, that Tammy probably thought of him as just another ordinary guy and no one she’d ever want to date. Did she think he was cute? Bruce could only hope, but he had the feeling that she believed he wasn’t “her type.”

Okay, writer friends, there you have it. The pesky P.O.V. problem and how to fix it in a very, very short lesson. Hopefully, you’ve already mastered the P.O.V. technique. If not, I hope this blog has been of some help to you.

Next time, we’ll look at Common Fiction Mistake Number Three: A Negative Tone Throughout the Story.

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