The P.O.V. Waltz

“I wonder why I have to have another point of view…” — Harry Nilsson, “P.O.V. Waltz”

As I am working on editing the second TALES OF FORTANNIS anthology, I once again am finding that the biggest problem starting authors have is with Point of View.

I don’t mean the difference between 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person — I assume everyone reading this blog knows what that means — but instead the difference between omniscient POV and limited third person POV.

Some authors can successfully write an omniscient POV, but it’s a rare talent — one most writers don’t have.

Most starting writers don’t even think about the POV, and there’s the problem.

Here, look at this paragraph:

John marched into the room. His anger raged within, like a volcano about to erupt. He stared at Mary, who stepped backwards, scared. She couldn’t help but admire the shirtless Adonis before her, but feared his power. Mary wondered if she could reach the knife in the drawer before John came closer. Fido barked, wanting only to be fed and have someone scratch his ears.

With whom does the reader identify? Is the main character John? Is it Mary? It could even be Fido!

Jumping around from head to head tells the tale, but at a distance, with the reader removed from any one character. It’s clumsy, and often makes the reader have to go back and re-read a section to make sure it is understood. And that is something you definitely don’t want.

“And suddenly the strangest things are happening…” — Nilsson again, “P.O.V. Waltz”

By making each scene take place with a limited third person view — where everything is told from one character’s point of view — you can add drama, suspense, and most importantly get your reader to identify with that character and feel a part of the story.

John marched into the room. His anger raged within, like a volcano about to erupt. He stared at Mary, who backed away. Her eyes scanned his body as she softly licked her lips, and then her view darted to the kitchen. The dog barked once, its tail wagging happily.

This version allows the reader to identify with John. We still get the idea of what Mary is thinking, but through John’s POV. We also know the dog’s bark is friendly without having to analyze the dog’s thoughts.

Whenever there is a scene with your main character, the story should be in that person’s POV. Imagine residing in that character’s head. Descriptions of other characters will be from your protagonist’s POV and may not even be accurate.

Sometimes there will be scenes with minor characters, and then you need to decide whose POV will best tell the story. In my next novel BLOODSUCKERS, the first chapter was originally told from the POV of a senator who is surprised at the arrival of an intruder into his room (who turns out to be a vampire assassin). Later, I rewrote it from the vampire’s POV and the suspense level rose exponentially. It grabs the reader better, lets them know something terrible is about to happen, and also provides the reader with a proper set-up for the way the vampires think and what their plans are.

Later, there is another scene where this same vampire is trying to find the protagonist and is questioning someone. Despite the fact that a previous chapter had been told from her point of view, this chapter is told from the POV of the victim. Why? Because it helps build the suspense once again.

It might be a good exercise to take some of your scenes and rewrite them, telling them from the POV of one of the secondary characters. Even if you don’t end up using it, the practice should tell you something about that secondary character you might not have known before, and can only help make your characters more real to the reader.

Not having a consistent POV is a sure sign that you’re a starting author. If you’re piling up the rejection letters, look to that first — it sure seems common among the stories I have been receiving for my anthology, so I’m sure it’s true elsewhere. Don’t make this mistake!

“I hope it’s not the last time…” — Nilsson again, “P.O.V. Waltz”

Obvious Writing Rules That Aren’t That Obvious

Just because you have a book published does not mean you know everything there is to know about writing. You can always get better.

Since my first novel, I have worked with excellent editors, taken classes from professional authors, attended writer’s conferences, and participated in discussions and panels at conventions. Each one has brought new lessons for me.

And most of these lessons were obvious once I learned them. Each of these came with an “Of course! Why didn’t I see that before!” light bulb attached.

I am now editing a short story collection and have discovered that I am not the only one who was not aware of these obvious rules beforehand … many of the rejected stories were sent back for violating these rules.

So here are my five Obvious Writing Rules that Aren’t That Obvious.snoopy-writing

1. Have a character point of view and don’t change it abruptly. My first two novels were in first person, so that wasn’t an issue, but now that my new novel is in 3rd person, I am paying much more attention to this rule.

Each chapter should be told from a specific character’s point of view. (I imagine the narrator hovering over a specific character and only describing what that character sees, feels, and thinks.) To do otherwise is very jarring to the reader. If you have to switch POV, be sure to make a break somehow to make it clear.

The omnipotent narrator can work, but you’ll find that the story will flow much better by choosing a character for each chapter. And it doesn’t have to be your main character; perhaps this section is told from the point of view of someone meeting your main character, which allows you to better describe your character’s personality quirks and looks (since your main character probably won’t do that).

2. Try not to use words other than “said” and even then, try not to use “said.” And for that matter, steer away from adjectives that describe “said.”

When you use other descriptions (growled, hissed, yelled, screamed, etc.) it can be distracting from the dialog you’re trying to highlight. It should be clear from the dialog.

Better yet, try to avoid “said” whenever possible. Usually, you can indicate who is speaking from the paragraph in other ways.

“Give me that idol!” he screamed angrily.

As opposed to:

His face became red as he pounded his fist on the table. “Give me that idol!”

3. Show, don’t tell! Look at the paragraph above. See how much better the second example is? And it’s obvious who is saying it — you don’t need to add “he said” at the end.

When I’m working on my second draft, I go back and make sure that I am showing, not telling. Maybe it’s my legal training, but I imagine myself cross examining a character:

“He was mad.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, his face turned red and he pounded his fist on the table.”

4. Trust the reader. You don’t have to spell out your plots completely. The bad guy doesn’t have to detail his evil plan. It should become obvious sooner or later anyway.

Admittedly, I kind of knew this all along. In fact, in my first novel, I even make fun of the “bad guy monologuing” cliche.

But it applies to all parts of your writing. Don’t dumb down the story; the readers will get it. Don’t explain that someone was happy or sad or angry — show it instead and the reader will get it. You don’t have to spell out what’s going on like some bad made-for-TV movie.

5. If you’re skimming over your own work, so will your readers. Leave out the boring parts. You don’t need to describe every detail of the room, or of the main character’s face. The reader will fill that in themselves.

These, then, were the five rules that made me go “Of course!” These are not the only rules for writing, just the ones that hit me recently. There are many other rules that I already knew, and I’m sure there are more I have yet to learn. (And I may come back to visit these in more detail later.)

And, of course, a final disclaimer: There really are no rules in writing. If it works, it works.

%d bloggers like this: