Point of View has been on my mind lately because I’ve signed up to judge a few RWA chapter contests. I got so much out of contests—I don’t mean finaling or winning—I’m talking about the critiques I got from other authors—oftentimes published. The feedback made me a better writer, and I hope I can do the same for someone else.
In that vein, I want to share the biggest issue in the entries I’ve judged thus far. At least 80% have had problems with POV. And, to be clear, this was my biggest issue when I started entering contests, so I’m coming from a place of understanding and commiseration.
Those awesome historical romances of the 80’s and 90’s like Kathleen Woodiwiss’ A Rose in Winter or Julie Garwood’s The Bride? Yeah, people don’t write like that anymore. Not the content, which is awesome by the way, but the STYLE. It’s called Head Hopping. In other words, in more modern books, the author will spend an entire scene or half a scene in ONE character’s head and then switch. It’s called Deep POV. Had I heard of either when I started writing? Nope. I wrote THREE books (90k+ words each!) head hopping like a jackrabbit on crack.
But staying in your chosen character’s head is only once aspect of mastering Deep POV. The other aspect is…becoming the character. That’s the only way I know how to put it. You should become your hero, heroine, or villain, and describe everything as it filters through your character’s senses.
- This means most of the traditional ‘sense’ words are unnecessary.
Better: The bell rang.
In the first, you are removing the reader from the immediacy of the moment. In the second, the reader is experiencing the bell ringing right along with the heroine.
- Avoid using ‘saw’ (unless you’re writing about a lumberjack…ba-dum-cha!) Anything you describe while in your character’s POV should be things he/she can see.
Better: The man crept out from behind the bush.
- In fact, if you describe something behind your character’s back, you have committed authorial intrusion.
Jack is looking at the bar, not the approaching woman. This is a no-no, unless you’re going for an omniscient POV, which I’ve never attempted and is difficult to pull off convincingly.
- Also, be careful with POV slips, like the heroine describing something about herself she can’t see/know.
I love that passage, but I knew when I wrote it that it was a POV slip. I kept it anyway until my CP (ahem…Fran) told me I couldn’t use it. Wah! Do you see that in my heroine’s POV, she can’t describe her hair as ‘tendrils of flame’? Delete, delete, delete…
- Thought, knew, wondered, and realized are generally unnecessary. If your character is internalizing, then these words are redundant.For example: He thought he might be falling in love.
Better: He might be falling love or He was falling in love.
- The most frequent transgression I've come across in contest entries is overusing the word ‘felt’ as it pertains to feelings. The word ‘felt’ is often a cop-out.
Better: His hands curled into fists, and he shuffled into a fighter’s stance
Instead of stating the feeling, like the first example, push yourself to find a more interesting way to depict the emotion. Using 'felt' does work beautifully sometimes, but really examine every single time you choose to use it and determine if you can make a stronger statement.
All examples, except the one from my WIP, were made up for this post (so don't judge:) RWA University offers courses and bunches of books have been written on the subject of POV.