EGWG Writing Class #3
Point of View
A few years ago, Linda Bradley, a member of our Sr. Center Writer’s Group, introduced a paper on Point of View at a Monday meeting and sent us into a real learning curve. As a result, a few of us had some rewriting to do. Thank you, Linda, for introducing us to a critical element in the Craft of Writing. In today’s literary world, editors and publishers may reject manuscripts with Point of View mistakes.
Point of View (POV): These three little letters can be the bane of every writer’s journey. Loretta Sinclair (www.sinclairinkspot.com/the-impossibilities-blog) says, “If I am a character in your story, and a black widow is crawling across my back, I can’t know it.” WHY?
Let’s Get Started:
What is POV?
Merriam Webster defines POV “as a position or perspective from which something is considered or evaluated: A standpoint.”
The internet says, “In Literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem or essay.”
When you read, you “hear” a voice.” For example, in the book narrative, the voice says:
It was June, 1967, when Liz parked her old Chevy in front of the house. Anxiety and the stifling heat caused sweat to trickle between her full breasts.
The writer just helped you perceive the scene.
Or in dialog, you “hear” a character say:
“I’m leaving for good. I’ve had enough.”
You just “heard” the character provide her standpoint (or her viewpoint.)
Some authors of “How to Write” books, list as many as 26 types of point of view. This class is going to cover three major types – first, second and third-person.
Let’s get started:
First-person POV – Writing Tips:
- The pronouns of the character in this POV are “I, me, my, us, we, our.”
The writer remains inside one POV character(POVC) throughout the story. This POV is best suited for writing a memoir. The writer expresses other characters’ opinions/thoughts in dialog.
- Information or events outside the POVC’s experience must be told to him by another character or be discovered in some way. The POVC can’t know anything that happens while he is not present, AND if the POVC doesn’t know about it, the writer can’t write about it.
In a fit of rage, I threw my laptop against the wall, not knowing that Penny had slipped into the classroom.
What’s wrong with that sentence?
The problem is, if “I” didn’t know Penny was in the classroom, the writer can’t write about it.
Here’s a rewrite:
In a fit of rage, I threw my laptop against the wall.
“Hey, you could have hurt someone,” Penny yelled.
“I spun around, instantly regretting my loss of temper.
- Internal thoughts can be expressed in italics.
Example: I knew the man was going to kill the chicken. I’m not watching that.
The POVC can only express her reactions and feelings about information she has gathered through the 5 senses(see, hear, smell, taste, touch).
I’m angry that Jeb stole my motorcycle. He said he wanted one. (Did she see or hear Jeb steal it?)
I heard a sound and looked out my bedroom window. Jeb was stealing my motorcycle.
Ah! That’s better. The writer let the POVC “show” the reader that she heard and saw Jeb stealing the motorcycle.
- The POVC can’t know what’s on her face or clothes unless she can see, smell, touch, taste, or hear it.
Her mascara was blazing a trail towards her chin.
Something wrong with that sentence?
Rewrite to: When Mary got off the elevator, the friendly night watchman pulled her aside, “Mary, your mascara is blazing a trail to your chin. Who made you cry?”
That’s better. Why? Because Mary didn’t look in the mirror. The writer kept the mascara line in the story and had another character tell her about the mascara.
Second-Person POV—Writing Tips:
- In this POV, the reader is included in the viewpoint and action of the character. Pronouns used are “you” and “your.” It’s a popular style for writing instruction manuals, nonfiction, self-help books, travel articles, and ads. There’s been some fiction written in Second-Person Point of View. However, if gambling isn’t your thing, forget about it. Most editors and publishers don’t like it. If you’re curious, here are two popular Second-Person POV books. Check them out on the internet:
Further instruction on Fiction Writing in Second-Person POV may be taught later in the year, provided we can find a willing instructor.
Third-Person Point of View:
In this POV, the pronouns used are “he, his, she, her, them, they, their” and “it” (if you are writing science fiction or fantasy). Within Third-Person POV, there are several variations:
Third-Person Single POV – Writing Tips:
- This requires the writer to remain inside one character throughout the story. Third-Person Single POV would be best suited for writing a memoir or about someone else’s life.
Events or information outside the POV’s experience must either be told to him by another character or be discovered in some way. The following example further demonstrates this point:
Example: Parker loved playing his saxophone in the neighborhood band, but he didn’t know his rhythm and timing were off.
Hint: Who is saying, “He didn’t know his rhythm and timing were off? ” Is it the writer? Yes, and what’s wrong? The writer knew Parker’s problem, but that Information needs to be told to Parker by another character. Otherwise, it’s author intrusion. The writer is telling, not showing that Parker doesn’t know his rhythm and timing are off.
Here’s a rewrite:
Parker loved playing his saxophone in the neighborhood band, but after the session, Jack said, “Geez, dude. Your timing and rhythm are a little off. Can you stay so we can practice some more?”
How did the writer fix the problem? The writer deleted his “author intrusion” (telling the reader what Parker didn’t know), and resolved the “show don’t tell” issue as well.
- The writer can only express the POVC’s internal thoughts if he gathered the information through the five senses (hear, see, smell, taste, touch) and internal thoughts can be expressed in italics.
Mary heard footsteps on the porch. It had to be George. She was anxious to see him, but he didn’t knock. She didn’t know he was tying his shoes.
Whoops? The writer’s intruded by telling the reader what Mary didn’t know. However, If Mary didn’t know he was tying his shoes, good writing practice says the writer can’t write it.
Mary thought she heard George’s footsteps on the porch, but he didn’t knock. She looked out the window. I don’t believe it. He’s tying his shoes.
What did the writer do to fix the problem? He rewrote the sentence, putting the POVC in direct communication with the reader. Mary’s action, of looking out the window, “showed” the reader why George wasn’t knocking – he was tying his shoes.
- The POVC can’t know what’s on her face or clothes unless she can see, smell, touch, taste, or hear it.
Amy put her lipstick on in a hurry, and drove to work. Later, she went to a meeting, not knowing she had lipstick all over her front teeth and no one said a word about it.
Whose “voice” said, “not knowing she had lipstick all over her teeth?”
Amy put her lipstick on in a hurry, and drove to work. Later, on her break she went to the Ladies Room to freshen up before a meeting. When she looked in the mirror, she discovered she had lipstick all over her front teeth.
Here’s how the writer fixed the POV error. Instead of telling the reader that Amy didn’t know she had lipstick on her teeth, he provided the reader with that information through the POVC’s action of “discovering it” herself when she looked in the mirror. Show don’t tell.
Third-Person Multiple VS Deep POV – Multiple and Deep Points of View both put the reader into the heads of more than one character during the story and both share many best-writing practices. The difference is that from the very first page, Deep POV drops the reader into the POVC’s head, heart and action with a subtle tweak of syntax, not used as often in Multiple POV. If you choose to write in Deep POV, you are not writing about your point of view character. You are writing as your point of view character. If you want to write an engaging fiction that grips readers and doesn’t let go, Third-Person Deep Point of View may be your secret weapon. Learn the following writing tips, and you’ve got both Third-Person Multiple and Deep POV covered, two for one!
Third-Person Deep POV – Writing Tips:
- Know your character. Get to know your POVC in depth. It’s key because the intent of deep POV is to encourage readers to experience the story through a single POVC at a time. Know your POVC’s background and life experiences, personality traits, religious beliefs, economic status, mental and physical health, life skills, habits, and quirks. What major event in his past still affects his reactions to certain stimuli? What unfulfilled dreams does he have? What’s his fear, resentment, weakness, strength and inclinations that underlies the face he shows the world?
For more on Character Development, review your Character Development class handout presented by Penny Clark on 6/19/2019.
- Don’t Head Hop. Head-hopping is jumping into different points of view in one sentence or one scene. There’s nothing as confusing as being in one character’s head, experiencing her thoughts and actions, only to be yanked out and thrust into another character’s thoughts and actions. The reader’s connection to the story is fragile. Head-hopping breaks that connection, and kills the reader’s enthusiasm to finish reading the book.
Max felt the powerful surf threaten to overturn his boat. Jackson gulped hard on the shore, fearful for his friend.
What’s wrong? The writer hopped from Max to Jackson in one sentence.
Here’s a rewrite:
Max felt the powerful surf threaten to overturn his boat. Jackson paced, kicking up sand on the shore, as he yelled, “Max, you’re scaring me. Bring it in to shore. The surf’s too rough.”
What was the writer thinking as he fixed the head-hopping mistake? The writer wanted to keep the reader’s perception that Jackson was a worried, caring friend of the POVC, Max. The writer broke the sentence up into two sentences, left the first sentence alone, and let Jackson, express his feelings in dialog, showing he was afraid for Max.
Jill sat at the kitchen table with a cup of chamomile tea and wrote out a “to do” list for Saturday. The following Sunday, Ron strolled out the gate of Folsom prison. He’d done eight hard years for kidnapping his own kids.
What’s wrong here? Two POV characters in the same scene?
Jill sat at the kitchen table with a cup of chamomile tea and wrote out a “to do” list for Saturday.
The following Sunday, Ron strolled out the gate of Folsom prison. He’d done eight, hard years for kidnapping his own kids.
What did the writer do here, to fix the problem? The writer warned the reader that there was a POVC and scene change by separating the two scenes with asterisks *** .
- Identify the POV Character: Identify the new POV character in the first or second sentence of a scene. Look for the POVC who is perceiving, wondering, thinking, feeling – in the narrative.
Lucille motioned to Liz. “Come on in. Did you have any trouble getting them to sleep?”
The study Liz entered was elegant. On one shelf was her favorite hand-painted carving from Italy. Lucille said she could have it someday.
In the above example, Liz perceived that the study was elegant, and that the carving was her favorite in the second sentence of the scene. Watch for phrases with words like wondered, wanted, believed, questioned, thought, feared.
The sky was black with threatening clouds and people lingered inside the mall, probably afraid to get caught in a deluge of rain. Then an alarm bell went off in the store, and Chelsey froze. It reminded her of another time, a horrible memory. The sales clerk said, “Miss, do you still want to buy this skirt? I need to close up.”
Matt did call. It was Wednesday when her assistant handed her a phone message. She’d been talking to a donor who decreased his gift and her firm needed the donation. Kim called Matt back and he didn’t answer. Just then, Kathy walked back into her office and stared out the window. It was raining and Kathy wanted to talk to Kim.
Who is the POVC in each scene?
- Syntax. Syntax is the arrangement of words into a sentence that makes sense. In the English language, a sentence starts with a subject, then the predicate/verb, and the object. If the subject or verb are missing, the sentence doesn’t make sense. The subject is the person, place, or thing that is performing the action. The Verb expresses the action in the sentence, and the object receives the action of the sentence.
Jake saved the cat.
(Jake is the subject; saved is the action; and cat is the object.)
Note: This sentence still makes sense, even though the object is missing.
- The Deep POV writer manipulates the “syntax” with a few “tricks:” It’s a set of narrative techniques that put the reader into the head, heart and action of the POVC and brings the story alive.
- Author intrusion
Example with author intrusion:
She wished she could whisk back in time and redo the last few minutes.
Here – the author “intrudes” to tell the reader what the POVC is wishing. That puts distance between the POVC and the reader.
Example without author intrusion:
Too bad life didn’t come with an undo button like a word-processing application.
That was the POVC’s thoughts going directly to the reader, eliminating the writer’s “intrusion.”
- Passive VS Active Voice
When the writer writes in a passive voice, he dilutes the reader’s ability to get inside the POVC’s head, heart and action.
Example with Passive Voice:
Her shoulder was crushed by the beam and she screamed.
That almost sounds like a news headline. You can hear the writer talking but where’s the POVC?
Example with Active Voice:
The beam crushed her shoulder. She screamed.
What did the writer do? The writer “manipulated the “syntax” a bit to spice things up a notch. So, in the active example, the beam became the subject and her shoulder became the object. The beam crushed her shoulder – Sounds more immediate, close, personal.
- Overuse of filter/barrier words:
These are words or phrases you tack onto the start of a sentence and show how the world is filtered through the main character’s eyes. Filter words separate the reader from becoming one with the character and the story’s action. When a scene has action and tension in it, filter words slow the pace. Most important – Filter/barrier words “tell” rather than “show.”
With filter phrase – Craig settled outside on the lawn to stargaze. He saw the moon rise overhead.
Without the filter phrase – Craig settled outside on the lawn to stargaze as the moon rose overhead.
What did the writer do? The writer took out the author intrusion, ( He saw), and lets the reader “perceive” the POVC’s experience. The reader knows the POVC is watching the moon rise overhead.
More examples below with two filter words; felt and heard. Notice how they are used and how the changes create more action and intensity.
She felt the wood under her fingers, rough and brittle.
Rough wood broke under my fingers, brittle and dry.
She heard a cracking sound before she felt the room shake violently.
First, a thundering crack in the wall, then the room shook violently.
The rewrites fixed the “show don’t tell” issue with the sentences. Did you notice more action and intensity and the stronger verbs in the rewrites? The reader is “shown” the rough wood and the thundering crack.
Another way to understand this is to imagine you’re watching a play. The curtain goes up, and an actor is playing the scene, drawing viewers in with his words and actions. Then, all of a sudden, a narrator comes on stage, and starts telling the audience what they are seeing, and explaining every action the actor is making. That would “kill” the play. And a reader might set aside the book, losing interest in finishing it.
However, sometimes the writer needs a filter word or phrase for distance. He wants the reader to know that the character “sees” or “hears” or “wonders.”
Example: I could feel the cold draft from the window. This window was the broken one. This is part of the story and the writer needs to let the reader know the POVC is able to “feel” which window was the broken one.
It’s up to the writer to decide when to leave filter/barrier words in. If the filter/barrier words are essential information, he leaves them in. A list of Filter/Barrier words is on page 17 of this handout.
- Overuse of dialog tags:
They’re used to indicate which character is speaking. John said; Robert whispered; Bill replied. Tags like said, or replied are so commonplace, they’re nearly invisible. But some tags, or overuse of common ones, can pull readers out of the story, and really aren’t needed.
Example–out of deep POV:
After an earthquake, she found John on State Street. “Are you OK,” she asked.
“I’m fine,” John answered weakly.
“You don’t look fine,” she chided, examining the gash in his forehead. Just then, the earth began to buckle.
Example—in deep POV:
After the earthquake, she found John on State Street. “Are you OK?
He barely nodded his head, yes. She knelt beside him on the concrete and examined a deep gash on his forehead. “Well you’re not OK. You need stitches.” Just then, the earth began to buckle again.
In the deep POV example, the writer left out all the dialog tags. Does it flow better? Is the reader “closer” to the POVC this way. Does it improve the pace of the story?
- Skip the Italics: In Deep POV, you don’t need to use italics to express your POV character’s internal thought(s), but only with the POV character. Deep POV allows the writer to write like this:
Tom studied the man on the next stool. He’s a loser. It’s written on his face, in his unkempt hair, and on the faded shirt reeking of sweat.
Readers know this is Tom’s opinion. No need for italics.
Here’s another example:
Slivers of light filtered in from somewhere, maybe a window? The extreme pain in her neck prevented her from looking up.
Readers know this is the POVC’s perceptions.
- Limit your POVC’s knowledge: He doesn’t know everything. If your POVC doesn’t know the information, one solution would be to use dialog and have another character provide the information to the POVC.
Paige spent hours looking for her badge. She couldn’t get into work without it and time was running out. Just then, Kevin walked in the door. “Hey, Babe. What are you doing home?”
Paige frowned. I can’t find my badge. Have you seen it?”
“Yeah. I saw it in the bathroom drawer on my side.”
- The POVC can’t know what’s on her face or her clothes unless she can see, smell, touch, taste, or hear it. If the POVC can’t know it, the writer can’t write it.
Kate dressed and put on her favorite earrings to compliment her professional look for the first day on the job. She didn’t know that one of her earrings fell off as she walked into the building.
Kate dressed carefully, and put on her favorite earrings to compliment her professional look for the first day on the job. As she walked into the building, one of her earrings fell off on the sidewalk. Jack Larson, her new boss, was walking behind her. He caught up with her and smiled. “Hi Kate, you might miss this.”
The rewrite eliminated the author intrusion and kept the reader in the head of the POVC.
Remember the spider?
There was a large black tarantula crawling across Jill’s back.
Author intrusion again. He intruded, spilled the beans and spoiled the fun, telling the reader about the spider on Jill’s back.
Robert ran towards her and shouted, “Jill, there’s a big tarantula on your back.”
“Yikes.” Jill froze. “Is he poisonous?”
The writer eliminated his own voice, and let the reader experience Jill’s spider action and reaction.
- Use Internalization:
The Deep POV writer often expresses the POVC’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions as it is happening.
Sudden footsteps outside turned her blood to ice. Muffled voices and laughter, then car doors slammed , an engine roared and tires squealed on what sounded like rocks and gravel. The ensuing quiet settled her for a split second, then reality screamed “action.”
Screw the pain! She had to get away, but how? An adrenalin high fueled her efforts to free her hands, right one first. She pulled the rope towards her with her right hand and the soil loosened.
The writer only included what the POVC perceived, emotional reaction, motivation and response.
- Stay In the POVC’s Character:
Stay in the character’s voice, using dialect, profanity, direct thoughts. If the POVC is the type of person who uses profanity and says the “F” word, the writer writes it in the POVC’s internal thoughts and dialog. Caution – Don’t overdo this.
- Use “Pointing” Words:
Just another subtle shift to keep the reader turning the page.
The mystery began the night before.
The mystery began last night.
Does “last night” sound a tad closer, more immediate, than “the night before?” Use pointing words like: this, that, here, there, now, soon, today, tomorrow, come, go.
- Watch prepositional phrases like these:
He quivered in fear.
Her skin prickled with pleasant excitement.
Rewrite In deep POV:
Fear caused him to quiver.
His touch excited Barbara, and her skin prickled.
The writer tweaked the syntax again. HowWhat did he do? In the top example, he sharpened and intensified the POVC’s experience by getting rid of the Prepositional Phrase, and turning the noun (fear), into the subject of the sentence. In the bottom example, he added more action – by turning the noun(excitement), into a verb. His touch excited Barbara and her skin prickled.
- Third-Person Omniscient POV:
In this POV, the writer tells a story about a cast of characters from an all-knowing position, and avoids head-hopping because the writer becomes an unseen character, and the actions shouldn’t enter the heads of the other characters, leaving the “God-like” writer to describe what is happening. Also, the omniscient writer may share with the reader, details that are beyond any of the characters’ knowledge. The advantage for the writer telling a story in the third-person omniscient POV, is managing the length of a story and the sheer number of characters, like the epic tale “Lord of the Rings.
We may do a more in-depth class on Omniscient POV towards the end of this year.
Here are some prompts for you to convert into Third Person Deep POV. There’s room on the page for you to write. Let’s take 15 minutes for you to work on them. Then you can read what you wrote. Have fun. Discussion with questions and answers afterward.
- Within minutes, the house was demolished by the bulldozer.
- The body was found, but the head and left leg were missing.
- In the middle of the night, the missing woman was found alive and suffering from amnesia.
- Cathy tried to run, but the tornado swooped her up and dropped her into an angry sea of waves near Bodega Bay.
- John saw the little colt was outside the corral, separated from its mother.
Here is a simple checklist to help you find your ideal POV:
Should You Choose First Person Point of View?
- It’s great for writing your own story, like a memoir.
- It can be limiting, because nothing can be heard, seen, or experienced except through the senses of the character telling the story.
- It’s great if you have a story idea about an exceptional or famous character you want to write about, like John McCain or Jeff Bezos.
How about Second Person Point of View?
- Do you want to stand out as writer? Choose a little-used viewpoint as a way of doing that.
- You can be the writer who invites the reader to imagine you are his fictional character.
- Are you a gambler? If not, forget about writing in second-person point of view. Editors and Publishers hate it.
How about Third Person – Single Point of View?
- This would work, if you want to write a story in which you remain inside only one character?
How about Third Person Multiple – Point of view?
- This works. You can write with multiple characters, but be careful not to head-hop. Once you get the basics of POV down, you can write a pretty good story.
Or should you choose Third Person – Deep Point of View?
- Writing in this POV requires the author to write in an active voice by tweaking the syntax which may result in a slight learning curve.
- But – you can slip in and out of Deep POV, when the story calls for a little “distance” in Multiple POV.
- This is a narrative technique that can eliminate author intrusion and cure show-don’t-tell issues.
- You are not writing about the POVC. You are writing as the POVC.
Should you choose Third Person Omniscient?
- Unless you want to tackle writing a magnificent epic tale, like the “Lord of the Rings,” probably not a good idea, especially if this is your first book.
Rewrite Suggestions for Third Person Deep POV Prompts on Page 14
- Within minutes, the house was demolished by the bulldozer. George felt utter despair. Rewrite as:
The bulldozer demolished the house within minutes. George sunk to his knees in despair.
- The body was found, but the head and left leg were missing. Rewrite as:
Here’s the body, but where’s the head … and the left leg. Sgt. Hahn was stumped.
- In the middle of the night, the missing woman was found alive and suffering from amnesia. Rewrite as:
Amongst the dumpster garbage, he recognized the face staring up at him. “Please help me. I can’t remember anything.” It was the missing woman, beat up, and suffering from amnesia.
- Cathy tried to run, but the tornado swooped her up and dropped her into an angry sea of waves near Bodega Bay. Rewrite as:
The tornado swooped Cathy up and dropped her into the angry waves near Bodega Bay. No time to run.
- John saw the little colt outside the corral, separated from its mother. Rewrite as:
The colt paced outside the pasture, separated from its mother. John pulled off the road, and lifted the colt over the fence to its anxious mother.
Here is a summary of 10 POV mistakes covered in this class:
- Know your character.
- Head Hopping.
- Doesn’t identify the POVC within two sentences of the (new)scene.
- Author Intrusion.
- Passive Voice.
- Overuse of Filter/Barrier Words.
- Show and Tell.
- Overuse of Dialog Tags.
- Doesn’t know how to use Italics in Dialog.
- POVC is a “Know-It-All”
- Doesn’t use Internalization.
- Slips in and out of POVC’s voice.
Knowledge is Power. Hope this class was helpful. Any questions? The only dumb question is the one that doesn’t get asked. Feel to ask now or send me an email at [email protected].
LIST OF FILTER/BARRIER WORDS