October 3, 2013

4 Tips to Solve 99% of Your Writing Problems — Guest: Janice Hardy

Underwater picture with text: Dive Deep to Solve Your Writing Problems

I’ve gushed many times about the awesomeness of Janice Hardy’s blog—for good reason. Her writing tips are clear and insightful. She discusses topics more thoroughly than most. And it’s a rare thing when I can’t find an answer to a writing question there.

She’s also a super-fantastic person (I’ve met her in real-life, so I can state that definitively *smile*), and I’m proud to call her one of my best-est writing buddies and an all-around friend. All that said, we kept teasing each other that we’d never guest posted at each other’s blogs.

Ha! I managed to snag her first. And she’s here with a keeper of a post on the secret to better writing (including several of her trademark zombie examples). Please welcome Janice Hardy!


The Secret to Solving 99% of Your Writing Problems — By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I think at some point in their writing journey, every writer goes looking for the “secret” to writing. Is it the perfect writing template? A members-only plot generator? The ultimate list of words to cut from our manuscripts?


It’s point of view.

I’m a huge believer that mastering point of view (POV) will solve 99% of common writing problems. If a writer understands POV, then showing comes naturally, description is easier to write, character goals are clear, the stakes are personal, and thus stories feel more organic.

POV is all about being inside the character. To be inside a character you have to understand that character, and once you understand her, writing her becomes easier.

#1 — It Encourages Showing, Not Telling

When we tell, we’re explaining what’s going on from an author’s perspective. We describe what we see as if we’re describing a movie to a friend. We’re not inside the head of our character looking out, we’re standing behind her explaining her thoughts and actions. A solid POV keeps us from telling what’s there and focuses on what matters to the character (and thus the plot).

Let’s look at an example that’s heavy on the telling:

Jane knew it was a long jump to the roof of the ambulance, but she had no other way to escape the zombies banging against the locked door of the hospital office she was hiding in. She’d planned on using a makeshift rope from the curtains, but nine more zombies in varying stages of decay moaned from the parking lot below, reaching toward her as she tried to figure out what to do next. Missing the ambulance meant certain death, but she had no other option since Bob was depending on her and the med supplies she’d found.

Do you feel there? It’s nothing but explanation, all telling, no showing, and certainly not how Jane would describe this scene. Now let’s get inside Jane’s head and show this same scene:

Jane peeked out the window and stared at the ambulance, ten, maybe fifteen feet away. And all of it down. She’d need more than a leap of faith to hit that mark. Screw that.

She glanced at the door. Another zombie slammed against it, and a crack spiderwebbed through the glass. She swallowed and gripped the backpack full of antibiotics tighter. Hospitals used safety glass, right? Even in the offices?

“Hold it together, girl,” she muttered, yanking the curtains down. Someone else had broken the window ages ago. Had that been safety glass, too? Maybe she didn’t have as much time as she hoped.

The curtains tore easily, even if the strips were uneven. She braided them, tying the braids together and knotting one end around the radiator bolted to the floor. The rope stretched halfway to the ground, but that drop should could handle.

She slipped the backpack over her shoulders and stepped onto the window ledge, one hand on the rope, and–

A zombie pack staggered out of the hospital directly below her. One jerked and stuck its nose in the air. She sucked in a breath. Holy crap, sniffers. It moaned, turned, then looked right at her. The rest followed her scent, filling the space between her and the ambulance.

Glass shattered behind her.

She gauged the distance again. Still far. Still deadly.

Still better than the alternative.

Jane took a deep breath and leapt.

Are you more engaged now? More there? Apply a solid POV and the telling problem goes away. Forget what you as the author know. What does the character see? How does that fit into her life and her problem at that moment? How does it make her feel?

#2 — It Helps You Know What Needs Describing

POV lets us know what details in a scene are important, because the character is only going to notice and remark upon things that matter to her. After all, when someone is running for their lives, they don’t bother to notice what the drapes look like (unless they plan to use those drapes as a rope).

Jane slipped into the chief of staff’s office and locked the heavy wooden door. Frosted glass covered the top half, with the doctor’s name stenciled in gold letters across the middle: Dr. Harriet Indira. The room was fifteen-foot square, tan walls, and rich leather furniture in dark brown with gold rivets along the seams. Diplomas from Oxford and Johns Hopkins hung on the far wall, opposite the only window.

Knowing that Jane is currently running for her life, do you really think this is how she’d see this room? It’s more likely she’s see:

Jane slipped into an office. Thick door, thinner glass, but at least the zombies hot on her butt couldn’t see through it. She locked the door and forced a calming breath. Then took a shaky one. No other doors. Just pretentious rich-doctor furniture and a single, broken window. Second-story windows were very bad exits. Unless it had a fire escape?

Readers aren’t likely to care who the office belongs to, or what the furniture looks like exactly. Jane certainly doesn’t. She’s more concerned with finding an exit and escaping the zombies behind her.

#3 — It Makes Identifying Goals and Motivations Easier

POV is all about motivations, because it shows how a character sees and feels about the world. Understanding where she’s at emotionally in a scene will determine how she acts in the situation. If a character is just following the plot, how she acts doesn’t feel like it matters. Get inside her head and think about what she’d do and why. Don’t let her wander around doing things without any sense of direction.

The pharmacy door was busted open, the drawers ransacked and empty. She swore and moved on to the nurses’ stations, checking every cart and drawer she passed. At a broken vending machine, she paused to fish out a candy bar stuck in the back, then continued her search for antibiotics. They had to be there somewhere. Bob didn’t have much time left.

Suddenly, a moan echoed in the hallway.

We can see Jane is looking for antibiotics for Bob, but does this feel at all urgent? Does it make you care as a reader or even want to know if she finds the medicine? Probably not. It’s just a basic description of the scene: Jane searches the hospital for antibiotics and runs into zombies. It doesn’t feel like she has a goal here that matters to her. Let’s give her one.

The pharmacy door hung open. No. No, no, no no! Jane darted inside. Drawers yanked out, empty. Refrigerators lay on their sides, also empty. She dropped to her knees and picked up a box with Amoxicillin printed on the label.


The box crumpled in her hands.

There had to be more. In patient rooms, nurses’ stations, hell, even lockers. She’d settle for a bottle of Advil if it brought Bob’s fever down.

Jane rose and moved into the hall. Hospitals had a lot of floors and looters couldn’t have emptied them all. She’d find it somewhere, even if it–

A zombie moaned up ahead, just around the corner.

She backed away. I don’t have time for this, Bob needs me.

The zombie lurched into view.

We don’t need to see a long, protracted search of the hospital to know Jane will search every inch of this place. We can clearly see she’s there to find antibiotics for Bob, and nothing is going to stop her. Not even zombies.

#4 — It Creates Higher Stakes

A solid POV forces us to become the character, if only for a little while, and lets us ask why she’s risking her life or family, or whatever it is that fits the plot. Most of what we ask our characters to do no sane person would comply with. So why is this person willing to act? What about her is making her choose this path? If you can’t find a reason for her to care, then you know where to start looking to raise those stakes. Get inside her head and uncover what she does care about.

Jane crept into the abandoned emergency room, eyes alert for zombies. She avoided the broken glass and pools of dried blood and made her way to the pharmacy. It was a long shot, but Bob’s fever was getting worse and if she couldn’t find him some antibiotics he’d probably die. Her chest tightened. She couldn’t let that happen. No way. They had things to talk about. Things to finally admit to each other.

So Bob’s in bad shape and will die without antibiotics. So what? Do we feel Jane’s fear or worry here? Sure, she says it’s bad and she doesn’t want it to happen, but there’s no real emotion backing it up. This doesn’t strike me as a woman who’d risk being eaten by zombies to save a man who hasn’t even told her he loves her yet. Let’s try hearing from her POV and how she really feels.

Jane crept into the emergency room, pausing in the shadows just past the reception desk. She sniffed. No corpse stench. No faint shuffling sounds either. Hospitals were never safe, but this one didn’t look ready to kill her. At least not yet.

A photo taped to the desk caught her eye. Average guy, toothy smile, short on hair. He was smiling down at a cute woman in bright scrubs like he’d just won the lottery.

Bob smiles at me that way when he thinks I’m not looking.

Her chest tightened. Not right now he didn’t. He just thrashed in his own fever sweat, barely conscious, slipping away with every labored breath.

She pulled the photo down and stuck it in her pocket. Now, where the hell did these people keep the antibiotics?

There’s more revealed here by what isn’t said, and the subtext raises the stakes far higher than stating them outright with little emotion. The hospital isn’t safe, but she’s going in anyway, expecting something to try to kill her. Bob is smiling at her when she’s not looking, so we know he’s hiding his feelings. She keeps a photo of a total stranger because it reminds her of Bob, who might not survive and she has no photo of him and can’t get one (it is the zombie apocalypse after all). Is there any doubt that she has similar feelings and will do whatever she has to do to save Bob?

Next time you’re having trouble with a scene, put yourself in the point of view character’s head. Look out through her eyes and see the scene as she would. Think about the feelings and emotions she’d have and how those emotions would manifest themselves. Determine what matters to her and why, and how she’d reveal those things.

Then go back to the scene and experience it, not just write it.

Point of view has its fingers in pretty much every aspect of writing. If all you’re doing is relating facts about a scene or story, it can sound flat, even empty. But if the scene is described how the character sees it and feels about it, it comes to life. There’s a soul behind the words. A personality. A point of view coloring every word.

Point of view turns writing, into stories.


Janice Hardy author photoJanice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER (A), BLUE FIRE (A) and DARKFALL (A).

She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.


Yay! Thank you for such a great post, Janice! I agree completely that understanding and properly using deep point of view solves many of our writing problems.

Sometimes it’s not just about showing. Janice’s “before” examples on tips #3 and #4 have showing and some lines that might be internal thoughts. It’d be easy to think we were “deep enough.” But Janice’s examples show how much more engaging stories can be when we go even deeper, like with those goals and stakes in the “after” examples.

All that said, a few stories might not be appropriate for deep point of view, but the vast majority of stories benefit from a deeper experience. So in general, these are tips we all can apply. Thanks again to Janice for her fabulous advice!

Registration is currently open for my workshop on how to do just enough story development to write faster, while not giving our pantsing muse hives. Interested? Sign up for “Lost Your Pants? The Impatient Writers Guide to Plotting a Story.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “savethepants” to save $15 on registration.)

Do you struggle with deep point of view? Are some areas easier for you to implement deep POV than others? What are your favorite ways to use deep POV? Do you have any tips to add? Do you have any questions for Janice?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Angela Quarles

Excellent post, Janice!!! And as always great examples that contrast to show your tips…

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

Thanks Angela! I had way too much fun with these examples. I seriously need to write that book, even if it’s just for fun.


I agree. As an editor, I’ll hand an author a list of overall problems, but I’ve told more than one, “Focus on problem X” (usually related to PoV). “If you fix this, it’ll remove or hide the other problems.”

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

That’s why I love it.

Angela Ackerman

Janice is our Yoda. But them so are you, Jami! Hmmm…both names start with a J…coincidence?



Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

J is a power letter. Bwahahah.

Kathryn Jankowski

One thing my editor told me to work on was POV, so this is a timely post. Thanks!

Leslie Miller

Best article on show/tell POV E.V.E.R.! Thanks so much you guys!

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

Thanks so much! I just love it. Show don’t tell can be so hard to get, but it really is just focusing on who’s doing the looking and what they see.

Beverly Diehl

Janice rocks – I follow her blog too, but this one is GOLDen.

Sharing, and applauding.


It’s posts like these that depress me sometimes. It’s a great post, Janice, don’t get me wrong. But it makes me wonder if I’m ever going to get it. Two of the “before” versions sounded pretty darn good to me. I didn’t realize they were the “bad” versions until after you told us. Sigh…………

Jami, thanks again for guest posting on my blog last month.


What genres do you prefer reading? I’m asking because the “before” versions are actually common in certain genres, like adventure or police procedural or some types of sci-fi and fantasy.

Either method is a tool. The “show”-heavy POV tends to be better to focus on as a writer because it removes or hides a bunch of other problems and it’s actually easier to pull off than the alternative is. Once you’re comfortable with that, it’s easier to pull off a “tell”-heavy story that uses the method intentionally.


I prefer to read fantasy and thrillers, and I write fantasy. So maybe that does explain my preference. Although I’m much better at showing than I used to be, I’m still a “tell-oriented” writer at heart, and probably always will be, no matter how much I work at it. thanks Carradee.

Teagan Kearney
Teagan Kearney

Enjoyed reading your informative article, Janice – the examples are excellent. Thanks!

Krista Quintana

What a great article! I know that I had a really hard time with one of my first novels, and after several drafts, I decided to try changing my POV to third person. I was amazed by how much of a different that made. Then I had betas who told me to stay within the Mc’s head. Wow! That makes writing so much stronger. Thanks for the reminder.

MA Hudson
MA Hudson

This is so helpful. I really struggle with close POV in third person. It kinda seems like a contradiction. I imagine first person POV must be easier. This post is the clearest explanation I’ve come across and I already feel the fog lifting a bit in my head. I love how your character’s POV comes across so breezily in your examples, it’s very inspiring. Thanks for the post.
Mary Ann

tam francis

Thank you this is great. Having finished my first novel I think I did some of this intuitively, but now aware will go back in the editing and see if I really did. Do you think “tense” figures into this. Depending on character and story would you consider present tense and past tense writing equal choices once POV is established? Thanks.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hey that’s pretty cool, seeing the world through the character’s eyes so that you can see their goals clearly, and raise the stakes as well.
Coincidentally, I’ve been struggling today to stay in one POV only. Lol. I keep having the urge to get into BOTH my protagonists’ heads in the same scene!


I totally agree with you, Janice! I experience this myself, my writing just get better when I change the POV. The problem is sometimes it’s hard to came up with the right POV in the earlier draft.

Shah Wharton

Thanks for hosting Janice, Jami. Like so many other times, I’ll be copy/pasting this post and filing it on my MAC in the Docs About Writing file. I get such great tips firm this site. Thanks Janice!

Shah X

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

Most welcome. Hope it helps! I love Jami’s site, too. She always has great info to share.


Janice, I’ve always been a quiet follower of your blog, but I love all of your posts. They are gold, and this one hits the mark! Thank you for your insight. It’s been extremely helpful to me on my writing journey 🙂

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

Thanks Erica! It always makes me happy to hear I’m able to help a fellow writer.

Tracy Campbell

Hi Jami,
So glad to read more about deep POV from Janice.
She knows her stuff. 🙂

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

Thanks Tracey! It’s my favorite writing tool.


I can’t say enough good things about this post, or your site, Jami.

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

Absolutely, thanks!


[…] My guest post by Janice Hardy last week did a fabulous job at demonstrating the differences between … and why ”showing” creates stronger connections between the reader and the story. But if that’s true, wouldn’t we always want to show? […]


[…] -4 Tips to Solve 99% of Your Writing Problems, with Janice Hardy. Hint: POV. […]

Ken Hughes

Oh so very YES! Writing is people, and humanizing that filter of what to cover and what to skip does do more than anything else to give you focus. I have my own piece on POV,, and how even its “blinders” are a two-for-one opportunity, but your examples so bring things to life.

I know some people I need to recommend this to…

Janice Hardy
Janice Hardy

Blinders are such a great filter. People see the world as they’ve experienced it, and that allows for some terrific gray areas to play with.


[…] 4 Tips to Solve 99% of Your Writing Problems – Janice Hardy […]


[…] Janice Hardy’s guest blog on solving writing problems […]


[…] Janice Hardy explained in her guest post, deep point of view encourages showing. With the proper details, we can show backstory and character emotions at the same time we show the […]


[…] we edit for improvement, as we focus on the words themselves, like showing vs. telling, repetitiveness, clarity, etc. Feedback from beta readers and developmental editors often helps […]

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