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November 3, 2015

5 Tips for Finding Point-of-View Errors — Guest: Marcy Kennedy

See-Hear-Speak No Evil monkey sculpture with text: 5 Ways to Find POV Errors

As we learn writing craft, we often go through various phases of learning. First we might need to learn about story structure, and then once we have that down, we might focus on developing three-dimensional characters.

Or we might start off with needing to learn grammar and those pesky comma rules. Then once we’ve reached the expert level on that, we might need to pay attention to livening up our settings and descriptions.

In short, learning the craft of writing is an ongoing project. Just when we think we know everything there is to know, we discover another area of writing skills that we weren’t even aware existed.

Some of us enjoy the “always learning” aspect of writing, but some might find it frustrating. Especially when we feel that we don’t want to submit our work to agents or editors—or we don’t want to self-publish our stories—until we’re an expert with it all.

However, I’m not sure it’s possible to be super-skilled in all of these areas. And to some extent, that’s what beta readers or editors are for: finding the errors we miss (and hopefully know how to fix).

One area I struggle with even though I know the rules—and that I know how to fix once it’s pointed out to me—is out-of-POV phrases. Luckily, one of my editors is a genius at finding these.

Today, as one of my awesome guest posters helping me out during NaNoWriMo month, I’m sharing her (and her tips!) with all of you. *grin* Please welcome the wonderful Marcy Kennedy!

*****

How to Hunt Down
Sneaky Point-of-View Errors

Point-of-view errors come in two “sizes.” The big POV error is head-hopping where we jump from one character’s viewpoint to another’s without a proper transition. Once we understand what head-hopping is, it’s usually pretty easy to spot.

Small-scale POV errors (what Jami calls out-of-POV phrases) are much harder for us to see in our own work, so I was excited when Jami asked if I’d share some tips for tracking down those out-of-POV phrases.

But What’s So Bad About Small POV Errors?

Compared to head-hopping, small-scale POV errors can seem like they’re not a big deal. After all, we’re not yanking the reader entirely out of one character’s mind and tossing them into another’s without any warning.

But, in some ways, out-of-POV phrases are actually worse. With head-hopping, the reader might get whiplash and stumble around for a moment, but they’ll eventually figure out that they’ve moved into another character’s head. In other words, they’ll know why things didn’t feel right for a minute.

With out-of-POV phrases, the reader can’t always explain why they’re feeling disconnected from the viewpoint character or like something is “off” with the writing and they couldn’t “get into it.” And because they can’t say exactly what made them less engrossed in the life of the main character, they’re turned away from our work more than if they could say “I hated how the writer jumped back and forth between the characters, but…”

So let’s take a look at how we accidentally use out-of-POV phrases and how to spot them.

#1: We Attribute Emotions to Non-Viewpoint Characters

When we’re writing in a limited point of view, we can include only what our viewpoint character knows. Our viewpoint character can’t know what another character is feeling. They can guess, but all they know is what they can hear or see. Any time we tell the reader what another character was feeling—like “sadly” or “in anger”—we’ve introduced a POV error.

I’ll give you an example:

Dan kept his attention on the bomb, unfazed by the ticking clock.

If Dan isn’t our viewpoint character, our viewpoint character can’t know whether Dan is fazed or unfazed. Dan might seem unfazed on the outside, but he might be barely keeping his calm on the inside.

We could manage this type of out-of-POV phrase in a lot of ways depending on what we wanted from the scene:

  • We could have our viewpoint character wonder about how Dan was able to keep his cool when they couldn’t even hand him a tool without dropping it.
  • Or we might show a small tick that hints that Dan isn’t as unfazed as he seems.
  • Or we might have Dan talking bravely, but show through our viewpoint character’s internal dialogue that they don’t buy it.

How Can We Catch These Errors?

I love editing hacks—ways to make editing our writing a little bit easier. We can use the Find feature in our word processing program to search for emotion words.

(If you don’t know how to create a macro in Microsoft Word to do this, check out this excellent post from Jami. You could also do the words one at a time, but this makes it much faster.)

Some of the emotion words you come across might belong to your viewpoint character. Get rid of those too—they’re telling rather than showing.

#2: We Attribute Motivation to a Non-Viewpoint Character

This is the sneaky point-of-view error I see most often in my editing work. It happens when we tell the reader why a non-viewpoint character did something. It’s a problem because the viewpoint character can’t know for sure why the other characters are doing what they’re doing.

In this example, Eddie isn’t the viewpoint character.

Her movement caught Eddie’s eye, and he turned to face her.

Since she is the viewpoint character, she can’t know why Eddie turned to face her. She doesn’t know if it was her movement, a sound she made, or if he was going to turn in that direction anyway.

How Can We Catch These Errors?

Sometimes errors can only be caught by carefully reading through our fiction with the sole purpose of looking for POV errors. But we can start by using MS Word’s Find feature to search for a few phrases that often go along with this type of POV error:

  • at the sight of/sound of
  • because
  • caught his/her eye
  • caught his/her attention
  • to (do something) – E.g., James scowled at Christine and reached over to brush dirt off her shirt sleeve. (Christine, the viewpoint character, can’t know what he was intending when he reached. We’re telling his motivation instead of showing his action.)

#3: We Tell the Reader What a Non-Viewpoint Character Thought or Saw

Here’s the one I see most often:

He thought about that for a minute.

If the thinker isn’t the viewpoint character, this is a POV error. The viewpoint character can’t know the person is thinking about what they’ve said or that they’re thinking at all. One way to fix this would be to give the character an action that might imply thinking.

How Can We Catch These Errors?

As you might have guessed by now, I love the Find feature. Here’s your list of words to search for. (And as a bonus, if you find these words used for your viewpoint character, get rid of them there as well. They’re telling rather than showing.)

  • thought
  • noticed
  • realized
  • wondered
  • believed
  • knew
  • remembered
  • recalled
  • reviewed
  • considered

#4: We Include Items the Viewpoint Character Doesn’t Notice or Can’t See

The biggest POV offenders in this category tend to be actions that happen without conscious thought, but they can also include things the viewpoint character doesn’t see happening around them.

Here’s an example of how this might look. Karen is our viewpoint character.

Karen turned to look out the window and didn’t notice Jeff slip the business card into his pocket.

Since Karen is our viewpoint character, we can’t record the business card theft because she didn’t notice it happening. One way around this would be to show Karen noticing later that the business card is missing.

How Can We Catch These Errors?

Remember that we can’t catch all out-of-POV phrases using the Find feature, but that said, here’s your starter list: *smile*

  • unknowingly
  • didn’t notice
  • not realizing
  • unconsciously
  • unaware

Also, watch out for any time you have your viewpoint character close or cover their eyes. You can’t show anything until they open/uncover them again!

#5: We Tell the Reader What the Viewpoint Character Looks Like

There are ways around this, where we can come up with a good reason for our viewpoint character to be thinking about their appearance, so not every description of our viewpoint character is a POV error. Out-of-POV phrases are most likely to sneak in when we describe the expression on our viewpoint character’s face.

Melissa and Jeremy are the viewpoint characters in these examples.

A smirk crossed Melissa’s face.

A pained expression crossed Jeremy’s face.

These are errors because they’re something the viewpoint character can’t see, and they sound like someone describing them from the outside, rather than them experiencing what’s happening from the inside.

We can fix errors like these by switching over to what the viewpoint character feels like inside. Or we can say something like…

Melissa smirked.

We know when we smirk, and it’s an action, so this isn’t a POV error.

How Can We Catch These Errors?

These ones are a bit harder to pin down with a hack, but if you do a search for the word face, you’ll spot 75 percent of them.

Hopefully these tips will help you ferret out some of your out-of-POV phrases and start to identify the ones that are most likely to sneak into your work. In the end, the more familiar we become with what counts as an out-of-POV phrase and where our personal weaknesses lie, the better able we’ll be to avoid them (or catch them during our edits).

*****

Marcy KennedyMarcy Kennedy is a science fiction and fantasy author who believes there’s always hope. Sometimes you just have to dig a little harder to find it. She’s also the author of the bestselling Busy Writer’s Guides series, which focuses on giving authors deep teaching while still respecting their time.

You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth on her website. Don’t forget to subscribe to her free newsletter, where new subscribers receive a copy of her mini-book Strong Female Characters as a thank-you gift!

*****

About Point of View in Fiction:

Point of View in Fiction book coverPoint of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand—or fall.

It’s the opinions and judgments that color everything the reader believes about the world and the story. It’s the voice of the character that becomes as familiar to the reader as their own. It’s what makes the story real, believable, and honest.

Yet, despite its importance, point-of-view errors are the most common problem for fiction writers.

In Point of View in Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide, you’ll learn

  • the strengths and weaknesses of the four different points of view you can choose for your story (first person, second person, limited third person, and omniscient),
  • how to select the right point of view for your story,
  • how to maintain a consistent point of view throughout your story,
  • practical techniques for identifying and fixing head-hopping and other point-of-view errors,
  • the criteria to consider when choosing the viewpoint character for each individual scene or chapter,

and much more! Buy it on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords! Available in print and ebook forms.

*****

Thank you, Marcy! Someday I’ll be better at eliminating these in my work, but until then, thank you so much for sharing your expertise. *grin*

As Marcy said, focusing on these phrases can feel really nitpicky, so this issue might not be one we focus on until after we’ve mastered the basics. But if we’re trying to create a strong connection between our readers and our characters, we need to eliminate anything and everything that creates distance.

I’ve blogged before about how fixing POV errors often comes down to better showing, as we might want to show how the POV character comes to their conclusion, or we might just cut the conclusion and show the evidence. Hopefully this post gives plenty of examples for how to find those errors and make those fixes.

If we understand how POV—and these out-of-POV errors—are related to showing and telling, we might start to see how little nitpicky issues like these affect the overall engagement of our story. And that might be the most helpful tip of all. *smile*

Had you thought about the different ways we can break POV beyond just head-hopping? Do you struggle with some of these out-of-POV issues in your writing? Do you have any other tips for finding these errors? Or tips to help other writers maintain a consistent point of view? Do you have any questions for Marcy?

P.S. Don’t miss my guest post at Writers in the Storm with tips for how to avoid getting stuck with our writing—whether due to time, writer’s block, or story issues—especially during this NaNoWriMo month. *smile*

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84 Comments on "5 Tips for Finding Point-of-View Errors — Guest: Marcy Kennedy"

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Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

To me, you hit on the best ways of finding POV errors. I remember when I first began writing and found my crit group, I realized I had been head hoping for years. Then I believe I mastered the BIG POV errors. It’s very rare that I get dinged on head hopping anymore.
But I’m not perfect, and small POV errors happen occasionally to this day. When we’re in the moment, banging away at the keys, letting the story pour out, mistakes are inevitable.
That’s why, as you mentioned, it’s imperative to have beta readers.
Great post!!!
And I started your book! LOVE it so far!!!! When I’m finished I’ll be sure to review 🙂

Have a great week,
Tamara

Marcy Kennedy

I think they happen to everyone occasionally (at least for those of us who want to write in deep POV because we have to stay as close as possible to our viewpoint character) 🙂

And thank you so much for thinking to write a review when you’re done. Reviews are so important!

Carradee

Those are good ways to find PoV errors, but one thing to also keep in mind: These techniques assume you’re using a limited PoV with some narrative distance.

If you’re using omniscient, the tips don’t work. If you’re using a very “close” PoV, then they don’t all work. (Ex.: “He thought a minute” could be what the narrator saw & interpreted via the filter of their personality, in a very “close” PoV, if your narrator tends to make such evaluations.)

Just something to be aware of. 🙂

Marcy Kennedy

I agree that they don’t work for omniscient. You technically can’t have POV errors in omniscient because the all-knowing narrator knows all 🙂 In omniscient, the author has a similar challenge, though, of making sure that the voice they use is consistently that of the narrator rather than slipping into the voice of a character.

But I believe these do work, and work best, for close or deep POV (which is what I write personally) because they tend to eliminate all narrative distance and they force you to show rather than tell. Perhaps you might have a character who interprets/draws conclusions/makes evaluations that look like some of these POV errors, but that’s not likely to be the norm for most close-POV writers. And I’d argue that we should try to avoid it because it adds a feeling of distance. The reader isn’t likely to interpret it as “that’s the character’s personality.” So while it could be that a writer could execute a deep-POV character while doing these things, it wouldn’t feel as much like deep POV.

Carradee
…Actually, you can have PoV errors in omniscient, such as by slipping into limited PoV or by being inconsistent in the form the omniscience takes. I’ve also seen people conflate head-hopping with omniscient—and those aren’t the same thing at all. Rules of thumb, like “Show; don’t tell,” get emphasized to the degree that people lose sight of what is actually meant by them. “Show; don’t tell” refers specifically to character actions and is a reminder to show what you can of character emotions, but some things (like character motivation) cannot be shown. And then even a generally “close” narrative distance has situations where it’s best to flex into more distant. (For example, JK Rowling got more distant on purpose when Harry Potter got depressed.) As you yourself say, eliminating filter words only tends to deepen the narrative distance. Without that caveat, you’re setting folks up to sabotage themselves by blindly applying things even when it doesn’t apply to their narrator. Telling a writer what to do without telling them when it applies is logically comparable to telling someone to make an “allergy-friendly” meal without telling them which allergens to avoid. As long as the person eating the meal has no allergies or has one of the allergies you managed to avoid, everything’s fine; but if not, you could leave them ill for days if not outright kill them. I’ve seen a lot of folks sabotaging themselves (or being sabotaged) by the application of things that lacked proper caveats. I’m a… Read more »
Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Hey Carradee, I’m glad you talked about the omniscient POV issues because I write in this POV! (The omniscient POV is also my genre’s norm.) Yeah, agreed that it’s important to explain when a certain piece of advice applies and when it doesn’t. FYI, I LOVE telling, haha, not trying to be rebellious on purpose, but just because I enjoy telling. But I show a lot as well. So I show when it’s appropriate and tell when it’s appropriate. I remember a post Jami did about when it’s better to tell rather than to show. And I recently thought of another instance where telling would be wiser than showing: The case where your villain does really, really nasty, maybe even deeply disturbing crimes, yet you want the reader to be able to like and sympathize with him. So, if you just summarize what the villain does, maybe even through a character’s speech to create more distance (Idk, conveying it through character speech distances it more for me!), then the disturbing and nasty stuff doesn’t sound THAT repulsive to readers, and so readers can more easily focus on his more likable and sympathetic sides, which you do show a lot. In contrast, if you show actual scenes of the villain doing those horrible things to people, it will probably etch his actions even more deeply into the reader’s mind, and make the villain much more disgusting to the reader and WAY harder to like. I know this because that’s the situation… Read more »
Carradee

You say that as if essays are a bad things. 😛

That is a good example of “telling” being ideal, for what you want the reader to take from it. Your situation, if you show it directly, is apt to horrify the reader; and if you show it indirectly, is apt to terrify the reader. Telling can be a good way to avoid that. 🙂

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Carradee, thanks for confirming what I thought! I think I
wouldn’t be able to love my villain this much if I saw the things he did close up too. D:

Oh I’ve heard of a discussion on terror vs. horror. I don’t quite remember how the article I read differentiated between the terms, but how do you define terrifying and horrifying respectively?

In my villain’s example, I would personally see horror as more related to being disgusted and disturbed than being scared. Terror is more about being dreadfully afraid. So the movie Sinister 2 would be more horrifying and Insidious 3 would be more terrifying, if you happened to have watched these two movies too. ^_^

Oh now I wonder why the horror genre is called horror rather than terror. The terror genre, lol.

Carradee

I haven’t seen those movies, but you sound as if you have the gist.

horror = physical revulsion, where the stomach twists.
terror = psychological revulsion, where the mind flinches away.

Well, per what I was taught at university, the horror genre spawned out of the gothic novels. Gothics by women tended to be more terrifying than horrific (and tended to be ethical with a good vs. evil); gothics by men tended to be more horrific than terrifying (…and tended to be on the pornographic). Both editions of the genre had terror and horror, but they were just balanced more one way or the other. (One thing that makes Frankenstein interesting is how it bridges the male and female sides of the genre.)

Horror is only one of the genres that can be viewed as coming out of the gothic tradition. Southern gothic, “dark” genres (like dark fantasy and dark romance), and thrillers also come to mind.

Honorat
Honorat

Heh. I am writing my protagonist doing the insanely cruel things in deep POV. Oops. I have a thing for writing two protagonists who are each other’s antagonists.

Marcy Kennedy
Hi Carradee, I should have been more clear about what I said concerning omniscient 🙂 I meant you couldn’t have the type of POV errors I’m talking about here and the type of small-scale POV errors that you see with close POV writing. (One of the links I included pointed to a post on how head-hopping and omniscient POV are different and often confused.) I intended this post, as mentioned in the intro, for people writing in limited POV. As for ignoring basic structural logistics and leading, not at all 🙂 It can be done, but not all readers will follow along (and you’ll never know the ones who don’t unless they leave a bad review–but you could argue those weren’t your ideal readers anyway ;)). That’s why I chose words such as likely and could. And many writers aren’t far enough along in their career to execute a character like that in a way the reader will understand, or they could execute it, but they don’t want to. This post is better for people who don’t want that type of narrator (but do write deep POV) and have done these things either accidentally when they don’t want that type of narrator or without realizing the distance/errors they create. Most people–in my experience anyway–don’t create the type of exception narrator you mentioned and so, even in deep POV, these are errors for them. We need to learn possible errors before we can deal with them one way or another–otherwise we’re… Read more »
Carradee

But I suspect that if we sat down and defined terms, we wouldn’t be as far apart in writing and editing as you suspect 🙂

Indeed. 🙂

What my experience as an editor has been is too many people think they’re the exception when they’re not. So I encourage my clients, before they violate the guideline, to make sure they have a good reason for it. If they have a good reason for it, and it makes the story better, then that’s what they should do.

Agreed! 🙂 We apparently just have a different way of structuring things when we give those guidelines.

My narrators tend to differ, but they tend to be… Um. Well, my epic fantasy series is in first person, with a different narrator per book (so far), and those narrators have things like PTSD and outright mental illness. There’s even an “other woman”.

Carradee

Argh. Didn’t mean to hit “Submit” yet.

In my editing experience, most of the time I see issues like these in manuscripts it’s because the author didn’t know or understand–or thought they knew how to break the “rule” and really didn’t

Oh, yes. I’ve encountered more than one author who pitched a fit because sentence fragments are perfectly fine to use in fiction—and refuse to recognize that the sentence fragment wasn’t the problem. The misplaced modifiers and/or overuse of them was.

Or “X is a perfectly fine word for this sentence!” Yes, it is, but you’ve already used it ten times on that page alone—or maybe it could be, but using it there contradicts what you already described three paragraphs up.

It’s a processing stage that writers have to go through. Only thing I mind about it is the people who stagnate there because they don’t believe they could possibly be mistaken.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Wow what a discussion! Lol. Sorry, Carradee, for replying so ridiculously late, haha. But wow, I never knew there is some gender difference between female and male horror writers. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve had much experience reading female horror writers. 🙁

I’ve read Stephen King’s The Shining and It, but both seemed more terrifying than horrifying to me, though there was a bit too much blood than I was comfortable with in It. But as in your Frankenstein example, male and female writers can of course break the gender norms! For some reason, I don’t think I’ve encountered pornographic horror before… Well I don’t have much experience reading or watching horror, I guess, haha.

For some reason, I think horror is easier for me to manage than terror. So I found Sinister 2 (more horrifying) more tolerable than Insidious 3 (more terrifying). For Sinister 2, if it was too bad, I just covered my eyes, haha.

As for the rest of the discussion, I agree that it’s best to break a rule only if you have a good reason to. But sometimes I break a rule on purpose as an experiment to see what would happen to my story, lol. Or maybe I’m just really curious how breaking a certain rule will look like in my writing. I can always edit it again.

Stacy Jerger

Yes!!!! I’m so glad there’s a blog post about this! As a developmental editor, I’ve been really surprised at how many clients struggle with POV on macro and micro levels. I sometimes thought I was being too much of a stickler about correcting those micro issues. It can feel like such a confusing, gray area.

Another POV issue I see a lot is keeping character names and titles consistent within different POVs. A grandfather wouldn’t describe his grandson’s action as “Timmy smiled up at his grandfather.” But rather “smiled up at him.”

POV is such a pesky, pesky thing! Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

Marcy Kennedy

Thanks for the comment! POV issues are the most common problem I run in to in my editing work as well. You’re so right about the name consistency. What I often see is a single scene where the viewpoint character thinks about another character as Sally, the secretary, and the woman (for example). In real life, we tend to be consistent in the way in which we think about other people.

Stacy Jerger

“In real life, we tend to be consistent in the way in which we think about other people.”

Absolutely! That’s a great point.

It’s oddly comforting to know other editors run into POV issues so often too. 🙂

Ashley
Ashley

I really, really struggle with this… not with doing it properly (although I probably don’t), but with accepting that all of these are really a problem. I mean, what’s wrong with saying what your POV character thought or realized? Isn’t that showing? Or is the problem just with writing, ” ‘That’s not fair,’ she thought” – and if so, wouldn’t there be times you would want to clarify that’s a thought, not spoken? Or is that supposed to be made obvious by formatting?

Marcy Kennedy

Point of view and showing vs. telling are very closely related topics.
Saying that your POV character thought or realized is actually telling. Showing would be showing the contents of those thoughts or depicting the realization. I’ll give you an example:

Telling: Kate realized she’d locked her keys inside the car.

Showing: Kate yanked on the car door handle. The door didn’t budge, and her keys dangled from the ignition. “Dang it!”

Ashley
Ashley

Thanks Marcy (and Jami!). That makes sense, though my devil’s advocate side says, “What if there isn’t an action that goes along with the realization in that moment?” For instance, what if the POV character is talking with Person A and in the course of the conversation realizes something about Person B, who isn’t in the room? That realization might (and structurally, probably should) bear action fruit in a later scene, but you might want to convey the realization as it happens even if there isn’t a yanking-on-the-door-handle action that can go along with it. Maybe there’s a way of doing that without a word like “thought” or “realized,” but it’s not coming to mind right now.

…And now I have to think about what POV I’m actually using. I definitely wasn’t aiming for really deep POV, which I just don’t enjoy as much as styles with a little more distance (blame it on growing up reading the classics, with their love of telling!) but based on what you’re saying, it doesn’t quite sound like true omniscient, either. Or maybe I’ll dig into that *after* NaNoWriMo, even if it means guaranteeing more revision!

Ashley
Ashley

Also, you seem to be saying it’s a problem for an omniscient narrator to go deeply into a character’s POV. Why is that?

Marcy Kennedy

When you’re writing in omniscient POV, you don’t use multiple viewpoints. You have only one viewpoint (one point of view), and it’s that of the omniscient narrator. It’s the narrator’s voice that the reader hears. (The narrator might be the author or it might be a constructed narrator like Death in The Book Thief.)

So while that omniscient narrator knows what’s going on inside the characters and can share bits of their feelings and thoughts, we won’t be writing anything other than small bits of internal dialogue in the voice of the character. In omniscient, you never go inside the character and see the world through their eyes because the omniscient narrator–not the characters–is the one telling the story.

I hope that helps make it more clear 🙂 I spend quite a bit of time in my book on omniscient POV because I know it can be tricky to understand.

Glynis Jolly

I’ve caught myself doing some of these. I wrote a scene where the POV wasn’t there and found myself putting in words, phrases, and sentences that would only go with the POV. I got it turned around though by showing emotion, body language, and using dialogue. It was a mess for a while.

Marcy Kennedy

Ooo, you just made a good point here. We’re going to make these during writing, and so we shouldn’t worry about them during that first draft stage. When we come back to edit, we can fix any “mess” we’ve created. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)
With regard to working within a limited third person (however close or distant) the challenge of only citing what the viewpoint characters sees and hears isn’t as straightforward from a narrative standpoint as it is from a basic SPAG standpoint. This is why people say “Things can be well-written, and grammatically correct, but not a story.” This is also why the “Story Trumps All” argument/ideology can drive me CRAZY as a writer. Just because I can’t coast on storytelling alone doesn’t mean it matters less to me, but it also doesn’t help me embrace the “Nothing is ever perfect” advice writers are beat over the head with. It’s HARD to care without letting necessary revision make you afraid to then go from writing to selling what we’ve written. I may have to look for this in “Gabriel” because the issues with out of viewpoint description is an issue with me. Some beta-readers got frustrated with not knowing what Gabriel (the viewpoint character) and other characters looked like. It’s not like I have no clue, but like Marcy said (and showed in her examples), the viewpoint character wouldn’t note people he sees everyday like he just met them (unless there was a story reason, or he actually is meeting them for the first time) but even if the viewpoint character knows this, the reader doesn’t, and thus lies the issue of having visual description that matters, without having POV nightmares or having readers lost at how to “imagine their ideal ver.… Read more »
Mike

Excellent suggestions for catching these sneaky little errors. They also manage to be a problem when you’re writing in 1st person.

Marcy Kennedy

Very true. Because first person is also a limited POV, these apply equally to it. Thanks for the comment 🙂

dolorah

I’m always learning something new about the craft of writing, and sometimes relearning things. When I’m desperately trying to get a scene written, I forget to go back and check for those niggling errors that my inner editor screamed about and I wrote anyway. And yes, it always seems to be the small stuff that slips in there.

An excellent POV lesson Marcy. Thanks for sharing it.

Hi Jami 🙂

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Oh, I do have a question! For some or all of the above examples of “errors”, it could be because the reader assumes that the author is writing in a third person limited POV, i.e. only through the eyes of the current POV character. However, the author might actually be writing in an omniscient point-of-view that focuses on one character’s mind each scene.

I think I haven’t read enough non-literary-classic English novels to see if this is a style in modern English books, but in the Chinese martial arts novels I read, it’s always written in this omniscient POV that has one “main” POV character per scene. So for each scene, you would see thoughts, feelings, and perceptions mostly from one character’s mind, yet you may occasionally get glimpses into other characters’ heads too, though usually these glimpses are relatively brief. Thus, a reader who is used to reading limited 3rd POV stories might mistake this particular kind of omniscient style for the limited third person, and feel that there are POV errors.

What do you think of this issue of the reader possibly misinterpreting what POV it is?

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[…] it is the small things that make or break your work. Marcy Kennedy has 5 tips for finding point-of-view errors, and Becca Puglisi examines the art of turning a unique […]

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[…] 5 Tips For Finding Point Of View Errors […]

J'aime
J'aime

Augh, I read this blog post, and then today I started reading a fantasy novel, and now I can’t stop spotting these issues all over it. LOL I’m only in the Prologue of the thing and the POV issues are already driving me nuts.

I guess it will be good practice for me, if I don’t give up and delete the thing from my ereader.

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[…] 5 Tips for Finding Point-of-View Errors – Guest post by Marcy Kennedy at Jami Gold’s Blog. Some good tips! […]

Anne BB
Anne BB

POV was the first big “problem” in writing I encountered when I let someone with writing experience read my work. Since then it has been a major hurdle in designing my approach to different stories. (So all this discussion about it is great!)

Now when I read, I am very conscious of POV where before I hadn’t a clue.

I’m stuck right now on writing a review for a British thriller I read recently. I haven’t decided if the head-hopping was part of the omniscient POV, part of the genre expectations in British lit or just plain wrong. I enjoyed the book: the premise was interesting, the plot excellent, and the characters intriguing. But I struggled throughout the book with the POV. I don’t want to give it a lower rating simply because I’m not educated well enough.

Any suggestions? (FYI: The book is The British Lion by Tony Schumacher.)

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[…] Marcy Kennedy guest posts on Jami Gold’s blog with five tips for finding POV errors. […]

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[…] Marcy Kennedy with her 5 Tips for Finding Point-of-View Errors […]

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[…] of my old posts is because writing advice doesn’t usually expire. The specifics of “how to write deep point of view?” won’t change next year, and editing tips can give us new ideas no matter what stage of […]

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[…] 5 Tips for Finding Point-of-View Errors – Guest post by Marcy Kennedy at Jami Gold’s Blog. Some good tips! […]

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[…] suffer from filter words (knew, thought, felt, etc.), weasel words (seemed, appeared, etc.), point of view errors, flipped cause and effect, or other common issues that weaken our […]

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