Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Point of View

Do you ever have too many characters talking in your head at once? It's time to take charge and make them wait their turn.

This week we're looking at Point #7 in my self-editing checklist: Point of View. (For Points 1-6, click here.)

When analyzing Point of View in your scenes, consider the following items.

a) Have you chosen the best viewpoint character for each scene? Usually this is the person with the most to lose or the most at stake.

b) Do you stay in one POV throughout the scene? Do you see only what your POV character would see? Hear only what they would hear? Notice only what they would notice? Think only what they would think?

c) Is the language in the scene right for your viewpoint character? If your POV character is a 90-year-old grandma, she probably wouldn't think, "Dude, that is one sick iPad," unless she's the hippest granny in the universe. I'm not just talking about dialogue here...This encompasses the entire scene.

d) Look at descriptions. Can you tell how your viewpoint character feels about what you're describing? Do you have them interacting with the setting and fusing that with their thoughts and actions?

e) How deep do you go in the POV? Most books being published today put us right in the character's skin and emotions, eliminating distance words like "realized", "wondered", etc. This concept also ties in with showing versus telling. For instance, instead of saying, "She wondered when he would return," you could say, "Good gravy, he was taking forever to get back." By eliminating the word "wondered" and dumping us right in the character's head, we get a feel for her personality and feel as if we are that character.

Resources: Camy Tang has some uber-helpful articles on her Story Sensei blog. Some of my points above are summaries of her material. To get more in depth, check out these articles on basic point of view and deep point of view.

And of course, the primary foundation of my self-editing checklist is always Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King.

Your homework for the next two weeks, should you choose to accept it: For each scene you've written, write down the POV character and analyze whether they are the best character for that scene. Comb over your scenes to make sure you're staying in the POV characters' skin and thoughts, and analyze word choices to ensure they keep the POV deep while also revealing who the character is.

Which POV do you typically write in? 1st person or 3rd person? With multiple viewpoints? What are your best POV tips for our readers?

* Text bubble photo by Renjith Krishnan /
** Grandma photo by Ambro /


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Great checklist, Sarah! I am just now starting Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and I have a feeling it is going to be my go-to book for editing. Of course, Camy's blog is simply amazing. Kaye Dacus also has great articles on writing, as well.

To stay in POV, I like to take on the POV character's role as it is played out like a movie. I pretend I'm that heroine or hero and act it out.

Tessa Emily Hall said...

This is great! I love writing in 1st person POV, mainly because I write YA fiction and I know many teens who prefer reading books that are first person rather than third, including myself. I also think that writing in 1st person helps to develop the character's own voice instead of accidentally having my own voice peak through.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Camy is spot on with her advice on POV. I'm working on the description one. I'm dealing w/ two sisters. One would notice clothing while the other would pick up more on facial expressions. I need to work to stay consistent with these.
~ Wendy

Sarah Forgrave said...

Sherrinda, Yes, that book is never leaving my shelves. Ever. :) Great idea to act out the scene and picture it from the POV character's perspective!

Tessa, I'm impressed that you write in 1st person! For some reason, it intimidates me. I've switched to 1st person when I'm struggling in a scene, just to switch it up, but I always end up back in 3rd. And you're right...You really have to know that character's voice to write a good 1st person novel.

Wendy, Your comment about the two sisters plays into characterization, too. We have to know our characters really well to know what they would notice. But that's the lesson coming up in two weeks... (cliffhanger) :)

Faith said...

Great post! And so helpful! I loved it!

Sarah Forgrave said...

So glad you found it helpful, Faye! Thanks for stopping by! :)

Angie Dicken said...

I have been writing in first person...sometimes I kick myself half way through it, because there is so much I want to elaborate on from another character's pov...maybe I'll try third person next time! Words like "wondered", "realized" creep their ways into my writing ALL the time!

BTW, I love your hip grandma example! Hilarious!

Jillian said...

Great post, Sarah! Thanks for the tips. You're right, Camy's website is awesome!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Sarah, thanks for the post! I appreciated the tips. I will also have to beware of those words: wondered and realized. :) Thanks for pointing these out as "telling"words. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Angie, I think that's why I'm hooked on 3rd person. I haven't figured out how to reveal things from just one POV. :)

Jillian, You're welcome! We should start a Camy Rocks fan club. :)

Jeanne, I'm amazed how often those distant words show up in my writing. I do a Search in my manuscript for them and work through them until they're gone. :)

Beth K. Vogt said...

Great post--and I'll be checking out Camy's articles too.
I just read a book where the author changed POVs in the middle of scenes. She did this throughout the book. Drove me c-r-a-z-y. Yep, I had reader-whiplash.
I like writing in third person POV. But, if I'm struggling with the scene--if it's just not working--I'll write it in first person POV. Sometimes this helps me get into my character's head and emotions. Then I go back and plug what I've learned into the third person POV.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Beth, I hear you on reading a head-hopping book. I never would have noticed it before I started writing, but now it takes me out of the story right away. Thanks for popping in today! :)

Pepper said...

Wait, Sarah.
Are you saying there are NOT supposed to be more then one voice in my head?
Oh dear...
Great post - very good points. And a very good reminder. I've figured out I the way sentences are structured in the ms is important to helping the reader stay in right POV too.

Paragraph breaks between the POV characters thought and another character's statement, help clarifiy that. I'm not sure why I get caught doing that quite a bit, but I'm learning :-) People are supposed to just know what I mean, not what I write - right? ;-)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Ha, Pepper! I have that multiple-voice problem, too. :)