One of the most common difficulties to understanding POV is in the explaining of it. Because while we must be in the head of one character and can only know their thoughts and emotions, we must also be in the body of the scene and take into consideration the surrounding cast members emotions as well. Especially the head of the last character we were in. If we have a corresponding scene where we break and go from one character to the other, the previous character cannot become a cardboard cutout and we must continue to play their emotions.
But this new character we are inside must not know what the first character is thinking.
It’s a lot less complicated than it looks.
Think of POV this way: you are facing your best friend. Can you hear her thoughts? Can you see what she is thinking? Can you feel her emotions?
What can you do? You can observe. Are her arms crossed? Is her brow furrowed? Is she pacing? Wringing her hands, but still smiling? Does she nod when she shouldn’t nod to what you are saying?
Body language is a POV master’s best friend. While you are in the head of one character you can only rely on how—or how not—observant they are. What vibes is your second character sending into the scene that makes a difference in how your POV character sees the moment?
Another way to look at POV is to imagine blinders. There is a reason they put blinders on a horse pulling a buggy or carriage—especially when that horse must pull their vehicle down the road. It’s so they cannot see the incoming traffic and be spooked.
When we are “driving” our characters through the scenes, think about what they can and cannot see. They cannot see what is behind them. They cannot see into the future. They can only see where they are pointed.
Within POV you have varied degrees of options to play with. The most restricting being 1st person POV. 1st person does not allow you to be in the head of any other character expect the main one—“I”. Through this character you then have to compensate for all the senses, the emotions and a great deal of action and body language to SHOW how the rest of the cast perceives your main character in that situation. (I just knew that tricky show-don’t-tell rule was going to slip in there somewhere)
3rd person POV is the most commonly used, because you can access other heads during the story. Rule #1 you MUST break the scene visually on the page. Either with a two paragraph break or a symbol such as: *** or ~ ~ ~ or ###
Something that shouts WATCH, I’M CHANGING THE GAME. Readers do not like to tricked or jerked around.
When changing “heads” in the middle of a scene, not only should you put some symbol, but also make it clear which character’s head you have entered. Either by having them perform some action, saying their name or possibly repeating the very last phrase of the previous character’s thoughts/actions. Warning: this last method will be very old very fast if used too often. I personally suggest only once per book.
John rubbed the back of his neck and a growl tickled the back of his throat. Couldn’t she see how a mess he was making of this? That he was trying and why couldn’t she cut him just a bit of release from that chock chain she tied around his neck? He’d shout ‘halleluiah’ when she finally got it.
When would he finally get it that all she wanted was in his best interest? Sally crossed her arms
Do you see how immediately we realize we are no longer in “John’s” head, but now firmly in Sally’s? Once you have established the POV shift, do not keep rehashing the same emotions from her POV. Keep the scene moving. We understand their tension and emotions, now we need to see forward action.
A POV character cannot ever see what is going on except what is directly in front of him or her.
A POV character cannot hear, see, feel and directly understand the true emotions of the second characters in the scene with them.
A POV character must have the most to lose within the scene for the moment to hold the truest potential for conflict.
What do you struggle with the most when it comes to POV? Let’s diagnose the problem.
***************************************************Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people.