Point of View

Some recent reads prompted this post. I’ll sigh in frustration at typos or e-book formatting oops. I’ll grit my teeth at editing errors. However, as a reader, nothing will pull me out of a story faster than a point of view (POV) problem. And I admit, I’m a point of view junkie. Pardon if this turns into a wee rant.

POV is tricky.

  • There’s the dreaded head hopping where we, the reader, are given whiplash as we jump from one person’s thoughts to another.

I don’t expect full chapters in one POV or even full scenes. I don’t need some divider like an extra space or *** etc. But switching within one paragraph? Hello? It causes me to re-read just to make sense of the passage. (Never a good thing.)

I encountered this most recently in a M/M romance. I think those pronouns got the poor author twisted up. Thankfully, it came late enough in the story I was already invested in the characters and continued.

Have you ever put down a book from head-hop-whiplash?

  • There’s deep POV where we, the reader, see through the eyes of one character.

I prefer first person (inner perspective of one character) or third person limited (similar to first person but it doesn’t have to be the same character for the whole book). They give me that deeper POV I crave and this is where I encounter the worst offenders.

If we’re deep in a character’s POV don’t give me a laundry list description. The character will only note differences like a moved chair after he’s tripped over it in the dark. And mood will taint the description too like the character at her desk, wiping the fingerprints from her computer screen in short jerky motions.

Do you skip over wordy scenes or narratives?

In a recent read, the heroine referred to the hero as “the handsome stranger.” Hello? Ms. Heroine you closed a local eatery with Mr. Hero the night before, even if it wasn’t a date, you’re beyond strangers! Now, if I were walking behind Mr. Hero in that scene I’d be thinking more along the lines of how nicely he fills out his jeans than such a generic term as handsome. And later in that same story during the sex scene, we’re in the hero’s POV and he refers to the heroine as “the woman.” Eww! That just sounds wrong. As though the hero has no feelings for the heroine.

Or in another book, the heroine “arranged her long blonde hair.” When I’m doing my hair the color, unless I’m thinking of changing it, doesn’t even cross my mind. Nor does the length. And don’t get me started on the mirror “self” description trick (though Kait Nolan pulled it off with an amnesia character) this book also used. Wouldn’t it be better for another character to comment or note the description?

You look like a Greek goddess with your hair done up like that.

This line tells me the woman’s hair is long, likely dark. I can even see the hairdo; she’s got it piled on top of her head in a loose bun with tendrils framing her face and tickling the nape of her neck. The woman has a classical face probably with an olive complexion typical of the Mediterranean.

What visual do you get from that line?

  • Readers: What examples of point of view have pulled you from a recent book? (no author names or book titles please)
  • Writers: What tricks help you keep your characters’ POV true?

I’d love to hear your point of view :)

You might also like:
Sense of Place: Setting as Character
Are You Using Setting to Deepen Your Characters?
POV Advantages and Pitfalls
Getting the Best Response From Your Characters
Stepping Out: A Look at POV Shifts
Man Up: Writing Male POV

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Angela Brown
    Jul 28, 2011 @ 09:39:46

    Raelyn, I got the same sort of picture in my head.

    I haven’t been whipped about in POV land during my recent reads. Most are using the POV change per chapter to ensure a firm break from person to person. Others are using the space breaks. As a writer, I personally favor chapter or space breaks. It helps me break firmly from one character’s POV to the next. I’ve got a lot of work to do with it. Every now and then, I’ll re-read something and notice the POV slippage. You’re right, when that happens, it pulls you right out of the moment.


    • Raelyn Barclay
      Jul 28, 2011 @ 09:52:41

      Hi Angela,

      When I’m drafting I put a lovely little # between each scene and/or POV change but most get removed in the editing process. I agree having that break helps make things easier to follow as I’m reading too but it’s not mandatory for me.

      Glad you got the same visual from that line…it’s one of mine :) Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Ciara Knight
    Jul 28, 2011 @ 09:40:50

    I read a book recently that the MC was injured in the middle of the climactic scene so the writer switched to another character for a page. THEN, switched back to MC when he could think and speak. Ugh, I was like, who is talking? :)
    Yeah, I’m more of a POV freak than I use to be.


    • Raelyn Barclay
      Jul 28, 2011 @ 09:57:17

      LOL, yeah, I’ve run across that a few times though not for a single page. I’ve always been a POV junkie even before I knew what it truly was. That omniscient POV so popular in younger aged books drove me crazy.

      Thanks for stopping by Ciara!


  3. Maria Zannini
    Jul 28, 2011 @ 13:14:36

    I outline, so when I’m setting up my sequences, I always start by typing in the pov character in that chapter or scene. If there’s more than one, I write that down.

    As I’m editing, I can look back at my outline to double check who’s pov I’m supposed to be following and correct any slips.


    • Raelyn Barclay
      Jul 28, 2011 @ 13:55:10

      I do that too Maria. I’ll add a comment (Word’s Track Changes) at that # I mentioned above noting whose POV I’m in and their motivation for the scene. Sometimes I’ll include goal and/or outcome, and whether it’s an action or reaction scene. I love using the comments because it doesn’t get counted in the word count and keeps me from having too many things open at one time.

      Thanks for stopping by :)


  4. marykateleahy
    Jul 28, 2011 @ 14:24:34

    Excellent post!!!

    You are so right. Did the hero seriously refer to the heroine as “the woman” in his head? He’s lucky he didn’t say that out loud. To keep POV true I like to actually close my eyes and say okay I’m so and so and I’m in a market place. What do I see, smell, taste, hear and go through it that way. Actually meditate and try to experience the sensations. And instead of the mirror trick I like to have another person observe and explain how they look. That way it isn’t so weird, because someone else might notice hey her hair is long, even if you wouldn’t.

    Really great post. *Furiously examines WIPS*


    • Raelyn Barclay
      Jul 28, 2011 @ 15:30:08

      Yeah, he really did! It was such an eww moment! And more than once in that scene :shudder:

      Oh, I like that meditating to experience the sensations of a scene. I’ll have to give that a try! I agree the mirror trick is lame and I’d rather get a character’s description from another character.

      Thanks for stopping by Mary Kate :)


  5. Lindsay Buroker
    Jul 29, 2011 @ 10:28:03

    Yeah, I know this used to be common in literature, but it definitely jars me now, and I probably won’t give a book a chance if the head hopping comes in the sample pages of an ebook. It’s usually indicative of other problems anyway.

    As for writing, if I’m doing a story with same-sex main characters that spend a lot of time together, I’ll write it in first person. It saves you a lot of hassle with name repetition (otherwise required so there’s no confusion about those pronouns).


    • Raelyn Barclay
      Jul 29, 2011 @ 11:54:59

      I’m the same way Lindsay, I won’t read the omniscient POV nor a book that demonstrates head hopping in the first few pages. I realize in the case of the omniscient POV I may be limiting myself but I just can’t get in to them.

      First person is a great trick to get around the same sex character issue.

      In the above mentioned case it was a romance and the author needed to be in both the MC heads. For the majority of the story it was handled well with clear breaks for the POV shifts, the author only missed a step a few times near the end, and the one I mentioned was the worst of the lot.

      Thanks for stopping by :)


  6. Angela Wallace
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 10:56:30

    I’m reading a book right now that switches POV back and forth between four main characters, but everything is written in first person. The character’s name is at the top of the chapter or section break (sometimes it switches mid-chapter, mid-scene!). It gets very confusing sometimes.

    Okay, I have a confession–I have done the mirror trick (though I didn’t know it was a “trick”). It’s not like I randomly threw in a mirror so I could drop description though; it had a natural purpose in the scene (or so I thought). I’ve never minded brief description of the character in the beginning of the book. If it came anywhere after the first couple chapters, I think it’d be weird.


    • Raelyn Barclay
      Jul 31, 2011 @ 11:46:25

      Hi Angela,
      I’ve read stories that state the character at the start of a chapter before too and that can be a good why to separate POV. Four characters…wow…that would be whiplash head-hopping!

      “Trick” might be a wee bit harsh (and it may just be my own pet peeve) but it drives me crazy when a character describes themselves. Though like I mentioned in the post Kait Nolan pulled it off and I once read a story where the character described herself over the phone to someone she hadn’t met before so they could connect at a club. (Who hasn’t done that once or twice in their life?)

      I like description and agree having a character physically described early in the story is good. For me at least, I’d rather have other characters doing the describing and have the character’s own actions, thoughts, etc. tell me about the character than a laundry list.

      A character trying on a dress or something and looking in a mirror over her shoulder to make sure the outfit didn’t make her ass look big…now THAT I could relate to and wouldn’t mind seeing in a story!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting :)


      • Angela Wallace
        Jul 31, 2011 @ 13:32:36

        If the writing is in third person limited and switches characters’ POV, I could see using that to describe the other characters. I’ve been writing in first-person though, so there isn’t another character to describe what my main protag looks like. I mean, I’ve never commented on someone’s physical description when I’m having a conversation with them, unless they got a drastic haircut, so if I tried to have another character do it in dialogue, it would feel contrived to me. “I love your brown hair.” Who says that?

        You can let me know if this sounds like it would set off your pet peeve… ;-) My character is in front of a mirror icing a black eye. Her brother comes in and after a brief banter, she describes him, then looks at herself in the mirror to do a comparison (both of looks and personality). Plus, I feel the way she describes herself shows her personality–somewhat self-deprecating, not girly… My summary doesn’t really convey it all, including my prose, but that’s the gist.


        • Raelyn Barclay
          Jul 31, 2011 @ 15:17:54

          Okay…you’re right first person is harder. I don’t write in 1st often and the story I was ranting about wasn’t in 1st.

          I think your approach sounds reasonable and probable as long as the description doesn’t come across as a laundry list. The heroine describing her brother as she’s comparing them, yeah that works. I think the fact that you mention personalities would save it for me.

          I’ve used a mirror too, in 3rd person even, but the heroine isn’t describing herself but rather trying to see if her pregnancy shows.

          Rules are meant for breaking, right? :)

          I guess what it comes down to is most times I’ve read a character describing themselves in a mirror it comes across as lazy writing to me. Does it stop me from reading the story?…No. Do I re-write it as I’m reading?…All the time, LOL. I don’t need a lot of physical character description, unless it’s imperative to the story, and don’t include much in my own writing. Truth will come when I get my story back from the first reader and we’ll see if I skimped or nailed it :)

          Thanks for the dialogue Angela!!


          • Angela Wallace
            Jul 31, 2011 @ 17:16:23

            I agree, I don’t need much character description either. Hair style/color usually gives me enough of a frame to then fill in the blanks myself. Distinguishing features are good. Maybe you can just tell if it’s lazy, like saying “I wore glasses,” vs. “I kept adjusting my new frames,” or “I kept leaving my glasses in dangerous places–the chair, the sofa, the bathroom–hoping someone might accidentally sit on them or knock them into the toilet. Then I’d have an excuse to buy new frames.”

            Yeah, great conversation! :-)

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