What is Point of View?
Point of View (POV) is the presentation of the story through a narrator. A story can be told through a character, several characters, or through an unnamed narrator. POV can be presented in 1st person (“I”), 3rd person limited (“he” “she”), or omniscient (narrator who knows all).
What is a POV character? The character telling the story in a given scene.
What is a POV slip? A slip in POV occurs when the POV character reveals information he or she cannot possibly know.
A POV character shares his own thoughts, feelings and reactions. The POV character may guess or surmise about what’s going on around him, based on his five senses. What a POV character cannot do is share what he does not see, hear or know, nor can he relate the thoughts and feelings of other characters. When a POV character relates something outside of his knowledge, it’s a POV slip.
To remain in POV, pretend to open the top of your character’s head. Climb inside. Now, relate only what this character sees; what this character hears; what this character smells; what this character feels, both physically and emotionally; what this character thinks.
You cannot report on an act that occurs in another room, because your POV character cannot see through walls.
You cannot report on what the bad guy is thinking, because your POV character cannot read minds.
You cannot report on what a love interest is feeling, because your POV character is not an empath.
Here’s a POV slip, with Richard narratoring in 3rd person POV:
~ Richard crept down the hallway clutching a fireplace poker. In the barn, the bad guys stuffed hay into the backpack to hide the bomb detonator. Richard stopped at the glass beside the front door and stared out the barn. ~
How can Richard know what the bad guys are doing in the barn, if he’s creeping around the house? He can’t see them and he’s not a mind-reader.
Here’s how Richard can guess or surmise what he cannot know, and thus alert the reader to the action in the story:
~ Richard crept through the house clutching a fireplace poker. At the front door, he crouched low and peered through the glass. It was windy out. He could see bits of hay swirling around the open barn door. What were these guys doing with his hay? ~
Example 2, with Richard narrating in 1st person:
~ My heart slammed in my chest. In front of me, the bad guy felt no fear at all. This farmer was a halfwit, nothing to worry about.
How can Richard know what the bad guy thinks of him, if he’s not privy to the bad guy’s thought processes?
~ My heart slammed in my chest. The bad guy facing me looked cool as a cucumber. His expression moved into a smirk, as if he thinks I’m some halfwit farmer. ~
“Looked” and “as if” are interpretations. Seeing the hay and assuming at the bad guys were doing something bad with it is a conclusion. POV characters are allowed to interpret, assume and conclude what they don’t know, but they cannot present it as fact.
Who is your POV character? Have you climbed into his or her head for each scene to take a look around?
3 thoughts on “How To Stay in Point of View”
POV can be tricky; sometimes it takes a different pair of eyes to catch those slips. At least for me….I’m working with deep pov now. It slows me down, but I love reading it, and it is what I want to write.
Pamela, I agree about POV slips slipping past the writer. Same applies to pronoun confusion. Even explaining a POV slip is a challenge, but it’s like art– know it when I see it.