Using Point-of-View

Are your novel’s characters not resonating as real? Have editors remarked that they don’t jump off the page, or aren’t clearly rendered? Before you go back to the drawing board, consider if whether you need to polish your lens. I’m not talking about photography—I mean point-of-view (POV).

Understanding how to exploit your characters’ POVs to best serve the story is key to pulling readers in to the story and get invested with the characters. Effectively harnessing POV not only helps clarify a character’s background, worldview, motives and emotions, but makes readers care deeply about what happens to them. Therein lies the gateway to a gripping story.

Note: This post expands upon my post, Choosing the Right Point of View for Your Novel.

Review this list of common mistakes, and their solutions, for a firmer grasp of POV writing.

3 quick tips for using Point-of-View the right way:

1. Don’t skip emotion.

Whether your novel is a first-person narrative or told in the third-person, it’s a common mistake to only describe the nuts and bolts of a scene and omit the emotions within it. What a character feels about what’s going on is as essential as actual events.

Example:

Ineffective: “I saw the man enter the room and look around.” Here, we get no sense of how the character narrating feels about the situation. Is he alarmed at this new visitor? Intrigued? Angry?

Better: “I bristled as the man entered the room. Through piercing eyes more fit for a hawk, he scanned the place as if he owned it.” Here, the evocative verbs and metaphor indicate specifically how the narrator feels about what he’s observing. There’s suddenly tension and intrigue. Readers wonder, “What does the character have against this man?”

2. Don’t forget your characters’ pasts.

The past always informs the present. A character’s previous experiences can color her opinions, or give internal motivation for external action. A character who regrets something she did in the past will try to right it somehow in the present of your story. Consider how a character’s fears, insecurities and secrets color how she views her world.

Example:

Ineffective: “I took a bite of the meatloaf. It was disgusting.” This doesn’t tell us much, and the effect is a bland, unmemorable description.

Better: “I took a bite of the meatloaf. It crumbled in my mouth with the same lifeless texture as the food they served at the foster home.” Here, the writer has placed enthralling hints at the character’s past. Try incorporating these small yet effective indicators into your point-of-view for more compelling, fleshed-out characters.

3. Don’t choose vocabulary arbitrarily.

The specific words any given individual uses on an everyday basis don’t arise out of nowhere—they’re born from experience. What’s your character’s upbringing? Does where he’s from, his education, or the subcultures he’s embraced affect how he speaks, his prejudices, or what words he uses to describe the world? If so, this should tinge his internal voice as well. Consider how a rapper from Oakland would speak—and narrate—much differently than a posh socialite in Chelsea. Their point-of-view should reflect this.

Neglecting jargon and slang, especially for period- or setting-oriented novels can jar readers.

Example:

Ineffective: “The weather was cloudy and my commute was insane. Some idiot almost killed me switching lanes on the highway. My brother lives close enough so he can take the train. Lucky.” Here, the narrative could take place anywhere.   

Better: “The weather was grim and my commute was mental. Some plonker nearly killed me switching lanes on the motorway. My brother lives close enough to simply take the Tube. The jammy bastard.”  This immerses more into the character’s story world. It’s also clear the author did research.

Do you struggle with finessing Point-of-View in your novel, or have people told you your characters don’t feel real? Reach out to me below.

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