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Submitted on
January 31, 2010
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DISCLAIMER: Before anyone starts screaming about this article not emphasizing the Creative aspect of writing, please understand that this information was hammered into my head by my editors. This is what I had to learn to see my work published.

That doesn't mean you have to follow it! As with all advice, feel free to take what you can use and throw out the rest.


Pesky Point of View

What is Point of View (POV)?
-- It's the view of the person telling the story.

First Person: I am telling the story.

Second Person. I am telling the story to YOU. (Diaries and letters are commonly written this way.)

Third Person: He is telling the story.

Close Third Person: He had no clue how he got roped into telling this story, but he was telling it, and by god, they better listen up!

Omniscient Distant POV: The camera's eye view. (No internal narration what so ever. You only know what the camera sees. This is the POV used in plays and movie/TV scripts.)

Omniscient Close POV, AKA: Storyteller's POV, AKA: Author Intrusion: When the author expresses their opinions on what is happening in the story. (The Lemony Snicket books are written this way, as are Fairy Tales and many Japanese novels.)  

Note: The stories currently being published in America most often use Close Third POV and First Person POV.

Close Third POV = the POV Character's Voice.

When you are in Close Third POV, everything the main character sees and experiences should be flavored with that character's Attitude -- that character's voice.

If Oscar the Grouch is looking at a bed of roses, what is going through his head is not going to resemble what would be going through Big Bird's head. If you are in Oscar's POV, the way you would write the description of those roses would reflect how he saw them.

Attitude Alone (AKA - Internal Narration):
-- Oscar could not believe that someone had the gall to drop his comfy garbage can in the middle of a disgustingly bright mound of flowers. At least they were roses. He could almost stand something that closely resembled a heaped snarl of barbed wire, if it weren't for those eye-searing explosions of hideous pink. To make matters worse their stench was overwhelmingly sweet. He just knew that it was going to take a whole week to get the smell out of his can. He seriously considered heaving, just to have something more comforting to smell.

What's wrong with this snippet?
-- Technically, nothing other than it's BORING. NOTHING is happening -- and that's totally wrong for this character. Oscar would not sit there and contemplate the roses; he would make faces and say something snotty.

Attitude + ACTION:
-- Oscar the Grouch popped out of his trash can. Serrated green leaves waved among slender and barbed branches around the mouth of his home. He gasped in horror. "What is this disgusting mess?"  He leaned out and looked around in disbelief. "Oh ugh, I'm surrounded. Somebody put my trash can in a revolting pile of... What are these? Roses?" He could almost stand something that closely resembled a heaped snarl of barbed wire, if it weren't for those eye-searing explosions of hideous color. He curled his lip. "Pink, I hate pink."

To make matters worse the stench was overwhelmingly sweet. "Oh, eww! The smell!" He slapped a fuzzy green hand over his fuzzy green nose. "It's gonna take me a week to get that stink out'ta my can!" He felt his gorge rising. "I think I'm going to be sick. At least it'll smell better."

Not quite so boring this time.

Pet Peeve of mine: TOO MANY POVs!
Your mileage may vary, but…
-- As far as I'm concerned, there is only ONE legitimate reason to have more than one POV -- SUBPLOTS.

When you have a large cast of characters, making more than one story thread going on, only then do you need POV switching to show the full scope of the story. Since another story is being told within the first, the main POV character may or may not ever be involved. This makes another POV character a necessity.

Jane Austin, Steven King, Robert Jordan and Terry Pratchet are authors that use multiple subplots – multiple stories within one bigger story, and even they stick to ONE POV per subplot. When they bring all the characters together in a story's final confrontation, they use the first POV Character that appears in the book (that is not killed by the villain.*)  

* In most mysteries, horror stories and suspense, nine times out of ten, the very first POV character is usually someone dealing with the Antagonist – the villain of the piece, and they usually end up dead. The next POV character is (normally,) the story's leading Protagonist.

But…! But…! But…!
-- "But how will the reader know what's really going on in the other characters' heads?"

The exact same way YOU know what's going on in your friends' heads. You GUESS by reading into what they say and what they do. You read their Body Language. This means that if you want your reader to guess right -- or wrong -- you put in the speaker's body language too -- what they're doing AS they speak.  

Who's POV?
When you have more than One POV character in a scene...

When you have multiple characters to choose from for a particular scene which one do you pick? Who has the most to LOSE? Who is going to be the most tied up in knots? Who is going to get the most frustrated? THAT'S your POV character for that scene.

POV Problems & Cures
The Horrors of Head-hopping
-- Head-hopping is when the Point of View changes, and changes, and changes, and changes...sometimes every few paragraphs, sometimes every few sentences.

Obsessive Head-hopping normally happens for these reasons…

The Author is still at the learning stage.
-- The most common reason for obsessive head-hopping is that they don't even KNOW that they are head-hopping.

Dead Give-Aways:
1) Every character's opinionated view is presented without any form of scene breaks, (often in the same paragraph.)
2) Poor grammar skills.

My advice to Beginners: Write in FIRST PERSON, until you know how to STAY in that one person's head, then attempt Close Third person. Once you know how to STAY in one person's head, POV switching will be much easier to master.

Don't rush into Third Person after one try. Handling First Person POV is tough enough. Seriously, I know a lot of published authors who have a rough time with that POV. Taking one step at a time will save you a LOT of grief in the long run.

They're a multi-million dollar author.
-- Their editor isn't about to risk pissing off an author that makes the publishing house THAT much money.  

Dead Give-Aways:
-- Their name is Nora Roberts. (She even ADMITS to head hopping, and has point blank stated that she sees no need to fix it since they're going to publish her anyway.)

Emotional DETACHMENT from the Official Lead Character
-- A lot of obsessive head-hopping is caused by the author's emotional connection to a character that is NOT the protagonist – the official lead in the story. When the author becomes fascinated by a character that is not the official lead, they will often pop in and out of their 'favorite'. They simply cannot bear not being in that person's head.

Dead Give-Aways:
1) ALL the characters are involved in only ONE plotline.
2) No real subplots, no secondary stories about different, but related, sets of characters.  
3) The POV characters are narrowed to only two or three people.
4) The official lead character does not affect the plot in any major way.  
5) The second (and preferred,) POV character defeats the Villain – not the official lead character. This makes the second (and preferred,) POV character the Protagonist, the Official Lead.

The Author thinks they are enriching the story.
-- The author is convinced that both leading characters are interesting. They are attempting to provide the reader with a ringside seat to BOTH sides of the story. This shows up chronically in Erotic Fiction of every stripe.

This problem normally takes a very firm publication editor to fix because the author will often refuse to fix it for any other reason.  They did it on purpose and don't see anything wrong with it. (My editor b*tches about this ALL THE TIME.)

Dead Give-Aways:
1) Only the two main characters have a POV.
2) The POV switch happens without breaks, one successive paragraph after the next – from one end of the story to the other. (Seme > Uke > Seme > Uke…)
3) Events are often repeated; displayed in one POV and then the other.
4) Its deliberate. The author did it on purpose.

The Author thinks they're making SUSPENSE.
-- The author is convinced that the entire cast is soooo interesting, they MUST be revealed to the reader. They completely miss that by allowing the readers a peek into each of the character's heads, it does not take much effort for the reader to guess how the story will end by the third chapter.

Dead Give-Aways:
1) No real subplots.  
2) The entire plot and every characters' motivation, including the villain's, is revealed by the third chapter.
3) Its deliberate. The author did it on purpose.

Why is this a Problem?
-- The reader has NO REASON to finish the story. Why should the reader bother continuing to read a story they already know the ending to? And by the way, once one already knows how a story will end, where's the suspense?

I have heard loud cries of – "But they don't know HOW it all falls apart!"
-- The point is, that once the reader knows it's going to fall apart, they are Distanced from the characters' joy and pain. They are no longer participants in the drama, but merely observers because they already know what's coming.

Look at it this way...  

Scene One --
-- Someone leans close to you and says: "Watch this, I'm gonna yell Boo in that kid's ear!" They yell.
-- The kid jumps.
-- And you do - what? You smile, maybe you laugh.

Scene Two --
-- Someone else leans over and grabs a different kid, yelling: "TICKLE!"
-- You -- jump out of your skin, maybe even shout, because it was totally unexpected.

See the difference?

Quick & Dirty Head-hop Proofing
Try writing it in First Person POV then do a Search / Replace.

• "I" = Character's Name at the beginning of a paragraph. You only need to use a character's name once per paragraph -- unless they are directly interacting with another character of the same gender. If so, then you'll need to use both names to keep the reader from getting confused as to who is doing what to whom.
• He/She = Her/Him, everywhere else in the paragraph. (Need a gender-neutral word? I use THEM or ONE. "He didn't know what to tell them." "One needs to be sure before one acts.")
• "My" = her/his.  
• "Mine"  = Their

Read your story line by line correcting and adjusting as you go until the story reads properly in the third person.

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Ookami Kasumi
Add a Comment:
princesswanderer Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Student Writer
I have a story with really three main characters. I have been hopping between their POVs often sometimes because I want/need to describe something only that one character is feeling or seeing. things necessary to the plot or something that is overly worthy of explaining. such as: the characters are separated to do some testing. I follow one character because his tests and their results are important. I then jump to they other because the conversation he is having is also very important. I later jump to the third character because what she is feeling pretty much describes how magic and fighting works in the story. what should I do? 
1st-Hashirama-Senju Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2013

So this means that for example, during an action scene, if an enemy fighting your main character says the name of an attack in his or her head, then the main character does not know the name of it since it would mean head hopping if I do show it?  Just want to be sure I am not leaving out critical details.

OokamiKasumi Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2013  Professional Writer
So this means that for example, during an action scene, if an enemy fighting your main character says the name of an attack in his or her head, then the main character does not know the name of it since it would mean head hopping if I do show it?

1st-Hashirama-Senju Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2013

Thanks for clearing it up.

iSpazzyKitty Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Ah, this one was very helpful! I love playing around with POVs, and first person is probably my favorite to write in, but I am pretty inexperienced. I've also been wondering why I can get so excited about writing something I thought of, but when I actually write it, I don't really feel anything. I finally understand! Thanks for writing this. :D
OokamiKasumi Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Professional Writer
My pleasure.
 -- I'm glad I could provide a bit of helpful insight!
iSpazzyKitty Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:) Now I just gotta read it all again. xD
MsMikkiC Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2013
WOW!  Hit me on the head with a brick! :rofl:  I am SO the author that thinks they're making suspense and I didn't even know it.

The book I'm writing has three POV's: the protagonist, her lover who is the potential victim of the antagonist and the antagonist.  I think I've managed to stick to one POV in each scene, but I definitely don't stick to one throughout the book even though there are no subplots.  Though, I'm guessing it's okay to change POV if the main character isn't in the scene.  They don't have a POV if they aren't there, after all; right?

Are you sure you don't do any critiquing (I think I read that you don't)?  Cause I could sure use the input of someone like you.

Thanks for the awesome tips.  They are REALLY helpful.
OokamiKasumi Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Professional Writer
I'm guessing it's okay to change POV if the main character isn't in the scene.  They don't have a POV if they aren't there, after all; right?
 -- Yep, that's perfectly fine!

Are you sure you don't do any critiquing (I think I read that you don't)?  Cause I could sure use the input of someone like you.
 -- I am very sure. Mainly because I am an absolutely vicious critic, especially on sentence structure, but also because I tend to subconsciously Borrow from everything I read. If you have a good idea, I may borrow it without every realizing it, and use it in my own stories.

I'm glad you like my tips!
 -- I love being helpful. ♥
Clandesty Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
"Emotional DETACHMENT from the Official Lead Character"
I'm trying to determine if this is my problem, or if I'm trying to tell myself there's a subplot happening that needs focus. Either way, you bring up some really useful points! Thanks for sharing.
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