Posted On June 26, 2015 by Print This Post

Five Ways Point of View Can Make You a Better Writer by Janice Hardy

Think you know POV? Janice Hardy shows us how POV can take your writing to a new level.

Welcome back, Janice!

Whenever a new writer asks me to share advice, “learn how to use POV” is tops on the list. No other element of writing can do so much, and it helps eliminate the common problems new writers (and let’s face it, some of us old writers, too) stumble over.

No matter what story we’re writing, we filter it through a literary lens—be it the author, a character, or a series of characters. Think of POV as the color of that filter. Maybe it’s green, or yellow, or blue, but whatever filter we use will make what we see (and write) a little different.

Characters bring a world and a story to life. Swap out the POV character and the story changes (and if it doesn’t, that’s a whole Janice_Hardyother post). There’s also the secondary aspect of POV to consider—everyone in the story will have an opinion about what they experience. So “point of view” can also refer to how the characters as a group see the story and their role in it.

Let’s take a closer peek at common writing problems POV helps avoid:

  1. 1. POV helps to show, not tell

Telling sneaks into our writing when we’re explaining and not seeing the story through the eyes of our characters. We know how they feel, so we tell our readers. Instead, try climbing inside that POV character and look through her eyes. If she’s angry, pay attention to why, notice how she feels and what’s she’s doing instead of saying “she was angry” or “she walked up to him in anger.” (Take a peek at my RU post on describing emotions for more tips on this)

When we know how a character feels, not just that a character feels, we have a wider sense of emotions and opinions to work with. We can paint a more realistic picture of those emotions and actions and avoid vague descriptions that make the reader do all the work.

  1. POV helps with infodumps and backstory

When we stop to drop information—be it about the world or the character—is the information for the reader’s benefit, or the character’s? A character won’t talk about things she knows or doesn’t care about without a good reason, but a writer will, because sometimes we feel the need to explain how things work or how a character got to this point so readers “get it.”

Look to the POV and ask—does the character have a reason to think about or share this information at this time? (Be honest). Is this just a way to get that information to the reader? If so, cut it, or find a way that the POV would naturally think or say it at that time.

  1. POV helps with description

You could fill an entire novel with description, but most of it doesn’t matter to the POV character. What she finds important and what she needs to notice helps us decide which details need to be in a scene and which we can ignore. A gal in love will see the world very different than one who just got fired, as would a born-and-raised New Yorker versus someone raised on a commune in Montana.

Knowing how the POV character feels about it also allows us to get creative with those descriptions. A character will describe things as they relate to her experience, so metaphors and similes can be unusual and not clichés. She might notice unusual details if it’s the first time she’s ever seen something we take for granted.

  1. POV helps with voice

Characters have unique ways of speaking, and the more we see the world through their eyes, the better we understand those voices and how they’d speak or think. Personality shines through dialog and internalization, which conveys the voice of a character. Are they funny or dry? Whiney or optimistic? Do they make statements or second guess themselves?

Understanding how the non-POV characters think can also help us craft unique voices for them. Get inside their heads a little and figure out how they see the world and interact with it. This can help us create secondary characters who feel like real people, and not just placeholders saying lines.

  1. POV helps with plotting

If we don’t know what a character wants, it’s hard to plot a novel about her getting it. A strong POV has goals and needs, and reasons she wants those goals and needs. This lets us know what that character will do in any given situation, because she’s not waiting for us to tell her what to do. She has opinions all her own on how to proceed and she’ll act on those opinions. Crawl into her head and look through her eyes and ask what she’d do. Then write how she does it. (Try my RU post on adding conflict for additional plotting tips)

This also helps with figuring out how the other characters in the scene might act, because just like with voice, a solid understanding of a character’s POV/opinions (even for a non-POV character) lets us know how they feel and what they’re willing to do and not do.

Stories are about interesting people, solving interesting problems, in interesting ways. The heart of that is people. The more we see the world through their eyes, the better prepared we’ll be to take advantage of that information.

Looking for more on point of view or show don’t tell? I’m presenting two workshops at the Emerald City Writers’ Conference on October 16-18 at the Westin Hotel in Bellevue, WA (Sponsored by the Greater Seattle Romance Writers of America). Look for my half-day master class on point of view, and my one-hour workshop on show, don’t tell.

Have questions for Janice on POV? Ask away!

***

PYN_Ideas and Structure Cover.inddPlanning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure takes you step-by-step through finding and developing ideas, brainstorming stories, and crafting a solid plan for your novel—including a one-sentence pitch, summary hook blurb, and working synopsis. Over 100 different exercises lead you through the novel-planning process, with ten workshops that build upon each other to flesh out your idea as much or as little as you need to do to start writing.

Find Exercises On:
Creating Characters
Choosing Point of View
Determining the Conflict
Finding Your Process
Developing Your Plot
And So Much More!

Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to planning your novel, as well as a handy tool for revising a first draft, or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working.

***

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

What’s next: Carolyn Haines joins us on Monday, June 29th. 

 

 

 

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12 Responses to “Five Ways Point of View Can Make You a Better Writer by Janice Hardy”

  1. I’ve read a lot about POV, but this post has resonated more than any other. Thank you, for giving such a clear and insightful article.

    I now feel more equipped for my writing expedition.

    Posted by Samantha | June 26, 2015, 10:40 am
  2. Hi Janice,

    Your post is a reminder of the critical relationship between GMC and POV and how that allows a reader to understand a character’s feelings/actions/reactions.

    There are times when I just can’t get out of my head and into the character. It helps to reread my messy notes to find my footing. Also, switching POVs in a scene sometimes makes the scene stronger, which leads to my question.

    I’ve read about authors counting the number of scenes between the H/H’s POV. Is there a ‘rule’ on how much of a story should be told in one character’s POV or should the time be more equally split between the two main characters?

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 26, 2015, 4:33 pm
    • There’s no rule, but my personal rule of thumb is to:

      A. Maintain a good balance so readers don’t feel yanked away from a character. It can be jarring to spend ten chapters in one head and then suddenly be in another.

      B. Make sure each POV has enough page time to cover a solid story. If one POV only has a few chapters, there’s not enough time to tell that POV’s story. That’s a red flag for a lack of a goal and those chapters could be just backstory or infodump. There are exceptions of course (a multi-character omniscient POV, for example), but typically, if you’re in a character’s POV, there’s a plot-driving/character arc reason.

      C. Establish the POV switch and how you’ll be changing it early on so readers know what to expect. If it’s a change every five chapters, fine. If it’s every few chapters and what “few” is changes, fine. Whatever you choose, be consistent.

      D. Unless you’re alternating POVs, forcing a shift when there’s no reason to return to the other POV can make you write chapters or scenes you don’t need and hurt the story overall. Change POVs when the story needs to change to create the best pace and narrative flow.

      So in your case, decide how you want to split your two POVs, and run with it. Look at what you want to accomplish with both POVs and what the best way to show that is.

      Posted by Janice Hardy | June 27, 2015, 6:57 am
  3. Great post, Janice! I have a question, along the lines of Jennifer’s question above. Do you think using multiple points of view distracts from a story? Is there a correct number of POV scenes? (Different POVs, that is.)

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 26, 2015, 10:06 pm
    • It all depends on the story you want to tell. Some novels follow one POV all the way though, others have a different POV per chapter (Like World War Z, though there is a person who ties that all together).

      I think that the more personal a story is, the fewer POVs you typically have. The bigger the story, the more POV you often see. Which is why huge epic fantasies tend to have dozens of POVs, while novels about a single person overcoming a problem have one POV.

      I don’t think multiple POVs distract from a story (when done well), but I DO think that adding a POV *only* to show something the protagonist can’t witness will indeed distract. The more POVs in the tale, the more the story is diluted, and it risks not having enough time to tell all those characters’ stories. If the story is epic, it’s less of a problem vs. a personal story. It also depends on the type of story. A plot-focused, it’s all about the event (such as a thriller) might have more POVs. It’s not about the characters, but what they’re trying to do. There’s no real character arc for anyone.

      It comes down to, “how many POVs do you expect the reader to connect with, follow, and remember?” The more you throw at them, the harder it is to remember or care.

      Posted by Janice Hardy | June 27, 2015, 7:07 am
  4. Evening Janice!

    I love to write first-person point of view, but so many people find it difficult to read. And I love to read multiple points of view which drives a lot of people crazy as well.

    I’d read back in the day – the 70’s – that it was mostly an 80-20 split on heroine vs hero POV….I’m sure that’s changed – is there more of a 50-50 split nowadays?

    thanks!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 26, 2015, 11:33 pm
    • It all depends on the book. No matter what you write, there will be readers who can’t stand that style. Your book just isn’t for them, and that’s okay 🙂 If you love writing a certain POV, then write that way. No genre or market is “all” anything.

      A 50-50 POV split does seem to be the current trend in romance, but it’s certainly not the only way to write them. (Full disclosure, I have romance writer friends, but it’s not a genre I read a lot of). I think overall, there’s a much wider variety of styles in all genres these days. Each has a common style you see a lot of (for example, YA has a lot of first person), but it’s not the only way to write that genre.

      Posted by Janice Hardy | June 27, 2015, 7:16 am
  5. Thanks for the clear and detailed article about POV,Janice!
    Usually I wtite 1-POV. It helps to bring atmosphere to the book.

    Posted by Pimion | July 9, 2015, 4:50 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Getting our characters and their POV right is always tricky. Roz Morris shares 3 signs that your novel has too many characters and what to do about it, Jen Matera discusses character consistency, and Janice Hardy brings us 5 ways POV can make you a better writer. […]

  2. […] Five Ways Point of View Can Make You a Better Writer Janice Hardy on Romance University about how to leverage POV to make your book better. […]

    July Links | Becky Black - July 11, 2015
  3. […] Five Ways Point of View Can Make You a Better Writer by Janice Hardy […]

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