Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Writing Lessons: Pesky POV Solutions

POV Issues

POV- Point of View- is simply "whose eyes are you looking out of when describing a scene or story." This is their perception, with their vocabulary, and their interpretation of events.

For example, a nobly born person will not view the same setting in the same manner as a street-wise punk. A man will not perceive a room the same way a woman does. Women notice different things and often can identify decorations by name. How many men can accurately differentiate between Prada and Gucci? A punk in a rich, opulent room may have no clue he's sitting in a Louis XIV chair, all he'd know is that it was "girlie" and looked delicate. Unless he's classically trained, he probably wouldn't know Beethoven from Vivaldi. He'd also be very uncomfortable.

I will use the characters from the movie, "The Wizard of Oz" as illustrations. Most of us are familiar with these characters.

The bane of every writer is to stay in the correct POV. The author looks at the scene from an omniscient point of view, and often falls into the trap of writing that way. Head hopping is a common error, and one many writers commit.

Fortunately, there are two easy solutions to the problem. While neither is guaranteed to fix all the issues, both do have advantages and disadvantages.

Method #1:

The first method has the advantage of being more accurate with less likelihood of falling out of POV. However, it is also the most difficult, requiring two stages. I use this method personally, because POV has been a consistent issue for me. Since I began doing this, I've had no critique partners nail me for POV.

Write your chapter in first person first. This forces you into deep POV, as you literally sit inside the head of your character and view the world through his or her eyes. For that brief time, you are that person and will more accurately perceive and describe through their personality. The Cowardly Lion and Dorothy would perceive the Dark Forest very differently. After all, it was Lion's comfortable home and he no doubt would be able to name every tree's species and even relate to events in his past. Dorothy, on the other hand, grew up in Kansas and probably could not do this. She would be concerned only with what might be in the forest and how to stay on the Yellow Brick Road to further her goal of getting to the Wizard. Lion is also a predator with a keen nose, and Dorothy a human with only a limited sense of smell. Depending on whose POV you wrote from, you would not describe events or the forest the same way.

Done? Now use the Edit/Replace commands in Word to highlight: he/she, his/hers, him/her, my, I, we, us, our, myself, himself/herself, mine. Let the computer do the work for you so you don't skip a single First Person reference. Change them to third person, one by one. Example: Our becomes Their. Make sure it flows. "I" can become either the character name or "He/She" depending on placement.

This takes practice. Don't expect perfection, because you won't get it all the first time. Now read it aloud to a friend or into a tape recorder. Play it back with your eyes shut. Do you hear anything awkward, or can't figure out who is referred to? Make a note to fix it and continue. A friend is very good for this. You're too close to the work and won't hear the flaws they would.

Method #2:

Change font colors to represent the different characters as a visual reminder of whose POV you're in. A bright pink font to represent your female, a bright blue to represent the male, or any coloration you like as long as you're comfortable.

This advanced technique has the advantage of allowing the author to write in third person the first draft. However, it also is less accurate in preventing head hopping mistakes. The author may assume they are describing accurately, but can't see the switch.

For those lucky enough to be able to stay in character, this technique may be all that's needed to remind them whose viewpoint they are working from with accuracy.

Both methods are equally valid, and can be used together if necessary. What works for one person will not work for another. Experiment and find what works for you.


Short bio: Lena Austin has written over thirty published titles. She has been writing professionally since 2003. She is also the Marketing Coordinator for Changeling Press, and assistant manager of Phoenix Rising Promotions.

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