Articles on Writing:
Writing Good Stories
The Novelization Process
Approaching Revisions
Rethinking and Revising Imagery

Revising the Horror of Stage Directions
Maintaining and Violating POV
Logic vs. Illogic - Hanging the Lanterns

How to End a Novel

Sound and Sense - Shelley vs Dickens

New Leaves in the Wind - Essays on the Interet Experience

Maintaining and Violating POV in a Novel

Are you revising a section of your novel and something doesn't seem right? Have you checked all aspects and still it isn't anchored to the rest of the work? Have you tested for POV inconsistencies?

Many rules just beg to be broken in writing, and we should all try to break them (even this one), but the most consistent and stalwart of them all is maintaining the correct point of view (POV). If you jump from one character's head to another's in any particular chapter, your reader must constantly hold on their seats trying to figure out where the heck they are. For working purposes, hare's my take on this golden rule:

For each chapter, you should select one character's the point of view character. All things are seen, sensed, ruminated, vibrated, reciprocated and deliberated in that character's mind. If your novel is in the first person, this is a no-brainer. If you are writing in the third person (limited), you have a choice at the beginning of every chapter or sub-chapter. If you are writing in second person, you're writing the Bible, so don't worry about it. The reader will put down your book as often as they put down the Bible or the Silmarilion, whichever comes first.

Whenever you change POV, you should change chapters or use the infamous double space and asterisks (****) as you would in scene changes. (Scenes never really change, by the way. POVs change. Think about it).

Most writers know these rules from their first short story in Mrs. Palmerton's entry-level creative writing class. Still, POV violations sneak up and bite every writer in . . . well, it bites. Example:

Samuel knew that the bee would sting him. He just knew it. He sensed it. Prunella also sensed it. She tried to swat it away, which only made it worse. Bees anger when confronted with swat-currents.

Now this represents the most common error. We are in Sam's head (POV). His companion (Prunella) also senses the bee's impending action. However, by saying so, we are now in her head. It ends with a complete shift in tone from third person to second, which is legal, and might have obfuscated the POV violation. This amplification of sensitivity to the point of sharing, is easy to rectify by including a probability element or an element of logic. In the above, the logical element is already evident: only made it worse PLUS the closing sentence in second person voice. We'll correct this with:

Samuel knew that the bee would sting him. He just knew it. He sensed it. Prunella probably sensed it too, because she tried to swat it away. It only made it worse as bees anger when swatted.

By adding the probably, we stay in Samuel's head, as he can observed Prunella and could justify her actions with the logical extenders. Of course, for flow and rhythm, other things are revised also. The last sentence now is attached to the logical extension, therefore comes out of the second person, and as such we remove second person vocabulary, which always borders (and needs to) on the pretentious. What are swat-currents anyway? A type of berry.

This seems to be simple fix, but the word probably after its tenth use becomes a writing flattener. Boring. It doesn't fall into the background like the dialogue tag said. Therefore, you need to vary that word and the approach. How else can Samuel tell that Prunella senses his danger? She could say it.

Samuel knew that the bee would sting him. He just knew it.
"Watch out, Sam," Prunella said, snapping her fan toward the bee.
Bees however are rarely deterred by gentle threats and Prunella only made it worse - an angrier bee.

Another common POV violation is, what I call, character walk-away. Your POV character has the reader firmly in the scene. Suddenly they walk off (exit stage right), but the scene continues in another character's POV. This transference appears natural to a writer, but can be disconcerting to a reader, especially if the POV reader returns. Here's an example:

Sam watched Luke's eyes. They were poker eyes, protecting his hand. Sam had nothing - this evening was a bad poker dream, especially since he had a dream like this two days ago.
"I'm out," he said.
"Then get some more chips," Luke snorted. Sam shuffled off. Luke glanced at Cory. "I raise you."
"Five-hundred?" Cory said. "Too rich for me." He folded.
Luke scooped the pot to his chest. This would pay next month's rent, he thought. Wide grin.

This poker example starts out in Sam's head. We see Luke's eyes and hear Sam's thoughts. Luke's dialogue would suffice if Sam didn't leave the table, because when he does, the POV shifts to Luke. The logic is violated. Sam is no longer there to tell the reader what the reader is learning from Luke.

This is fixed easily enough by having Sam stay put. However, if the plot has Sam grab a knife instead of potato chips, so his return precipitates a fight over Luke's winnings, then some other fix needs to be found. There are two solutions.

1. When Sam leaves, we have a chapter break (space and **** or whatever is your pleasure). The dialogue can then continue and should be elongated. Luke's POV now prevails, and when Sam returns and stabs Luke in the jugular, we can experience the pain first hand.
2. When Sam leaves, we leave the poker table with him, and the ensuing the dialogue. Sam (now in the kitchen) is torn between the chips and the knife. We have the opportunity to get Sam's inner perspective on the bad dream and how that dream is goading him to his next psychotic action. This squealing is in Sam's POV. When he returns to the table, we can sense Luke's win and elation through Sam's eyes. Stab. Screams. Blood. General mayhem.

In general, when correcting some POV issues, think of the development and creative opportunities you have overlooked. You will be surprised.

Another way to fix character walk away is to have the POV character within earshot. Dialogue can be overheard and people shout. However, you must underscore this fact so it isn't lost on the reader.

As promised, here are two ways to VIOLATE POV legally:

1. Begin a chapter in your third person POV and withhold POV for the first few paragraphs before anointing one character as the POV vessel. Try it. You'll like it. The only transference of POV that the reader will safely tolerate is from the Author third person to a character third person, and only at the top of the chapter.
2. This second one is sneaky, but I've used it in my epic novel series The Jade Owl. It has a specific requirement - two characters that are telepathic. Since there's transference of thoughts between them, they both can have the POV at any given time. It is a tap dance, and can become messy, but since it is logical, readers are tolerant of it - for short spurts.

In short, POV is a bulwark of fiction writing. Like most bulwarks, the reader only notices it when it's out of order. When it is, it exhausts them. They'll put your books down nary to drink there again.

Edward C. Patterson