Not all point of view errors are head-hopping shifts. In fact, there’s been so much written on POV in recent years, most experienced writers rarely, if ever, shift points of view. Head-hopping is out, and the fact that some famous author does it no longer feels like a viable excuse.
But I still see POV errors in novels—both unpublished and published. Not shifts, but something more subtle. I saw a great example when I was a reading a historical novel set in Boston. Being a New Englander at heart, I love reading about my favorite city. So when the very educated, local doctor said, “You’ll be wanting to elevate that knee,” I was wicked annoyed. Because nobody from Boston uses that kind of construction—“you’ll be wanting to.”
In case you’re curious, Bostonians are also never “fixin’ to” do anything, but here in my new home state of Oklahoma, people are fixin’ to do stuff all the time. At the same time, to put the very popular and perfectly wonderful adverb “wicked” in the speech of an Oklahoman would almost always be a POV error (unless your character were me or any member of my transplanted family).
It’s not just colloquial speech that gets people, though. Today I was reading a manuscript in which the manly, sports-minded hero said his friend was wearing a “snazzy” suit. Men in the audience, clap if you often utter the word, “snazzy.”
I hear crickets.
That’s not a word most men use. So if you’re going to have a male character use it, there’d better be a good reason. Maybe he’s in the beauty industry. Or maybe he was raised by a pack of wild, fashion-crazed women.
Staying within your character’s POV isn’t just about only showing the reader what he’s seeing and feeling. It’s also about making sure every word, phrase, and sentence in his POV reflects his personality. Sure, your blue collar worker can use fifty-dollar words, but if he does, there’d better be a reason, and you’d better show us what it is. Yes, an elderly grandmother can high-five her best friend over the pinochle table after a particularly “phat” hand, but that had better line up with Granny’s personality—and stay consistent throughout the book.
So when you’re searching your book for POV shifts, pay particular attention to:
One suggestion I give my clients is to read their stories aloud and in the voice of their character. Often, you may not see the error, but your ears will pick up on it. And you don’t want any to slip by, because POV errors throw readers out of the story, and that is wicked bad.
Robin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, released this spring. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website, robinpatchen.com.
Finding Amanda: Chef and popular blogger Amanda Johnson hopes publishing her memoir will provide healing and justice. Her estranged husband, contractor and veteran soldier Mark Johnson, tries to talk her out of it, fearing the psychiatrist who seduced her when she was a teen might return to silence her.
But Amanda doesn’t need advice, certainly not from her judgmental soon-to-be ex-husband. Her overconfidence makes her vulnerable when she travels out of town and runs into the abuser from her past. A kind stranger comes to her rescue and offers her protection.
Now Mark must safeguard his wife both from the fiend who threatens her life and from the stranger who threatens their marriage.
I know it’s August, but we’re keeping the celebration alive here at Write Now Editing! Robin has donated a copy of her favorite writing resource to giveaway to one lucky reader. Just leave your name and email in the comments – I’ll pick a winner next week!