Consistent point of view (pov) in writing and revision

In the process of revising the scene I’m working on, I made my self a note:

It’s a credible draft, and everything I wanted to put in there somewhere is there.

But it lacks 1) a consistent pov – Andrew fades in and out

I took a minute to ask myself why I had this thought, and realized that it happens regularly: a scene feels as if the point of view is going back and forth from a general omniscient pov to the first or third person pov I’m aiming for.

On an impulse, I grabbed a bright pink highlighter, and went through the current paper draft marking the places where the third person point of view is locked into Andrew’s pov.

I mark the point of view character by:

internal monologue – his exact thought

internal monologue – everything else he has going on inside his head that I decide to share with the reader

the pov character’s way of describing another character, with his attitude built in

Andrew noticing and describing his own actions

Andrew’s words and dialogue markers

With that list, the solution was obvious.

There were a couple of stretches where there were no Andrew-anchors for the READER. The sections weren’t confusing – it was clear who was speaking of a small group of people, or what was going on – but Andrew’s presence on the page faded out when we didn’t hear from him for just a little too long – equivalent to maybe a third to a half of a page, double spaced.

To fix it, Andrew, as pov character, just has to check in with the READER – with any element on the list – every couple of paragraphs. The reader is depending on me to supply these stepping stones at frequent-enough intervals, and, as my own first reader, I noticed that the writer hadn’t done her job.

Writers play with the spacing, and it differs depending on the pace of the current section, but it is one more craft item for the writer to manage.

Mostly, I had it right – I do this by default as I’m writing. But in sections that had taken a long time for me to get the dialogue or the action right, the effect showed. And it’s best picked up in revising the scene or the chapter as a whole – if you make yourself aware of the gut feeling that ‘something isn’t right.’

Obvious? It wasn’t to me – which is the reason I’m doing extra blog posts about my creative process during the WeSeWriMo challenge: everything I de-mystify is easier the next time. Everything my brain creates a little list for is easier to check next time.

What works for you – to stay in the character’s point of view consistently in a scene, a chapter, a book?

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3 thoughts on “Consistent point of view (pov) in writing and revision

  1. jjtoner

    Hi Alicia. I try to stick more rigorously to the point of view of the chosen pov character. But I’m not sure that this strict approach is strictly necessary.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Each book is different. For example, romances sometimes have headhopping between the man and the woman in the same scene – supposedly so readers can experience the full romance – but I can’t do that, and I can’t read it. I was classically trained (Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes, Heinlein). I’m telling PC from three points of view – and in each case the whole scene is from just one – and no narrator; I don’t intrude into my story to comment on anything. Third person is very flexible – I learned that from Orson Scott Card’s book on pov.

      I wrote it up in my style post – and stick to it, and now it feels comfortable.

      This is a CHOICE. Other genres, other writers, other books make DIFFERENT choices – as long as the writer is consistent, the READER falls in comfortably after a few pages, and the whole artifice of putting marks on paper or screen vanishes into the background. I have written first-person (see Princeton’s Dancing Child short mystery on my blog), and sometimes it feels natural – but I can’t do the three first-person narrators that, for example, Marget Attwood uses in Life Before Man (from Wikipedia: “The novel has three principal characters: Nate, Elizabeth and Lesje. Nate and Elizabeth are an unhappily married couple, with both husband and wife involved in extramarital affairs.”) because, when I read it, I didn’t like the way it jerked my head around – I tend to sympathize with a first person character (probably what Attwood wanted), and I didn’t LIKE any of the characters enough to root for them. Good writing, not my cup of tea.

      You get to do whatever you want – isn’t that lovely? – and no agent gets to tell you, “Novels in first person rotating pov don’t sell now.” Or whatever.

      I do advocate consistency – not confusing the reader is part of the writer’s job (which lead to some interesting times when pronouns make the third-person pov closer, but if you don’t read sequentially they can lead to confusion about who is speaking/thinking – I aim for balance, don’t always get it on my first try). And you don’t have to be consistent if you don’t want. Freedom! Responsibility! Love this writing world.

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