Do You Really Understand Point of View?

I regularly notice that writers incorrectly shift from one character’s point of view (POV) to another. That is, they give us more than one POV in the same paragraph. I know I did when I first began writing fiction, and I continued to struggle until I got my brain wrapped around what POV is.

Nancy Kress in her book Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint defines it thus: “whose eyes we view the action through, whose head we’re inside of, whose feelings we experience as that character feels them.”

Let me show you how it works with something from my current WIP.

POV done wrongly:
Leslie sat directly across from Chase, her head down, elbows on the table, face in her hands. Her silky brunette locks fell forward, brushing the table. Chase could see the slow rise and fall of her shoulders and hear the deep breaths she took in, held, and then released.

Explanation:
Because Leslie’s name comes first the reader falls into in Leslie’s point of view without even thinking about it and sees Chase sitting across from her. The reader may even imagine herself in Leslie’s face-in-her-hands position, her silky hair softly brushing against her face, and feel Leslie’s emotional discomfort. But in the third sentence the POV shifts to Chase because now we are seeing what he is seeing, hearing what he is hearing.

POV done correctly:
Chase watched Leslie directly across from him, her head down, elbows on the table, face in her hands. Her silky brunette locks fell forward, brushing the table. He could see the slow rise and fall of her shoulders and hear the deep breaths she took in, held, and then released.

Explanation:
The difference is minor in actual words, but where point of view is concerned it now all comes from Chase’s POV. We are seeing and hearing what he does.

It’s best to keep each scene in one character’s POV. When shifting it is best to do it at the beginning of a chapter. If you shift within the chapter, you’ll want to add a line space with a few asterisks centered on the line to help the reader know there is a shift coming.

Do you have a question about POV? Would you be interested in attending a webinar on point of view? Leave your questions and comments below.

Related articles:

Point of View Defined, Part 2

Debra L. Butterfield © 2013

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