Saturday, June 27, 2020

Quick Tips for Avoiding Viewpoint Gaffes in Your Fiction

by Jodie Renner, editor & author   

For an introduction to point of view in fiction and especially deep point of view or close third-person POV, see my articles 

POV 101 -- Get Into Your Protagonist's Head
POV 103 -- Engage Your Readers with Deep Point of View

POV = point of view = viewpoint – Who’s telling the story?  Whose story is it? or, for novels written in multiple viewpoints, Whose head and body are we in for that scene?

Here are some quick additional tips for avoiding POV gaffes in your fiction:

~ First, decide whose scene it is. Who has the most at stake? If in doubt, show the from the viewpoint of your protagonist. And, to engage readers, it's best to start your novel/story in the point of view of your main character.

~ Now, get into that character’s head and body and stay there for the whole scene or chapter. Don’t flit around to the thoughts of other characters or show anything that’s going on outside of your POV character’s range or perceptions.

~ Don’t show or describe things going on behind the character’s back, in another room, or anywhere out of their sight or hearing range. Only show us what the character can logically perceive at that time.

~ To describe the setting, use the perceptions, words, goal, attitude, and mood of the POV character for that scene. Don’t describe a scene as a neutral observer or as the author talking to the readers.

~ Color your descriptions of other characters with the attitude and feelings of your POV character toward them. Avoid neutral descriptions.

~ Don’t describe other characters in a way that the POV character wouldn’t. For example, don’t give a detailed description from head to toe of a character the POV character is looking at and already knows very well, like a family member.

~ Don’t get into the inner thoughts or feelings of any other characters in that scene. Show their thoughts, emotions, attitudes and intentions by their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, words, and actions – anything the POV character can perceive.

~ When starting a new scene or chapter, use the name of the viewpoint character right away, in the first sentence, to establish immediately for the reader whose head we’re in now.

~ After introducing the POV character, refer to him or her in an informal way, as they would think of themselves. Don't use "Mr." or "Dr." or "The director," for example.

~ Use the POV character’s name at the beginning of scenes, then use mainly “he” or “she” except when their name is needed for clarity. (The “he” or “she” is like “I” and draws us in closer.)

~ Refer to other characters by the name the POV character normally uses for them.

~ Avoid lengthy "info dumps." Don’t butt in as the author to explain things to the readers, outside of the character’s viewpoint. Instead, reveal the info from the character’s POV or as a question-and-answer dialogue, with some attitude and tension to spice things up.

~ Don’t show the POV character’s facial expression or body language (unless they’re looking in a mirror). They don’t know what’s going on with their face. Or indicate it somehow through their thoughts or fears. For example, you could say “She felt her face flush” to indicate that she’s blushing.

~ Show the POV character’s inner thoughts, emotions, and reactions constantly to increase reader engagement.  

~ Sprinkle in brief direct thought-reactions in italics, like What? to reveal the character’s true feelings and increase intimacy with the readers.

~ Constantly show the POV character’s sensory reactions to their environment, other characters, and what’s happening. Use as many of the five senses as is appropriate to get us into the skin of the character. Also show fatigue, fear, hunger, thirst, heat, cold, etc. That way, readers are drawn in and feel they "are" the character.

~ Keep the narration in the POV character’s voice. Not only should the dialogue be in the character’s voice and style, but the narration should too, as that’s really the character’s thoughts and observations.

~ Avoid lengthy backstory dumps, the author telling the readers about the character and their background. Introduce only the essential info, through the characters. Or use brief flashbacks, in scenes in real time, with action and dialogue.

~ Don’t have characters magically knowing the names of other characters they’ve never met or heard of, just because we, as the readers, have met those other characters. This is an easy gaffe to make inadvertently.

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For more tips on using deep point of view to engage your readers and bring your characters and story 
to life, see Jodie’s writers’ guides in the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction, including her latest, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling FictionWRITING A KILLER THRILLER, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, and CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child WorkersYou can find Jodie on her Amazon Author Page, at, and on Facebook. 

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