Hey, readers. Happy Labor Day! Annette here. I read an ARC (unedited advanced reader copy) the other day on my Kindle. Oh, boy. First thing is that unedited books are difficult to read. But the second thing is formatting on an e-reader goes screwy without proper editing. Every now and then, the author would switch POVs (points of view) but without scene break symbols or extra spacing (e-readers delete space), I couldn’t tell. Then, I had to figure out where we were and whose head we were in. Don’t worry, I loved the book and tried to ignore the jarring challenges, but the apparent headhopping threw me at first.
As an acquisitions editor, I see headhopping (POV issues) a lot. So, I thought I’d bring it up this fine Labor Day/Manuscript Monday.
Nowadays, pretty much the only way to be a respectable writer (in most genres) is to employ purist POV. If you headhop, the first thing readers (editors/agents/readers) will do is peek at your name. If you’re bestselling, famous, writing fulltime and untouchable, they’ll forgive you. *wink* If not, beware. I’ve turned projects down for POV infractions, especially if it was clear the writer really didn’t have a handle on it.
One of the best ways I know to “get a handle” on POV is to read in your genre. I learned a ton from reading Karen Ball’s book Wilderness (now out of print). Choose a trusted author from a trusted house and study how they delineate points of view.
Here are two key pointers:
~ Only switch “heads” (POVs) following scene breaks or chapter breaks. Scene breaks used to be just for movements in time or setting. To avoid jarring readers, they were meant to signal to the reader that, hey, something’s different here. Now, scene breaks are sometimes used when all you want to do is switch POVs (i.e. let another character express herself). Some houses may not allow that. Some will. Either way, editors want one POV per scene or chapter. (A side note for romance writers, switching POVs is great in a romantic scene. You get her perspective, then you get his. But, once you make the switch to the other character, stay there until the scene is over or the chapter ends.)
~ POV is about what you can experience through that character’s perceptions, including all the senses. What can this character see/smell/taste/touch or hear? Only include those things. If you’re going to have your character assume something, you have to tell us that. Think of this like a camera from one person’s, well, point of view. You can only capture what that person is recording.
If you can do those things without fail, you’ll be well on your way with purist POV.
One more nugget today. How do you best choose which character for the privilege of POV in a given scene? By asking yourself this question: who has the most to lose in this scene? That will ensure you’ve got some built-in emotional tension, which will make your job a bit easier.
What do you think? Do you get POV? Have questions? Ask away.