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Guest Blogger Georgiana Daniels–Getting POV Right

Thursday, July 5, 2007

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Today, I’m pleased to have my other critique partner Georgiana Daniels as a guest columnist . . .


Kaye has done an excellent job in giving us the information we need to maintain a consistent POV. Believe me, had I read up on POV prior to venturing out, I could have avoided many a train wreck. Early on, I had a tendency to drag my readers through multiple heads in one scene, and even when I switched scenes, all my viewpoint characters sounded the same. One time I tried writing from a male POV, but used my own natural voice. The result? He was so effeminate it was no wonder his wife left him. But my unsuccessful attempts were good practice.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned—the hard way, I might add—is that I have to know my characters deeply in order to avoid the pitfalls associated with whichever POV I choose. The easiest trap to fall into is making the character sound just like me, the author, instead of sounding like Lucy or Molly or Bella or the killer.

The first two full-length novels I wrote were chick lit. I wanted intimate, conversational stories where the reader could feel like a part of my heroines’ lives. With each story, I wanted to be privy to my heroine’s thoughts as they happened, and to interpret the world through her eyes alone. It seemed natural to choose first person, present tense.

So how could I keep the main characters from sounding just like me, or like each other? I had to know them inside and out, and believe me, that didn’t always come with the first draft. By knowing the characters’ backgrounds, interests, immediate and long-term goals, I was able to make each one have a distinctive voice, even though both books were written in first person, present tense.

But first person has its pitfalls too, like creating a character the reader likes well enough to stick with through an entire novel. If the reader doesn’t like the main character, they’re either stuck for the duration, or they’re going to chuck the book—both options are bad for the writer! The other big challenge for me is to weave a well-rounded story based solely on one person’s immediate observations. It takes a lot of practice.

Now I’m working on a suspense, and in order to up the tension I’ve found it necessary to show not only the heroine’s point of view, but also the villain’s. So this time I’m using limited third. It gives me a bit more freedom to explore the story from different angles. Look at the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each wrote about the life of Jesus, but from their own unique point of view. Each writer brought something different to the table, and added his own flavor to the story. That’s what I’m trying to do, but on a much smaller scale, of course.

Switching back into third person after writing my last two novels in first has been a bumpy ride. But I love the new challenge! To avoid the problem I had in my previous attempt to write a male POV, I’ve started taking a few minutes to crawl into his skin, lest I sissify my bad guy. How does he view what’s happening in the story? How does a hired gun talk? What kinds of things does he see that others might not? His scenes tend to have more fragmented sentences, snippy comments, and edge toward sarcasm. And they are my favorite to write!

When I switch back to my heroine’s POV, I do the same thing. She’s a reclusive artist in the Alaskan wilderness. What is she going to notice? What kinds of words does she use? How is the world filtered through her eyes? Her scenes tend to have more flowery language, utilizing a larger vocabulary, and more detail—at least until she finds out she’s being hunted.

Needless to say, I’m still learning, and hopefully making progress. And from my POV, every day spent at the keyboard is another chance to get it right.

8 Comments
  1. Thursday, July 5, 2007 2:20 pm

    Such good points about what the characters would notice as individuals. I didn’t know for a long time what made some of my favorite books feel right, but it was the deep characterization, the similies, and the word usage that made each character unique.

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  2. Thursday, July 5, 2007 4:44 pm

    Thanks for having me as your guest, Kaye!

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  3. Friday, July 6, 2007 10:34 am

    Great thoughts, G! Hear, hear!

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  4. Friday, July 6, 2007 11:00 am

    I think the idea of crawling into the skin of our characters is a great one. I’ve even found myself sitting like a male character would, legs spread, chair tipped back, etc., just to get into character. It works!

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  5. Friday, July 6, 2007 12:47 pm

    Lots of good stuff on this blog, as always, but fun to read something by you here Georgiana!

    I was the same way when I began writing, POV issues all over the place. My favorite is third person though, and I just love writing the male POV. There have been some things my hero says that I reread and flinch…too feminine!

    Writing is a blast, isn’t it?

    Great post.

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  6. Friday, July 6, 2007 3:37 pm

    Good suggestion, to take a few moments before diving back in to get in touch with the characters. I too suffer from making everyone sound like me. Not easy to create discernable voices.

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  7. Friday, July 6, 2007 4:37 pm

    One of my main problems with POV is in working on multiple projects at the same time . . . I have a hard time remembering whose head I’m supposed to be in and whether he says, “y’all,” or whether he pronounces the word lieutenant with an F sound in the middle (leftenant–why do Brits do that, anyway?). What I find most helpful is just going back and rereading a chapter or two–not only to remind myself of what’s happened up to that point, but to get back inside the characters’ heads.

    Oh, and Mary–I love writing in the male POV too.

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