Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Setting the Scene: POV Character

Last week I announced the start of a serial post on Setting the Scene. Today’s topic is establishing the point of view character.

Most books that we read are told from the viewpoints of several characters. I find this tapestry to also be effective in managing the pacing of a novel.  The question that might come to mind is with all of these different people, how do I establish the POV character in a scene so that there is no confusion for the reader?

As readers get to know your characters, they become familiar with mannerisms and outlooks, attitudes, etc, that form their viewpoints of situations, but we should never leave it up to the reader to solve the riddle.  Make it clear from the start of the scene who the reader is with. This can accomplished by simply using their name in the first paragraph or an action tag to dialogue if the scene opens with them speaking.

Once you’ve established whose point of view we are in, don’t head hop. This habit, unfortunately, surfaces more frequently than you would think. My advice is to ask yourself, if I were the POV character, would I know this about another person? For example, you’re not going to know if they’re nervous or fearful, if they’re cold. You’re most certainly not going to know about their inner reaction to you. When observations are made of other people in a scene, ensure that it comes from founded reasoning. If they are cold, your POV character would know this if they were shivering. If they were nervous, maybe their eyes are jumping about the room or they’re looking over their shoulder.  Whatever you do, don’t hop into their heads to tell the reader how they are feeling.  If you find that you’ve written a scene and have done a lot of head hopping, maybe you should rethink the main POV character for the situation.

Read. By reading other people’s books, you may discover techniques at establishing POV that never occurred to you before. I know that the technique I use was picked up by reading New York Times Best-selling author David Baldacci.

Limit points of view. This is sort of an offset to the conversation, but don’t introduce too many POV characters and definitely don’t bring in any new people half-way or farther into a book. If you jump between too many characters this gets confusing to a reader and damages the pace of your novel.