POV pitfalls can be a real PITA, a total pain in the abbreviation. POV means point of view, as in what your character sees and says.
With these five quick fixes, you can get your story back on track and make sure it stays that way.
1. Pick a character, any character
This is a big issue for writers who start with a story in mind that they’re dying to get down on paper. They charge through, writing the story full speed ahead, but when readers get a chance to take a look, it doesn’t click. They hate it, or, more likely, just can’t get into it. What’s going on? You haven’t picked a clear, consistent “POV character.” Somebody has to tell us the story. (What’s that? You’re telling the story? Not good enough.)
Choose one character who’s in a great positionto tell us the story instead. It’s simpler if you choose one of the story’s most important characters because they’ll be in on all the action.
2. Don’t switch it up!
Can you switch POV character from chapter to chapter? Not unless you’re writing for older kids. R.J. Palacio did it well in the at-times-heartbreaking Wonder, which worked in part because her story’s main character, a boy named August, is hideously deformed and the shifting POV lets us perceive the extent of his differences (and also how he is just a regular boy) from different characters’ perspectives. But Wonder is recommended for ages 8-12, and I might even say it’s best for the upper end of that.
If you do have sections written from different POVs, ask yourself why. Can the main POV character tell this story instead? It may take some work, but your story will be clearer and more consistent if you take the time to fix it now.
3. Quit mind-reading
The most common amateur POV booboo is to switch mid-story, or even mid-paragraph, into the mind of another character. It’s so tempting because it’s an easy, quick way to move the story along. Rajesh is your POV character, but Tina suddenly has a hankering for bologna. A newish writer may write, “Rajesh kicked the pebbles angrily along the path on his way home from school. He suddenly spied Tina off to the side of the road. I could sure use some bologna, Tina thought.” Why is Rajesh jumping into Tina’s head???
Check every “thought” process carefully: is it coming from the POV character? If you want Rajesh to know about Tina’s craving, you’ve got to show or tell: “Come with me to buy some bologna!” Tina suddenly shouted to Rajesh.
4. How does he / she know?
Since your POV character has to know everything he or she will be telling us, make sure she (for simplicity) has a way to tell us. Make it authentic and believable! Do you show Lisa hopping on a bus and leaving her friends talking behind her back? Can we hear in detail what they’re saying? Most of us can’t hear through a bus window, especially after the bus pulls away… and neither should Lisa.
What if, after Lisa hops on that bus, she looks out the window and notices one friend leaning over, whispering to the others, and then they all burst out laughing? Then, she has good reason (true to her own POV), to think they’re talking about her behind her back.
5. Keep it real!
Just because kids speak simply doesn’t mean their thoughts and feelings are any less complex. It may sound like all your teens do is grunt, but they still have inner dialogue and discuss / debate actual, serious issues on their own or with friends. So don’t dumb it down, but don’t make it too smart either, turning them into nerdy-professor types, either, unless that’s true to their character. “Oh, mother – I shall be certain to arrive home punctually,” isn’t the ideal kid, he’s a boring robot.
Get out and listen to kids. If you have some of your own, you may think you have a leg up, but they probably don’t talk “real” around you. Sorry! Go somewhere you can be invisible, and then… shut up and listen.
*** ONE FINAL CAUTION ***
In POV, as with dialogue, cut the slang unless you’re sure it will endure beyond 2014. “Cool” may be forever cool but “bad,” while it once meant “good,” is now back to being “bad” again. In three years, it’s likely that nobody will know what a “hipster” is or what was up with those little fedoras.
As Elmore Leonard said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Rewriting, too, can be a PITA, but you can turn that acronym around and make it stand for something great: Pretty Interesting to Accomplish!
Have I missed any of your pet-peeve POV pitfalls? Let me know what they are… and how YOU fix them!