Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writing Close Point of View

By Stacy Green, @StacyGreen26

JH: I'd like to welcome Stacy Green to the blog today, to chat with us about one of my favorite things-- point of view. I'm a strong believer that if you nail POV, 99% of all your writing troubles will be solved, so this is something writers need to master as soon as possible.

Born in Indiana and raised in Iowa, Stacy earned degrees in journalism and sociology from Drake University. After a successful advertising career, Stacy became a proud stay-at-home mom to her miracle child. Now a full-time author, Stacy juggles her time between her demanding characters and supportive family. She loves reading, cooking, and the occasional gardening excursion. Stacy lives in Marion, Iowa with her husband Rob, their daughter Grace, and the family’s three obnoxious but lovable canine children. You can find out more on her website or Facebook at Stacy Green, Author

Take it away Stacy...

Point of view is a tricky beast, especially if you are writing in third person and have multiple points of view. And one of the hardest things to pull off is close point of view–in other words, getting inside a character’s head. In order to make a reader empathize with a character and walk in that character’s shoes, you’ve got to get deep into their thoughts.

With non-close point of view, there are no internalization or emotions. And those are the best ways to make your readers care about a character.

An example of non-close point of view:
Sick, Sherry closed the diary and put it back into the drawer. Then, Sherry slammed out of the bedroom, got in her car, and drove away with a sour expression on her beautiful face.
The example above is all about telling versus showing, and there’s nothing in two sentences that will make a reader feel connected to Sherry’s pain. Showing is one of the golden rules of good writing, and if we approach close point of view from that perspective, writing up close becomes much easier.

Back to the basics

I find the best way to pull off close point of view is by going back to the basic five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. You may not always be able to use every one of these, but if you can incorporate a couple into your character’s thoughts and emotions, your reader will find it much easier to connect.I also like to use internal dialogue to bring the reader in.
Nausea rolled through Sherry until she tasted the bitter acid. The diary slipped from her numb hands and landed on the floor with a dull thud. She picked it up and threw it back into the drawer with enough force to rattle the nightstand. She pounded out of the bedroom, the impact in perfect cadence with her swirling thoughts.

How could he do this to her?

Her face pinched tight and clenched jaw aching, she drove away from the house.
In the second example, I’m showing you how Sherry felt. Sick can mean all sorts of things, but nausea and that awful acidic taste in the mouth are things we’ve all experienced. By having the diary fall and hit the floor, we’re adding the element of sound, and having the nightstand rattle creates a visual of how angry Sherry really is.

Instead of something generic like sour expression, which could mean anything from smelling something bad to eating a lemon, having Sherry’s face pinched tight and jaw clenching lets the reader see and feel exactly what she looks like.

And the internal dialogue is a favorite trick of mine, although it’s something to be used sparingly. But it is a great way to help the reader forget they are reading about someone else and as though the action is happening to them.

What’s in a name?

Finally, pronoun usage is key to strong close point of view. By using a character’s name repeatedly in a scene, you’re creating a distance between the character and the reader. The reader is less likely to connect when they are reading someone else’s name over and over. You want them to feel totally immersed in your story and invested in your characters, and an easy way to do that is to use the character’s name only when necessary, and then follow up with the proper pronoun.

Here’s an example from TIN GOD. In this scene, Jaymee has been talking for a couple of paragraphs, and she and Nick are the only two characters. They’re discussing a blow up Jaymee had with her bigoted father a few years ago.
“Jaymee, I didn’t mean–”

“No, let me finish.” She heard the tears in her voice and forced them down her aching throat. “After everything he put me through, he preaches family? I’d heard enough. I called him out like my mother should have done years before.”

Nick sighed. Not the exasperated kind most men let loose when a woman is crying and they have no idea what to say, but a deep, broken gust of heartache. “I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what you went through.”

“No, you can’t.” She silently begged for Nick to drop the subject. She didn’t want to tell him any more than she already had.

“And I wouldn’t blame you for seeking revenge on your father. He deserves it.” The stoplight at the corner of Rosaire Drive and Long Street turned yellow. Nick eased to a stop.

How dare he? Did he honestly think she would stoop so low as to use Rebecca’s murder to get back at her father? Furious, she twisted in the leather seat until she faced him. “What are you getting at?”

“Just saying I would understand.” Nick’s eyes shined with compassion and something that looked a lot like understanding. Her heart thumped erratically. Nick’s lack of judgment threw her out of sync.

An angry car horn jumpstarted her brain. Nick glared in the rearview mirror and hit the gas.

“I get what you’re saying,” Jaymee said. “And I promise, I wouldn’t take advantage of Rebecca and Lana like that.”
By going several paragraphs using just the pronouns “she” and “her,” it’s a lot easier for the reader to feel as though they’re a part of the story.

Writing strong close point of view can be challenging, but it is one of the very best ways to get your readers invested in your characters and your writing, especially if you’ve got a series out. If you struggle with close ups, start out by visualizing the scene using your five senses. Put yourself in your character’s shoes and think about how you’d feel, what you’d see, hear, etc. If you can do that, then so will your readers.

About Tin God

Getting pregnant as a teenager and being coerced into giving her baby up for adoption left a festering scar on Jaymee Ballard’s life. Trapped by poverty and without many allies, Jaymee nearly gives up hope of getting her daughter back after her best friend is murdered. Now, four years later, a wealthy woman with legal connections hires her as a housekeeper, and Jaymee gathers the courage to seek her help. But Jaymee’s last chance ends up in a puddle of blood in one of the historic antebellum mansions in Roselea, Mississippi. I just murdered your wife…again. An unsigned letter consisting of six horrifying words turns Nick Samuels stagnant life upside down. Stuck in emotional purgatory since his wife’s unsolved murder four years ago, Nick is about to self-destruct. The arrival of the letter claiming credit for his wife’s murder and boasting of a new kill sends Nick to Roselea, where he and Jaymee’s worlds collide. Jaymee and Nick realize exposing the truth about her daughter’s adoption is the only way to solve the murders. Up against years of deception, they rush to identify the killer before the evidence–and Jaymee’s daughter–are lost. But the truth doesn’t always set the guilt-ridden free. Sometimes, it destroys them.

Find TIN GOD on Amazon


  1. I still think you did a wonderful job on this post. These are easy to incorporate tips presented in terms even a dummy like me can understand.

  2. Thank you so much, Catie. I appreciate the comment, and thanks for the help.

    Thanks to Janice for hosting me as well.

  3. I've been editing for this very thing. I knew about using pronouns but hadn't really thought about the senses to help create close POV. Thanks for a great post=)

  4. Excellent post, Stacy, very informative on one of my favorite topics. And a shout out to Janice whose blog I follow religiously!

    Joelle Walker

  5. Great post, Stacy! And I love your examples! Another thing I have my clients watch out for is showing the POV (point of view) character's facial expressions from the outside, instead of how they're feeling (emotions, body reactions, sensory reactions, thoughts, etc.) from the inside. In your "before" example, Sherry is upset and angry. As she drives away, she's not thinking about the "sour expression on her beautiful face." She's thinking about the issue and the hurt and how it's making her feel.

    In your "after" example, you've solved this with her jaw clenching and her face pinched - we've all felt those from inside.

    Good stuff!

  6. And that POV is exactly what I'm trying so hard to nail in edits of my YA novel. Thanks for the tips, Stacy! All the best with your novel!

  7. Thank you for this excellent post, Stacy. Your examples really help. POV is something I must spend more time on! Also, as Janice said in the introduction, "if you nail POV, 99% of all your writing troubles will be solved, so this is something writers need to master as soon as possible." I am going to copy/paste and save this post :-)

  8. Jennifer, the pronoun thing is something I learned from Stacey Joy Netzel when she critiqued for me. It's a small thing but makes a huge difference. By using the character's name too much, you take the reader away from close pov. And you're welcome!

    You're very welcome. So glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you found it helpful.

    Jodie, thank you. Picking the examples was tough because it's hard for me to use myself as an example, lol!

    Julie, it is really tough to catch, but once you start looking for it gets easier. And you, too!

    Eisen, you are very welcome. I'm so glad the examples help. I find that is the best way I learn. I hope the post helps!

  9. This is an excellent post, Stacy :-)
    Even after publishing four novels, I feel I have barely scratched the surface of good technique in maintaining excellent PoV.

  10. Thanks for sharing with us Stacy. I hadn't thought about the use of protag's name and how it pulls us out of the story. I jotted that gem down on my list of things to look for while editing. Tight POV is my current obsession.

  11. That pronoun thing is something I've argued with folks in writers groups on several occasions. You're spot on, Tracy, using the name puts distance between the reader and the character. It should be used just enough to avoid confusion.
    Wonderful post!

  12. That pronoun thing is something I've argued with folks in writers groups on several occasions. You're spot on, Tracy, using the name puts distance between the reader and the character. It should be used just enough to avoid confusion.
    Wonderful post!

  13. Thanks for the great advice. And congratulations on your book, Stacy!

  14. Thank you for the helpful tips Stacy. And your book looks really intriguing!

  15. Rohit, thank you so much! I know exactly what you mean. POV is something we need to constantly work at, but I enjoy the challenge.

    Aidan, you're very welcome. Isn't that a great piece of advice? I can't take credit for it, but I am happy to pass along.

    Cynthia, it's absolutely true. I am so grateful for the beta who pointed it out to me.

    Julie, thank you and you are very welcome.

    Emily, you're welcome. I hope you enjoy the book if you have a chance to read!

  16. I am late to make a comment, but thank you for this post. This is exactly the problem with my current WIP. I want a tight, close third person. I know what to change.