Saturday, March 11, 2017

Revision Workshop: Day Eleven: Focus the Point of View

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy 

Welcome to Day Eleven of Fiction University’s Month-Long At-Home Revision Workshop. This second stage is all about getting our characters up to speed. We’ll be looking at ways to flesh out our story people, finding the right balance between description, backstory, and infodumping, tightening our POV, and putting the heart and soul into the novel.

Now that we understand who are characters are, it’s time to examine how they see the world around them. Our point of view character is the reader’s guide to the novel, and how that character conveys information will determine how much the reader gets out of the book.

Today, we’ll focus on making the most of our point of view (POV).

Since POV affects everything in a novel, there’s a lot to double check when revising.

1. Fix Any Head Hoping or Point of View Shifts

Unless you’re writing full third-person omniscient, the rule is one POV character per scene. Check your scenes for any instances where someone other than the POV character has a thought, or expresses (internally) a motive, judgment, or opinion, and thus “shifts” the narrative out of the POV character’s head. All the information in that scene should be what the POV character can realistically experience.

This doesn’t apply just to third person—first-person writers, watch out for places where the POV character explains another character’s motive when it’s not logical to have known that motive. If the POV character has no idea a character is going to go to the car “to get his gun” she can’t describe his movements that way.

Spotting Point of View Shifts

“To verb” is easy to search for and you’ll eliminate a lot of smaller POV shifts just by using “and” instead of “to.” Other things you can look for:
  • Any judgment or opinion statements of non-POV characters that aren’t in dialogue. A non-POV character will only convey information by what they say and how they act. That’s all the POV can observe.
  • Places where the POV character states motive or opinion of a non-POV character. If the POV character is guessing or basing her thoughts on what she can observe, then it’s probably okay. But if the POV character is attributing a motive as if it’s a fact, you might be shifting.
  • Anything the POV character wouldn’t know, couldn’t guess by observation, or couldn’t see.
  • The POV character referring to how she looks, for example, “my face turned bright pink.” Unless she can see it, she can’t know what it looks like.

(Here’s more on how POV can solve common writing problems)

2. Fix Any Oddly Self Aware Character Moments

While some people are good at knowing their motives and analyzing their feelings, most of us aren’t that self aware. We get mad at spouses when we’re angry about work, yell at the cat because we did something we’re ashamed of, and let past traumas influence our behaviors—we don’t realize our bad behavior is due to “our fears of abandonment.” Check your scenes for any moments where the character feels too aware of her motives or why she’s behaving as she is. Instead, look for ways to hint as to the real reason.

Common self-aware red flag words:
She knew, she realized, she felt, she thought. Not every instance will be a problem, but it’s a good place to start the search.

3. Fix Any Characters Who Know Things They Can’t Know

With everything a writer has to keep track of, it’s understandable that sometimes, we’ll accidentally have a character remark on something we forgot to put into the novel. Or we’ll have characters make huge leaps in logic without having enough groundwork for those leaps to feel credible. Check your scenes and look for moments (especially big “I figured it out!” moments) to ensure no one has information or is making leaps they couldn’t possibly know or make.

4. Fix Any Unsubstantiated Emotional Responses

Sometimes a character needs to feel a certain way for the scene, but the groundwork to support that emotion just isn’t there. Look for places where your character has a strong emotional reaction or feeling about something or someone. If the protagonist can’t stand another character, is it clear why? Have there been signs or clues that support why characters feel the way they do?

5. Fix Any Places Where Characters Are Stating the Obvious

If a character storms into the room, slams the door, screams, “I’ll kill him, I swear I will,” it’s a pretty good indication that she’s mad. Adding “She was so pissed she couldn’t see straight” is unnecessary. Since these little phrases tend to slip in when we aren’t looking, it’s not a bad idea to scan our scenes and look for places where our characters are being a little too on the nose.

6. Fix Any Inconsistent Points of View

If you use multiple third person POV, check for places where your POV (especially your narrative distance) varies. If you’ve been in a tight third person for most of the book, but have a few scenes in a distant third, odds are they’ll jump out at readers and feel off or even told. Maintain the same POV style throughout the book, but if it needs to switch styles or narrative distances, make sure the rules of that switch are clear and consistent.

(Here are more articles on writing with multiple POV)

7. Fix Any Faulty Character Reactions

This is all about stimulus/response. A character can’t respond to something that hasn’t happened yet. “Jane dodged out of the way when the zombie lunged at her.” Until readers see the zombie lunge, they have no clue why Jane is dodging.

Common stimulus/response red flag words:
when, as, before. Revise as needed so the stimulus comes first, then the character reaction.

Point of view is the most powerful tool a writer has in their toolbox, so take a moment and consider how the character feels/thinks/sees/judges the situation.

(Here are more articles on point of view)

Now that our story people are solid, let’s move on to the deeper themes that connect our characters with that story.

Tomorrow’s Step: Clarify the Theme

New to the At-Home Workshop? Find the current list of revision steps and earlier prep work on the introductory page.
Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series (and Amazon bestseller), Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  
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  1. This is just what I've been looking for. Where do I find the previous days? I just signed up. Thanks.

    1. At the top of each day of the guide is a link to "Fiction University’s Month-Long At-Home Revision Workshop" which is the "Main Page" for the Revision Workshop and has links to every step as they occur.

      Direct Link:

  2. Hi Penny,

    There's a link at the bottom of this article to the complete list, the one that says "New to the At-Home Workshop? Find the current list of revision steps and earlier prep work on the introductory page."

  3. The point about leaps in logic reminded me of `The Princess Bride,' the scene where Inigo figures out where to find Westly based on his dying scream. It would never have worked in a serious piece, but for that it completely fit the slightly lampoon tone.

    1. There's so much that movie does so well.

  4. Point 2 is brilliant advice =)