The author S.A. Joo's Writing & Editing Advice & Tips

A professional Editor and YA Writer, represented by Black Hawk Literary Agency.

Monday, December 19, 2011

POV-How Can A Writer Get It Right?

Point of View, POV, in creative writing is the principal element in creative/fiction writing. So what is a POV? It’s source and scope of the narrative voice. It’s the perspective of the narrator. There are many variations of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd POV that can be used to narrate a story. It is also the most difficult for a writer to master. In my experience with newbie writers, POV issues overwhelmingly outnumbers any other problems such as bad grammar and overall writing style. The POV issue that I want to write about is not about POV shifts or weak POVs. It’s about unnecessary multiple POV usage. Of course, this excludes 3rd Omniscient POV which is perfectly within the norm/rules.
In my experience as an editor, POV issue is also the most sensitive subject to writers. If you don’t believe me, just ask any writer what POV their novel is written in and disagree with them. You’ll find out very quickly that writers get defensive or even downright offensive when it comes to defending their use of the POV. To be honest, I nearly lost a best friend over POV issues. This was our story. He was writing a fantasy with 2 POVs of two characters. When I advised him to write only in his protagonist’s POV, but he couldn’t see how he could bring out the voice of the other character without assigning his love interest a POV of her own. 
We discussed, argued, cried (just me mostly...I think), and even stopped talking to each other. I wanted punch my own stinking heart out because I knew I’ve broken my own rule. I told myself long ago that I would not get friendship mixed with writing because it gets too personal too fast. I was sure that I lost him as a friend when he contacted me again. Turns out, after researching the topic and thinking hard about it, he decided to cut the other POV and write his book only in his protagonist’s POV. Our friendship was spared, and so was his book. In my opinion anyway. 
I think I’ve deviated from my tangent long enough. Let’s get back to the POV issue. My simple advice to him and dozens of other writers I come in contact with is always this. Find a way to write your book in one, single POV. Most readers, even me, would like to put ourselves in the shoes of the protagonist. To get lost in that world, see that world in the protagonist’s eyes, and conquer the conflicts as the protagonist. So when there’s a POV switch, and I’m forced to think and feel like yet another character? It’s not only jarring but very irritating. The continuity is lost, and I suddenly feel distant from the characters and the story.
Now I’m perfectly aware of brilliant multiple POV books out there. However, the majority were deliberately done with skills and knowledge and done well. That is the difference. And yes, though we all “should” adhere to the general rule, it’s not the most egregious thing for a writer to do. But if you’re a beginner, it’s safer to stick to the rules. For some of you who wants to take the challenge of breaking the rules? My answer is, “Learn how to write first. Properly. Then you can play tricks.” Am I wrong? Shouldn’t a baby learn how to crawl before walking and walk before running? Enough said.
Though the writers who are doing this think they’re doing something “unique”, they’re not. It’s been done, and this POV problem is prevalent among the newbies. In fact, 7 out 10 newbie writers come to me with the same exact issue. They can’t write their story in one POV, and their answer is identical. “But all my characters have equal importance.” “How can I write about this girl’s story without using her POV?” “What if the character can’t be everywhere at once?” So on and so forth. To them, I say, “Find a way to write the story in one narrative voice.” Because the truth is....what they're doing is "head-hopping." No matter how they want to package it.
Think about it this way. Your real life. How do you see your world? Unless you’re a psychic, you can only view it with your own eyes. Events that happen beyond your scope are found through a phone call, newspaper, a text message, or someone telling the story to you. Your book is basically the same. Excluding deep fantasy, epic, and/or historical fiction that stretches over multiple generations, a story can be told in one POV. IT CAN BE DONE. Ask yourself this. Are you sure that it’s not your fear or laziness that are stopping you from changing it? But that’s your job. Writing is all about rewrites, revisions, and edits. And sometimes, even after a book goes through all that, the book ends up being trunked. 
If you’re putting all your dreams and hopes in that one book, you’re in the wrong business. You’re a write who is supposed to have more than one book under your sleeves. So, let go of those books or learn how to rewrite them. Chances are...I hate to say it....but they were probably practice books that were never meant to be published anyway. Please know that I write this post in the hopes of saving some writers who are in the middle of a revision and considering all POV options. Remember. POV is one of the most important element in your writing because your voice will depend on it, too. There are tons of blogs and books out there for writers if they’re interested in learning about POV uses. Good luck and thanks for visiting my blog~
Disclaimer: I just wanted to make it clear to everyone reading this post. I am not inviting you for a debate about POVs nor am I in the mood to argue with anyone. I know some will argue just because they can, but I’m not one of them. I learned long ago that I gain nothing from burying my head in the sand. So please respect my wishes and take your anti comments elsewhere. I see anyone so rude as to come to my personal blog just to disagree/argue with me when I specifically asked not to, I will delete your comment. And probably twitch you on Twitter. I can’t stand douches who are disrespectful, can you? #amSTABBY


  1. I totally agree with letting go of previous work...I did that only recently.

    Your post is unbelievably similar to how I have changed my focus from multiple POV to just doing one POV in 3rd person limited.

    I feel closer to my MC and can still explore the other characters and still make them just as important.

  2. Forgot to say that the journey through the novel is as if it was happening to me.

    I wouldn't know that someone has died or soe,thing has happened until I see it, hear it, sell it, tweet it, etc.... So that is how it will be for my MC

    Great post

  3. I fall into one of your exceptions (high/epic fantasy). Ironically, in the one book where I did have only one POV I managed to choose the WRONG POV! Letting go was very hard. I couldn't accept changing the POV. I did, however, accept there was a problem and it needed fixing! So I changed the story instead so that the POV I had chosen was the right POV. A problem usually has multiple solutions, although it did take me a while to think of one I was happy with. It's taken even more years for me to be motivated enough to rewrite from scratch.

  4. My favorite line in that whole post: "But if you’re a beginner, it’s safer to stick to the rules."

    Yes, we all know that you newbie writer (I guess I still lump me in this) are super brilliant and don't need to follow the rules because you're going to be the Picasso of the writing world. But what you forget is that Picasso followed the rules for the early part of his career, and once he mastered the rules, then he was allowed to re-arrange people's faces and have it work.

    Great post!

  5. Writing from just one POV is a clear and simple way of getting it right. Another approach I like is to write from two characters' POVs, but keep to one character for a chapter or sequence of chapters. I get the best of both worlds that way.

    By the way, Sirra, and I know you will be cross with me, are editors allowed to say things like I think I’ve deviated from my tangent long enough? I thought only us lazy authors do things like that.

  6. Dear J,
    My answer to my craziness?

    Yep. This is my personal blog, not a crappy book I'm trying to publish. If I wanted to be perfect here, I'd do away with the conversational tone. Or stay away from word like STABBY.

  7. And when I said multiple POV, I meant 2 POV, too.

  8. Good post Su. Sometimes I don't have a choice when I'm reviewing a book, but if I had a choice, I will not read anything two/three POVs. There is a difference between 3rd OMNI and head-hopping. I'm sorry you get trolls on your blog. It seems like a trend these days. People come and comment just to disagree and pick a fight. Hence I don't reveal my blog. BTW, I think you were on tangent the whole time. ;)

  9. I'm one of the people this post applies to. I thought I was being "unique" and "creative" by using multiple POVs or less common POVs like first person peripheral. But without the necessary skills of basic storytelling, there's no way I could hope to pull it off.

  10. I write mostly with one POV, but sometimes a story might be happening in two places. As an example, The Lord of the Rings is Omniscient POV (am I right?) but is written in sections each with its own little omniscience. A good example because the sections are completely clear and separate, and the reader can never get confused.

  11. Yes. That's why I said 3rd Omni is different since it's a legitimate POV. It's not breaking any rules. I'm speaking of head-hopping and unnecessary multiple POV because the writer lacks the skills to write a story in one POV.

  12. Agreed, It's strange that you see manuscripts with head-hopping problems, because that mistake is very easy to check for. It really sets my teeth on edge when I encounter it.

  13. Thanks for the tangent Su. My first editor already mentioned some head hopping to me in the first chapter. Funny thing is, I was intending one POV during that scene and it wasn't supposed to be a head hopper. I am guilty as charged on multiple POV's, and broke it up with an intention of an Omni 3rd person, but I know I'll have to make adjustments and revisions over that whole matter. It's a learning experience and I like to challenge myself. Now to see if I can succeed or trunk the manuscript. Painful as that would be, I refuse to publish something that isn't professionally written. Especially since I've given bad reviews to other writers about things like this. I have to master this Omni 3rd though, because in the long run, a majority of my books will be fantasy. I may have to contact you after my last revision and get one more edit run through to be absolutely sure. If the book survives that far. #stabbylove

  14. I would love to have access to an editor like yourself. Your tough as nails no holds barred stand on point of view makes me think you could make another writer's words sing. I agree totally with what you are saying.

  15. That is a remarkable read for a newbie writer. My biggest struggle is keeping what I write in the same POV. It's hard. After being ripped by professors for the same thing, it's really easy to see why a lot of writers have this problem. It's also great just knowing I'm not the only writer struggling with POV.

  16. As writers, we all come to the same conclusion. Writing a book isn't just about story telling. There are so many aspects to understand and skills to master in creative writing. Sometimes, it feels like you'll never get there. But you will. Be persistent. Be ready to take criticism and learn. Good luck. Thanks for your comments~

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