The easiest way to stay in POV as you write is to think of the character in whose POV you are writing as a video camera. Through this character’s vid-camera-head the reader sees all that the character sees, hears and understands. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Would this video camera character, also called the POV character--let’s call her Rose--be able to know what other characters are thinking? No. Rose can only record the body language of the other characters and infer what they might be thinking or feeling. Rose is also unable to see herself. This means that, in the strictest and purest sense of POV, a main character cannot describe their facial looks or color of their hair to the reader, unless of course they are looking in the mirror. But this does not mean that they cannot base their looks on their previous knowledge of those glimpses in the mirror or that another character can't describe them.
Let’s take an example of our POV character--Rose--and illustrate what I mean.
|Gotta love this advice for writing!|
Rose wiped the sweat from her brow and flicked a bead off her nose, grimacing when her finger touched the slight bump left from the break that occurred long ago. If only she had moved faster when Ron’s fist had slammed toward her that evening so long ago. It wasn’t like she’d never experienced the rough side of his temper before.
So Rose knows of the break in her nose and has no doubt worried over the result of that break and it’s repercussions on her looks for many years. She is drawing on her established knowledge of previous glimpses in the mirror to show the reader a little bit of what she looks like.
We also mentioned the fact that pure POV doesn’t allow for the POV character to know the thoughts of others. Let’s use Rose again.
Rose stared at Marlene. The woman hated her. Truly hated her.
This shows Rose thinking Marlene hates her. There is no way that one character can know the thoughts of another. However, that said, this view is more that of a POV purist. I don’t completely agree with this school of thought. Why? Because Rose might discern Marlene’s thoughts from the woman’s expression and body language--two very valid ways for anyone to guess a persons thoughts and feelings. When someone is crying you don’t automatically assume they are happy, do you? Another thing, relationship. If two people have an established relationship they will know the person to a greater depth and thus the way they think. This naturally gives them better insight into the persons state of mind at any given time.
Rose stared at Marlene. The woman hated her. Truly hated her. Marlene touched her stomach. The pain was easing now. She really needed to make that doctor’s appointment but not now. Not today. Rose needed to understand that Ron didn’t want to be mean, but anger was hard for him to handle. She flinched as Rose rubbed along the bump in her nose and the mental image of Rose that night after Ron's outburst. If only Rose would have stayed with Ron. Then he wouldn’t be in the mess he was now.
This addition to the paragraph shows the reader that Rose was wrong in her assumption that Marlene hated her based on her former mother-in-laws rather pinched, sour expression. This is interesting and can be used by the author to create conflict (another article for another time). The real problem with the paragraph is the overt POV jump. We are in Rose’s POV the first three sentences, then POV changes to Marlene for the rest of the paragraph. Imagine if a writer were to shift POV three more time within the same scene. This is the reason why POV changes within a scene are frowned upon, it wrenches the reader from the mind of one character to another without warning. It becomes harder for the reader to get to know the protagonist and create a bond that will have them rooting for the character throughout the story, and it's unsettling for the reader.
Using these examples, look over your own manuscript. Do you see yourself swapping POVs too frequently? Rewrite the scene and try to stick with one POV.
Next week: Writing for the Faint of Heart: How to Stay in POV (part 2)