More good help from Louise Harnby, via Chris the Story Reading Ape. This piece on point of view contains some excellent, clear examples if POV gives you fits.
No names shall be mentioned, but I’ve been seeing an awful lot of “head-hopping” in works by some well-regarded authors; I’ve learned not to gripe when it’s clear writers have built up faithful followings for whom what bugs me doesn’t even register.
Still. It DOES bug me. The minute your reader stops to scratch their head, you’ve lost them, even if for only a moment.
So I say, be purists about point of view!
Tag Archives: point of view
Here’s some great help with a difficult concept:
Thanks to Lisa Hall-Wilson at Writers in the Storm.
This column from Louise Harnby, via Chris the Story Reading Ape, tackles the recurring problem of how to convey information about multiple characters in a scene without breaking point of view. It’s certainly a problem I struggle with. These are good reminders that there are better ways than “seemed” or “appeared to” to get across what that non-pov character might be up to. Check it out!
If your characters seem or appear to be doing or feeling something – probably, maybe, perhaps – then you might be using half measures to express a good chunk of that action or emotion.
Uncertainty can drag a story down.
Here’s how to edit for it at line level.
A great post from Anne R. Allen via Chris the Story-Reading Ape. Thanks, Chris!
Actually, some of my *favorite* rules to ignore! Especially 1, 3, 5, 6–gee, all of them.
But I do have several cents worth of addenda from my own experience in writing groups and classrooms.
Number 1 is among my favorites because so many critiquers in my current online writing group just HATE “echoes” to the point that they are tone-deaf to the power of repetition for emphasis and rhythm. Anne’s examples beautifully illustrate this point.
And I love #3 because of the many times I’ve been scolded for using “passive voice” when in fact I was using a progressive tense, which requires “to be” as an auxiliary. I agree that progressive tenses can be overused, but there’s a big difference between “He ate when she came in” and “He was eating when she came in.” Again, check out Anne’s examples.
As for #5, I’ve often started to write a post on the consequences of cutting “all” adverbs. Idiocy. You could never use a “when” or “before” or “after” clause if you tried to do that. You could never use “often” or “never.” Okay, some adverbs don’t add any information. Cut them. But stay sane. I have discovered in myself a tendency to pile up adjectives, and I appreciate having that lapse pointed out. And I do believe in the power of strong verbs. But just the right adjective, in just the right place, can be magic.
As for the passive voice, the wonderful book Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by the late Joe Williams (latest editions co-authored by Greg Colomb) has a terrific discussion of the uses and abuses of the passive voice—and actually clarifies what that critter is! Check it out.
As for point of view, in the comments Anne clarifies that she means using multiple points of view in different scenes, not in the same paragraph or even sentence, as I’ve seen writers do. I’ve become paranoically sensitive to accidental POV slips, almost to the point, I fear, of annoying some of my fellow critiquers. But I’ve been re-reading some Tony Hillerman, and he “head-hops” all the time. So what to do? Make a deliberate decision that head-hopping really serves your text. My guess is that the practice will interfere with the close identification you want to build between reader and character.
Also in the comments, Anne touches on the “that/which” option. In my view, these are clear-cut, with “that” opening an essential modifier and “which” a non-essential one. But as Joe Williams pointed out almost forty years ago in his classic essay, “The Phenomenology of Error,” even the most rabid promoters of the distinction ignore it all the time. So we can, too.
My bottom line (note cliché, rule #7): Writing is about making choices. Knowing why readers sometimes object to style choices helps you make good decisions. But sometimes those decisions are to ignore.
by Anne R. Allen
Somerset Maugham famously said, “There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.”
But pretty much everybody you meet in the publishing business will give you a list of them. (One is “never start a sentence with ‘there are’” —so watch yourself, Mr. Maugham.)
Some of the rules show up in any standard writing book or class, but others only seem to get circulated in critique groups, conference workshops, and forums.
They’re a secret to everybody else.
But you’ll run into them sooner or later. In a forum or workshop, somebody will tell you with schoolmarmish assurance that you MUST follow these secret writing rules to be a successful novelist.
Nobody knows exactly where these rules come from, or why so many great books have become classics without following a single one.
Don’t get me wrong: many “secret writing rules” involve useful tips…
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Fortunately for me, the members of both of the writing groups I belong to don’t traffic in most of these pointless prescriptions and proscriptions. I do, however, agree that too many people have a basic fear of the word “was.” As Allen points out, there’s a big difference between “I was reading when she came in” and “I read when she came in.” Also “had.” Sometimes the past perfect is just necessary. Do you have any “stupid rules” to add, or do you take exception to Allen’s judgment on these?
I love Anne R. Allen’s blog. I learn something new every time I visit. This is an excellent piece about bad writing advice. Check it out. Just click on the highlighted link below. ❤
Stupid Writing Rules: 12 dumb things new writers tell each other. Ignore this bad advice from misinformed people in critique groups.
Connie does a terrific job of explaining POV here. True, very, very skilled writers can “head-hop”—Larry McMurtry does it all through the Lonesome Dove books—but for most of us, suddenly slipping from one POV to another without the kind of warning Connie suggests is jarring. I’ll add that one of the easiest mistakes to make is for a POV character, whether third- or first-person, to “see” him- or herself. For example, if we want to stay true to the character’s point of view, we can’t say about a POV character, “I gave an enticing smile.” The character can give a smile that “I hoped was enticing,” or “I meant to be enticing,” but only a viewer (another character) can tell if the smile actually was “enticing.” These slips can be subtle but disorienting.
Read Connie’s piece for a good review of this important issue!
A young author recently asked me, “What is head-hopping and why has my writing group accused me of doing it?” Head–hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene, and happens most frequently when using a Third-Person Omniscient narrative, in which the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.
It’s difficult to know whose opinions are most important when all your characters are speaking in your head as you are writing. They clamor and speak over the top of each other, making a din like my family at any holiday dinner. But you must force them to take turns speaking, and make a real break between the scenes where the speaker changes, or each rapid shift of perspective will throw the reader out of the story. But what is Point of View other than the thoughts of one or two characters?
Point of view is a common…
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