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ORGANIZING YOUR STORY BY POV

February 7, 2018

As many of you know at Fred Central, I’m a fanatic about controlled point of view (POV). Whether the ultimate in first-person, which I’m personally not a fan of, or my preferred third-person, to me, it has to be controlled. Otherwise, I get jerked out of the story.

When an author head-hops within scenes or chapters, it’s like taking a thread and adding branches to it while maintaining the main thread. The branches that are tied on, loop around and tie back into the main branch further down. In other words, I have to follow two threads simultaneously within the story flow.

This blurs and weakens the impact of the story, not only to me, but to other readers. It may be slight, but the way I look at it, the fewer barriers you, the writer put up between you and the reader, the better.

There are countless things about our writing that get in the way of conveying our stories to the public. One of the easiest to overcome is point of view. You can fix this barrier by simply keeping your stuff together and eliminate a host of other problems.

BY CHAPTER OR SCENE

Time and time again, I’ve talked about keeping the POV in the head of one character. If you have multiple character POVs, and you want to switch heads, change the scene or chapter. Simple as that.

Don’t head hop. The best way is to have say…the main character in chapter one. Then switch to a side character or the bad guy in chapter two, then switch back to the main character, etc.

When scenes get more intense, do it by scenes within a chapter instead of by chapters.

Some grand poohbahs at a conference a few years ago, I think it was a romance conference, gave head-hopping a pass because of the intense romantic elements. That seemed to open the floodgates for a lot of lazy writing and I distinctly remember noticing a lot of head hopping in mainstream novels ever since, especially in thrillers during heavy action scenes. Soon, I was seeing entire books with a pseudo-omniscient POV scenario and then some books with no POV at all.

It’s like the floodgates opened and there was a total breakdown of character control. There were certain authors that stuck to controlled POV and folks, those books were such a dream to read! The contrast was, and still is, like night and day.

CHAPTER TITLES

The inspiration for this week’s article comes from a recent icky bug novel that I just finished. A weird story in itself of how I found it, I’d bought a Michael Crichton book two weeks before, got home and discovered I’d already read it. So, with receipt in hand, I took the Crichton back to Barnes & Noble and got a refund. Then I went right back to the shelves and re-browsed, looking for something else. To my great surprise, I stumbled across this icky bug novel, which was a total shock. Not only does B&N hardly ever shelve any icky bug, but traditional publishing hardly ever does.

I had to carefully page through this one to look for certain red flags. Often, these horror (icky bug) novels end up being nothing but literary character studies with bummer endings. I had to slow down, page through it a bit and even sneak a look at the ending to make sure there were survivors. From what I could tell, there were survivors.

Turns out I was pleasantly surprised and delighted. It was a very good book. Not only that, but it was written in solid third-person, past tense and solid, controlled POV. What makes it unusual is that the author not only organized it by character/chapter, but actually named the chapters after the character’s POV. That way, I knew exactly who’s head I was in and the author stuck to it.

This was a unique way of organizing the book. I’ve seen it done this way before, though not often.

The thing is that it worked and worked well.

The result was that all things considered, I breezed through the book. There were no barriers getting in the way.

SUMMARY

I’ve said it over and over again and will continue to do so. When you organize the POV into characters and keep it clean, the story flows so much better! It’s not just a matter of “It’s the story that counts,” because in addition, the writing isn’t getting in the way.

I must also note that I’m editing a story in a genre that I’d normally never read. Even though the subject matter is not my normal interest, the author writes in solid third-person, past-tense with controlled POV and I find myself absorbed in the work because the POV is right there.

That says something. That’s one less barrier, whether conscious or unconscious to your readers you may or may not be aware of.

Keep that in mind as you organize your work.

Happy writing!

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