In the last post we discussed the drawbacks of the omniscient POV and explained why third-person is usually the best POV for fiction. Now we will look at some tips and tricks for using it effectively.
- Establish the POV as early as possible. Generally the simplest and least confusing way to do this is to have the POV character named as the subject of the first sentence (â€œHarold Neederlunder watched Miss Gelderblountâ€™s nostrils flare as she lectured him on the importance of participial phrases.â€). You can also open with inner monologue (â€œLook at those nostrils flare. I think I can see into Miss Gelderblountâ€™s brain.â€) or observation (â€œMiss Gelderblountâ€™s nostrils flared as she lectured on the importance of participial phrases.â€) and reveal the POV character in the second paragraph (â€œHarold Neederlunder ignored the hairy caverns and tried to concentrate.â€). Now, how does your reader know that Miss Gelderblount isnâ€™t the POV character? Read on.
- Donâ€™t reveal anything your POV character cannot see, hear, or sense. This might seem obvious, yet it is probably the rule most often violated by beginning writers. To understand why, see the mirror discussion.) When we introduce a new character, we feel an immediate need to fill in the reader on vital details like hair and eye color. When that character is the POV character, youâ€™re revealing things he or she cannot see without a mirror. Likewise when weâ€™re looking straight into Miss Gelderblountâ€™s cavernous nostrilsâ€”a view unavailable to Gelderblount herselfâ€”we know itâ€™s not her POV.
- To enhance character development, narrate with language your POV character would use (within reason). You want to remain grammatically correct, of course, even if your character isnâ€™t. But within those confines you still have considerable freedom to put the reader inside the characterâ€™s head. Consider the following examples:
- Harold joined his buddies at their usual lunch table.
- Harold joined his crew at their usual lunch table.
- Harold joined his cronies at their usual lunch table.
- Harold joined his brain trust at their usual lunch table.
- Harold joined his entourage at their usual lunch table.
See how the choice of a single word changes your perception of Harold and how he relates to the world?
One final rule:
Refer to other characters as the POV character would. So when Harold Neederlunder gets home, the woman who greets him is not Mrs. Diana Neederlunder but Mom. His friendâ€™s dad is Mr. Messersmith, the ice cream man is Frosty Al, Momâ€™s special friend is Uncle Fabio, and so on. Once again, itâ€™s about seeing the world through your POV characterâ€™s eyes. A special corollary to this rule: Donâ€™t change the way you refer to a character within a scene. Yes, you should try to vary your sentence structure and word choice. But alternately using monikers like, â€œMiss Gelderblount,â€ â€œthe teacher,â€ and â€œthe monster-nostril womanâ€ for the same person might mislead the reader into thinking they are three different people. And itâ€™s fine for Harold to start calling his mom Mother at some point, but he shouldnâ€™t switch between Mom and Mother in the same scene.
With these rules in mind, letâ€™s take another stab at that scenelet from the last post.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Auburn hair tinged brunette in the dim cellar light, Eve sat on the futon sofa against the cinder block wall and scanned Steveâ€™s temporary living quarters. â€œFor a basement apartment, itâ€™s not bad.â€
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Thankful heâ€™d remembered to hide the velvet Elvis, Steve sat next to her, his thigh unintentionally close. â€œThanks. Iâ€™m no interior decorator, but I do my best.â€
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The darkened ground-level windows momentarily flickered solid white with lightning. Moments later, a peal of thunder rattled the pipes overhead.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Eve snuggled up against Steve. â€œSome storm.â€
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Steve placed his arm around her. â€œYou might call it a perfect storm.â€ Heâ€™d blundered into her zone of safety and received a welcome. He was almost there. If only God would cooperate.
Â Â Â Â Â Steve tried to convey the word please through his sweaty touch. Just as he dared to pull Eve closer, footsteps creaked down the basement stairs. Both sat upright on the futon.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Clad in bathrobe and slippers on the shadowy landing, Genevieve eyed them. â€œSteve? I didnâ€™t know you brought home company.â€
Â Â Â Â Â Aw, sheâ€™s going to ruin everything.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Genevieve switched on the fluorescent light. â€œIf youâ€™d called ahead, sweetness, I could have made those snickerdoodles you love so much.â€
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Eve gave Steve a twisted look. â€œYou live with your mother?â€
Â Â Â Â Â Indignant, Steve stood. â€œI pay rent.â€
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Note the changes:
- Because weâ€™re in Steveâ€™s POV, the word please (line 11) canâ€™t radiate from his eyes . . . and we donâ€™t see their color.
- Steve does not refer to his â€œtemporary living quartersâ€ in Momâ€™s basement as a â€œbachelor padâ€ (line 2).
- The descriptions of the lightning (line 6) and Genevieveâ€™s entrance (line 12) are hampered because we canâ€™t leave the basement.
- We have more clarification on the â€œzone of safetyâ€ (line 10).
Finally, note what doesnâ€™t change: Steveâ€™s mother is still Genevieve. Fine if Steve actually calls his mother by her first name, whether to assert adulthood, independence, or a firm belief that somebody screwed up in the maternity ward twenty-seven years ago.
If itâ€™s just a gimmick to prolong the mystery of who is this other woman interloping on the snuggling couple, though, we might want to consider Eveâ€™s POV. She doesnâ€™t know Genevieve is Steveâ€™s mother until he tells herâ€”or declines to deny it.
A problem, though: Eve doesnâ€™t even know Genevieve is Genevieve. How do you handle a character who is unknown in the current POV? Weâ€™ll cover that in the next post.