Having Trouble Staying Inside Your Character’s Point of View?

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The Problem

Staying inside your point-of-view character (POVC) is important. Then your readers will experience being inside your character as well. You want readers to see what he sees, feel what he feels, know what he knows, and move with him as he performs actions. 

But sometimes, authors butt in and tell things that are outside the character’s ability to know. That pulls readers away from your character.

I learned this exercise from author Rene Gutteridge at a conference years ago. 

1. Pretend you’re the character.

2. You’re in a classroom with Zoe, Ann, Kelsey, and Bryan.

3. Stand at a front-room window and cup your hands around the sides of your eyes.

4. Don’t turn your head or body. What you see is what your POVC sees.

5. Answer these questions:

  • Can you see what Ann and Kelsey are doing in the room behind you? Answer: No. Not unless I turn around.
  • Can you see who’s coming around the back corner of the house? Answer: No. I’d have to go outside or look out a back window.
  • Do you know what Zoe is thinking? I’ve no idea.
  • Do you know who Bryan will kill tomorrow? No. I don’t think he’ll tell me that secret. I can’t know future events anyway.
  • Do you know what’s happening under the tree outside the side window? No. I’d have to turn toward the side window or go to it to find out.

When you’re inside a POVC during a scene don’t interrupt and tell the reader anything he couldn’t know from where he is at that moment.

An Example to Avoid

I will italicize what my POVC, Kirk, can’t see.

Kirk entered the classroom and waved to Ann. She walked toward him. If only he’d combed his hair and worn a collared shirt. Behind him, Kelsey and Zoe made “oohing” sounds and exchanged impish grins.

“Hi, Kirk,” Ann said. “What’s with your friends?”

“They’re being silly jerks.” Should he push past the niceties and ask her to join him for coffee after class? Sure. “Do you have another class after this one?”

 “No. This is my last one for the day.”

Poor Kirk never got a break. Professor Moody just turned the corner of the building and would enter and ruin Kirk’s chances with Ann.

Kirk gave Ann his killer smile. “Would you like to have coffee at the student center after class?”

Ann wasn’t sure she wanted to get involved with another guy so soon after her breakup with Bryan.

Bryan hustled to them from where he’d been with Kelsey and Zoe, giving Kirk murderous looks.

Kirk and Ann turned toward Bryan’s loud footsteps. 

“Ann, here’s your book you left at my house.” Bryan extended the book toward Ann, ignoring Kirk.

Kirk stepped between them. “I was having a conversation with Ann.”

Their conversation wouldn’t matter. Tonight, Bryan would wipe Kirk’s killer smile off his face with his ten-inch blade. 

Bryan cocked an eyebrow at Kirk. “By all means, have coffee together.

Professor Moody picked up trash from under the tree at the side of the building, then entered. “Class, take your seats.”

Did you feel like you were inside Kirk throughout the scene? Why or why not?

Buy Link

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. John

    Great example.

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