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Here is an excerpt from my Point of View ebook in which I coin the terms UPOVR (Unnecessary Point-of-View Reminder) and the more youthful version, POV-Duh! The book explores more advanced examples, but here is a simple introduction with sample paragraphs showing how eliminating UPOVRs enhances characterization. Note that much of your prerogative to harness the limitless potential of POV is forfeited if you “head-hop,” which is frequently changing POV character in the same scene. The modern literary convention of choosing a single POV for an entire scene (or chapter or whole novel) allows readers to immerse us in the character without constantly cueing POV switches. Pick a POV, authors, and stick with it at least until the next scene break, then consider how to work that for greater effect. The brief examples below will get you started. Consider how you might improve this paragraph about “Marty.”
Marty peeked out his front door and saw two tattooed teenagers on the sidewalk. He noticed they looked jittery. A parked car could be seen, which a third teen leaned against. Marty recalled riding in the same kind of car several years before, and he remembered how luxurious it felt. He could hear birds chirping overhead, but he detected a note of franticness in their songs. That’s when he caught a whiff of smoke. He thought it smelled like drugs, and he felt angry about the teens’ invasion of his neighborhood. It looked to him like they did not care that they were intruding on someone else’s property. He considered the idea that they had probably stolen that car.
After being introduced, Marty required little or no direct reference in such a short narrative. You do not need to alert readers that your POV character is using his or her senses, nor is it necessary to state that whatever opinion or interpretation permeates the narrative belongs to him or her.
Note the italicized examples of POV-Duh!, and practice spotting similar kinds of wordiness in your own prose.
Marty peeked out his front door and saw two tattooed teenagers on the sidewalk. He noticed they looked jittery. A parked car could be seen, which a third teen leaned against. Marty recalled riding in the same kind of car several years before, and he remembered how luxurious it felt. He could hear birds chirping overhead, but he detected a note of franticness in their songs. That’s when he caught a whiff of smoke. He thought it smelled like drugs, and he felt angry about the teens’ invasion of his neighborhood. It looked to him like they didn’t care that they were intruding on someone else’s property. He considered the idea that they had probably stolen that car.
POV-Duh!s have a tendency to creep in when the author is not careful to avoid narrative intrusion. Unless another character is identified as the storyteller, intrusive exposition forces the author to remind readers when description has shifted from the author’s perceptions back to the POV character’s. Although authors tend to keep the distinction of POV clearer in first-person narrative, many still rely unnecessarily on the first-person POV-Duh! Hence, “I can remember Aunt Lendia taking me to school every morning, and I know she did that because she loved me” would be more succinct without the POV-Duh!s: “Aunt Lendia used to take me to school because she loved me.”
Description is nearly always more vivid if whatever your POV character perceives is allowed to be the subject of your sentence(s), especially if narrated with character-revealing attitude. Consider how the POV-Duh!s can be eliminated from the paragraph about Marty and those intruding teens.
Marty peeked out his front door. Two jittery teenagers stood on the sidewalk. A third teen leaned against a parked car, a luxurious model Marty once rode in several years before. Birds chirped frantically overhead. Smoke with the odor of drugs wafted about, an infuriating invasion of the neighborhood. Those teens didn’t care about intruding on someone else’s property. They probably stole that car.
Because we were in Marty’s POV, everything described must have been perceived by him. Likewise, all attitude and interpretation must have belonged to Marty, including “jittery” teenagers and birds chirping “frantically.”
Every time you eliminate a POV-Duh!, look for ways to inject even more interpretation and attitude. Consider: “Cheryl watched the old man spending an inordinate amount of time peering at their neighbor’s shed, and she thought that he was trying to ascertain something.” Already in Cheryl’s POV, you can simply say, “The suspicious old man was snooping around their neighbor’s shed.” We will understand that this description is her interpretation of what she observed, and that it shows her attitude about the old man. Unsophisticated writing might err in assuming that because the author knows the old man is seeking evidence of his stolen lawnmower, Cheryl’s POV should—or even can—reveal that information without a believable source of that knowledge. Concentrating on revealing only the POV character’s attitude helps us avoid divulging facts not in evidence.
Let us try giving Marty even more attitude as we eliminate those insulting POV-Duh!s.
Marty peeked out his front door for a better look at the intruders. A couple of jittery teenagers loitered suspiciously on the sidewalk, clearly up to no good. A third teen leaned against one of those luxury cars, the kind in which Marty only once had the privilege to ride. Birds chirped frantically overhead, as if warning neighbors to beware of such thugs. Smoke wafted about, likely drugs perniciously invading what used to be a safe, friendly neighborhood. Those hoodlums didn’t care about intruding on others’ property. They probably even stole that car—and no telling what else!
Not one word beyond the opening sentence directly described Marty, but with U-POVRs replaced by words that truly conveyed his Point Of View, we described his mindset and therefore made him more real. A subtle form of Watch-Not-Tell, that technique invited you to discover how he thinks, then trusted you to stay with him without constant reminders.
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