Avoid the Dreaded POV Wobble

What’s a POV Wobble? Why should you dread it? What happens if you encounter it? How can you avoid it?

POV WobbleFour vital and weighty questions. An average blogger would shrink from the challenge of answering them all in one short post. But you’ve surfed to no ordinary website. I laugh at such challenges, or at least chuckle in a menacing way.

I’ll assume you understand Point of View (POV) already, perhaps by having read this, or some lesser source. The phenomenon of POV Wobble is when the writer shifts to a different character’s POV without a break in the narration. Here’s a blatant example:

Jetta stared at Cliff over the breakfast table and wondered if he was still happy with their marriage. Cliff thought she must have forgotten he preferred grape juice over orange juice.

That’s not so much a POV wobble as a POV fall flat on your face. We shifted right from Jetta’s mind to Cliff’s mind in the same paragraph. Here’s another example:

Jetta looked up toward the window as she heard a loud, warbling sound from outside.   Neither she nor Cliff could have known an alien spaceship had landed in their back yard, nor understood then the consequences for the human race.

Not only did we leap from just Jetta’s mind to encompass both hers and Cliff’s, but that’s very poor foreshadowing, too. Here’s more:

Her heart pounded. Jetta heard the creak of the outside stairs and sensed the grip of the alien’s hand on the kitchen doorknob.

Sure, she knows when her heart is pounding, and she can hear noises. But she can’t sense anyone else’s hand on a doorknob. Another example:

Jetta and Cliff edged their way to the kitchen’s far side, afraid of making any noise. Flat against the wall, Jetta stood with her hand to her mouth, ready to scream, appearing as if posed for a horror movie role.

Here, the first sentence states they’re both afraid, but we shouldn’t know about Cliff’s fear since we’re not in his POV. In the second sentence, we’re seeing Jetta from the outside, posing, which she couldn’t see unless by reflection in a mirrored surface.

The trouble with POV wobbles is, they mark a shift from third-person limited to third-person omniscient. In other words, you’ve gotten the reader comfortable with being in one character’s head, and then suddenly you lift the veil and reveal stuff that character can’t know. You bounce the reader (maybe only briefly and with subtlety) into another character’s head.

It’s possible some readers won’t notice, or will notice but remain unbothered. Why take the chance? First of all, an editor may catch it and that POV wobble might be enough to get your story rejected before a paying reader even sees it.

You’re thinking, “This seems pretty basic stuff. The POV wobble thing will be easy to avoid. I’ll never fall in that trap.”

Good luck. POV wobble is a sneaky problem. As an author, your aim is to tell a story, to provide maximum emotional response in the reader. It’s too easy, as you’re writing along, with your godlike knowledge of the plot and all characters, to forget (even for a moment) that you’re conveying the story—or at least the chapter—from the limited POV of one character alone.

Someday you’ll want the reader to know something the POV character can’t know. Or you’ll need to describe something the POV character can’t sense.

Avoid POV wobble by (1) choosing your POV character wisely, (2) concentrating on staying in that character’s head. Really put yourself in that character’s mind, and (3) making it obvious as soon as you shift to a new character’s POV, at the beginning of a chapter or after a section break.

You’ll find more great info about the POV wobble phenomenon here, here, and here. That’s it, from a blogger who will never go wobbly on you—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?

As you plan your fiction stories, one important consideration is figuring out how they will be told. In other words, who is the narrator? You have several choices, each with benefits and drawbacks.

Narrative VoiceI’ve discussed Point of View (POV) before, but this is slightly different. Today I’m talking about Narrative Voice. Wikipedia’s article on Narrative Mode discusses POV and Narrative Voice as separate items.

You might invent your own new type of Narrative Voice, but for now, the main categories are Stream-of-Consciousness, Character Voice, Epistolary, and various Third Person voices.

  • Stream of Consciousness. You’re in my mind as I tell this, getting every little thought. Some connected, some not (doesn’t matter), even partial. What I’m conveying is the scattered, haphazard/fleeting nature of a human mind’s thoughts as they carom-collide-cascade around inside a skull. The advantage (good news!) is getting that intense/inside/intimate sense of one person’s—a character, or outside narrator (you choose)—perspective on the story’s events. A downside-disadvantage-drawback-(damn!) is that it can be hard to write, hard to read, hard, hard, hard to pull off well.
  • Character Voice.  Yeah, I’m a character, but the author’s makin’ me do double duty by also tellin’ the story. You readers’ll see things through my eyes, and I’ll let you know exactly what I think about everyone else. I’m a main character, but the author coulda picked one of them spear carriers. My author also picked first person, but he mighta picked third person instead. By the way, you can trust me. But some o’ these other character voice narrators in other stories? They lie. They’re what you call ‘unreliable voice narrators’ and you gotta sort out the truth yourself. Another type you might come across is the ‘naive narrator.’ Sometimes ya get these kids tellin’ the story, or worse is, some adult whose cheese ain’t sittin’ square on top of his cracker, if you know what I mean. With Character Voice, you’re gonna feel like you’re right with me, part of the action. Still, even I can’t really be everywhere and see everything, so pick your narrator character carefully.
  •  Epistolary VoiceEpistolary
  • Third-Person Subjective. Jane knew her author was using her to tell his story, and she secretly resented it. All the story’s actions got to the reader through her eyes and other senses. Worse, the author was just telling the reader many of her innermost thoughts. In her story’s case, the author used Third Person Subjective – Limited in that he never strayed from Jane’s mind. She wished he had chosen Third Person Subjective – Omniscient instead, and told the story by switching into other characters’ minds every so often. It certainly didn’t help matters that this was known as the most popular and currently most common type of narration.
  • Third Person Objective. James saw what his author was doing. He was narrating the story by describing what James sensed, but only what James sensed. No feelings or thoughts were involved at all. James drove past a sign that said this method maintained a neutral, unbiased narrative, similar to the style used by news reporters.   James said, “This technique helps the reader appreciate how reliable the narrator is, but some readers may miss the inner emotions.”
  • Third Person Omniscient. As the sun rose, no one in the tiny town suspected their story was being told by an omniscient narrator. The narrator knew everything about everyone, including each person’s secret desires, hopes, and wishes. Alone in her ranch style home, Jane suspected that this once-popular technique would work well for epic stories with many characters and widely-dispersed action. But as James drove by Jane’s house, he wondered if the technique could be disorienting to readers, or introduce too much distance between story and reader.

There you have the various types of narrative voice. For your story, make your choice based on your experience with each technique, as well as what’s best for the story. For this blog post, your narrator has, of course, been—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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I, Spear-Carrier

Today I’ve invited a guest-blogger to my site. He’s a spear-carrier and his name is…um…

spear carrierThat’s the thing, Mr. Poseidon’s Scribe, I don’t even have a name. My author didn’t give me one. I appreciate you giving me a chance to have my say at your website, but most authors aren’t that nice to us spear-carriers.

I suppose I should back up a bit and explain what a spear-carrier is. We’re the minor characters in stories, the ones who remain mostly in the background. We sometimes get to say a few lines, but never as much as the protagonist, sidekick, or antagonist.

The first spear-carriers really carried spears. Back in the days of Ancient Greek drama, they stood near entrances or with backs against the wall while the main characters had all the fun. Boring! These days, we’re the ‘other ones’ at the party, or walking along the street, or shopping in the store.

Oh, authors always say they need us, and that we’re important, but then they treat us like crap. We rarely get names, usually don’t merit more than a word or two of description, and get no chance at character development. For example, I have no personality at all. None!

Life for us is generally boring, though we do get to react, on occasion, to something said or done by a main character. Whoopee!

Giving us the boring roles, not letting us speak much, treating us like furniture—all of that is bad enough. But there’s something worse.

When a protagonist, sidekick, or antagonist dies, it’s a big deal, with a lot of weeping and wailing. But authors bump us spear-carriers off without a second thought. In fact, the major characters never pause to morn our deaths for very long. Often we’re made to die just to show how mean the bad guy is. How sick is that?

Yeah, I know. Authors (sadists one and all) also treat main characters badly. The protagonist, in particular, has to go through a number of tests and trials as she deals with the story’s central conflict. She endures a lot, for sure, but I’d still trade places any day.

The protagonist gets a name and a personality, and generally comes out okay in the end after having learned something. Even when a protagonist dies, it’s a death with meaning and honor.

When it comes to trading places, the one I’d really like to swap with is the author. I have no desire to be an author, but I have an absolute, passionate craving to see how one of those arrogant writers likes being a spear-carrier. Even for just an hour. Oh, yeah.

Let the author fade into the background for a while and see how he likes it. Okay, Mr. Poseidon’s Scribe, let’s try it with you.

Uh, me?

Yeah. Just stand there. Like that, only with no motion at all.

Like this?

No talking. Did I tell you to talk? No looks of surprise either; stop that. Keep your face expressionless. No, even more blank than that. And hand gestures like that are totally unacceptable.

All right. Now that you’re standing without any motion or facial expression, completely unsuspecting, it’s time to demonstrate just how evil the villain in this story really is. No, Mr. Poseidon’s Scribe, you’re supposed to just stand there—

That’s enough for now. I’d like to thank the spear-carrier for guest-blogging today. I think we’ve learned quite a lot about the lives and secret yearnings of these characters. As an author, I need my spear-carriers. They’re important to my stories. But let’s face it, I can’t give every minor character a name, a personality, a whole lot of dialogue; my stories would go on forever. And if a spear-carrier has to be sacrificed for the betterment of my story, well, that’s the way it has to be for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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I Dint Proofread This Blog Post

Yes, I should have proofread this blog post before publishing it, but you know how thyme gets away from you. It’s possible there may be errirs I didn’t catch.

ProofreadingProofreading is impotent because readers get annoyed when they see mistakes left behind. They may conclude you’re not a competent writer. Worse, depending on the mistakes you make, you can convey a meaning counter to what you mint.

I’ve blogged about editing once or twice before, and I may have been lumping proofreading inn with that term. There is a distinction. In fact, in large publishing houses, there are different people involved; the editor and the proofreader halve different skills.

Editing should precede proofreading, and it concentrates on the biggger picture. An editor is checking for focus, readability, clarity, logic, good transitions, and consistent tone.

A proofreader, by contrast, is checking for speling errors, the bad affect of grammatical errors, use verb tense problems, words that might missing, mis$ing or incorrect punctu@tion, and poor sentence structure such as run-on sentences or sentence fragments that.

How do you go about proofreading? There’s some excellent advice available here, here, here, and here.  I’ll repeat some of that advice below, grouped into categories:

Spelling

  • Don’t trust spell checkers. Use them, but realize they only check four spelling, knot the correct use of a word.
  • Keep a dictionary on hand. This helps with obscure words that spell-checkers don’t no.
  • Read backward. An old trick, but it werks! You’l spot errors more eesily.

References

  • Keep reference materials on hand. The web can work for most things, but not all.
  • Double-check facts, figures, and proper names. Making sure of these things now can save embarrassment later. Ensure you check “internal facts” such as consistency with your character names, ages, hair and eye color, etc.

Freshness

  • Give yourself a break. Keep yourself mentally fresh and alert. Proofreading requires attention to detail.
  • Give the manuscript a break. This means to let your creation sit for a time (days, weeks, even months) before proofreading, to make it seem fresh to you. It’s easier to spot errors that way.

Other Proofreading Tricks

  • Adopt a critical mindset. Think like an auditor, or channel your most frustrating English teacher from school. Assume your manuscript is awash in errors and you’re going to find them.
  • Print out the text, review the hard copy. This works for some people.
  • Create a customized proofreading list of your most common errors. I highly recommend this. Keep the list dynamic by adding new errors you uncover.
  • Proofread for one category of error, or one type of problem, at a time.
  • Read the text aloud. Sometimes errors are easier to spot when spoken.
  • Ask someone else to proofread your manuscript. Ideally this would be a fellow writer, or a friend who knows English well and is willing to give you honest criticism.

Its my sincere hope you take more time proofreading you’re stories than I’ve done with this blog post. Eye was a bit rushed today:; but that’s really no excuse?! Starting with the next post, I’ll return two the polished, error-free, grammatically perfect prose you’ve come to expect from—

Pose-sigh-dunce Scribe

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