Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wordy Wednesday - Reflections from the Editor's Desk

Welcome to the first ever Wordy Wednesday, where Champagne’s editors come out into the open and discuss topics designed to help you perfect your work, or wax philosophical about writing and publishing.

The first topic for discussion is point-of-view (POV) or the world as a character sees it. It’s no wonder this causes dilemmas for writers, since some very famous and successful authors use omniscient POV, flipping between different character’s heads even within one paragraph. These authors are usually best sellers; why won’t Champagne let you do this with your book? Well, when you are as prolific and successful as Nora Roberts, you, too, can convince your publisher that head-hopping is perfectly fine. Until that time, your publisher will ask you to restrain from head hopping. This doesn’t mean that you can’t switch into several different characters’ heads, but it does mean that you have to be in one character’s head at a time.

Why is this considered better? For one thing, head hopping can be confusing to your readers, making it hard for them to really get to know and distinguish between your characters. It’s also very hard to do omniscient POV well. For these reasons, most publishers, and definitely Champagne, will ask you to limit POV to several main characters, and to stay in only one character’s POV per scene or chapter.

How to do this when you’re used to head-hopping? Basically, when you’re in a character’s POV, you can only present things that the character can see with her eyes, hear with her ears, smell, taste, or feel, as in emotions. And unless your character is psychic, she can’t know what other characters are feeling or thinking. At least not unless they know each other extremely well. It’s cheating to just say, “she knew,” or “apparently” in an effort to convey what someone else is feeling or thinking. There’s also no room for an impersonal narrator voice to step in and tell readers things the POV character doesn’t know. Narrator voice is usually “telling,” and we all know that wise writing adage, “Show, don’t tell.” For example:

“She watched him cross the room. She knew he was tired.” This is both head hopping and telling. How does she know he’s tired? What is she seeing that tells her this?

What you can do is describe the body language or facial expressions of another character. This lets your readers draw the conclusion you want. You can, if you want, backtrack and relate a conversation or action that would justify knowledge that your POV character has. Instead of using a narrator voice, have an older, more experienced character convey information to your POV character through dialogue. Or show readers what you want them to know through actions. Avoid narrator voice and telling, not showing, by choosing a few main characters and alternating their POVs. Consider a better version of the example above:

“She watched him cross the room. Dark circles shadowed his eyes, and he shuffled slowly.” This example shows us what she sees as she watches him, and lets the reader conclude that he must be tired.

Your work will be more polished, and your characters will come alive and distinguish themselves more clearly to readers using this technique. And your editor will be most pleased!



  1. A writing friend trying to help me undertand POV suggested I write the scene in first person. It worked great. If the person doing the telling, i.e. that first person character, can't see, hear, taste, ect. then you've slipped out of the character's head. This worked for me. I still slip occasionally, but understanding what POV meant was my big problem.

    1. That's an excellent exercise, Allison. I'm glad it worked for you. Another one is to read anything by Jane Austin, with an eye toward POV. She is VERY good at it.
      Diane, thanks for your clear discussion and encouragement.

  2. Hi Diane and welcome. Glad to have Nikki to keeps me on track when I stray. Thank God for editors. R

    1. How sweet it is to hear a little appreciation for us editors! Thank you, Rita.

  3. Really like your comments, Diane. I think ever writer is guilty, at one point, of those careless POV slips you mention, but for those who insist on bouncing around haphazardly, it's just a plain bad idea. People like a story they get get rooted in. When I'm in Graeme's head, it's the great mystery of not knowing what in Sally's world, of Joe's, that makes life interesting!

  4. Thanks,everyone, for your kind comments. Allison, I am so thrilled that you posted about the first person idea. I've suggested doing that to a number of authors, but have yet to hear back that it was helpful! I'll be recommending it more strongly, and earlier, from now on.