I believe I’ve said this before but my main genre is self-help so when I decided to embark on a novel a few years ago, I had to do a lot of homework. After all, I had huge shoes to fill in that my cousin (as I also mentioned before) was Virginia Hamilton, the acclaimed children’s book author. Despite the fact that I had a journalism degree, a professional writing certificate, and could tell-it-like-it-is, making up stories did not come easily to me. I’m just not that literary. So I started out reading lots of books on fiction writing (see my blogtalk radio show) and found some really good advice.
One of the best tidbits I came across — and one that validated the direction I was already headed in my novel — was the effective use of POV, or Point Of View. Once I dove head first into my book, I knew that as narrator I wanted to be in everyone’s head. I wanted readers to know all the things my characters were thinking and feeling. I had no idea this technique had a name: 3rd person omniscient. Yet there were the detractors who say you just cannot tell a good story this way. But Dan Brown does it? In fact, I’ve even read new authors who do it unknowingly! And that, my friend, is the issue we are about to discuss.
Using this POV is, as most will tell you, pretty tricky. You must not allow the reader to notice you are doing it. That is rule number one. And to ensure this, you must change each POV with precision. That means never let them get confused. For instance, in my novel I did something like this scene, when cheating TV reporter Tina comes home late from work to her unsuspecting husband, John:
Once in the house, Tina practically skated over to John’s side and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Hey there, buddy. How was your day?”
“You’re awfully peppy tonight. What’d you do, get a raise?”
“I wish. But nope.” Tina leaned into the fridge as if investigating its contents. “Just a few drinks with friends.” As he watched her nose around a few more seconds, John noticed she seemed a bit tipsy.
“I see you brought a little libation home with you. Hope you were careful on the road. We know how you are when you’re in a hurry.”
“So I put a little scratch on your car—”
“Little scratch? Tina, I had to have the whole back door repainted. Do you realize what that cost?” He knew she hated to be reminded of her faults but he had to stop coddling her.
“It got paid for, didn’t it? And don’t forget who takes care of the insurance around here.” When Tina tried to turn in his direction she almost fell.
“You need to go to bed.” John left the room – and Tina – who was in mid-sentence babbling something incoherent.
He yelled back at her in jest, “You’re so spoiled.”
She smiled, as if she knew it.
Instead of joining him Tina selfishly chose isolation. She wasn’t sleepy, so she moved into the living area, sat on the couch and clicked on the TV. She checked her station to ensure nothing big was going on that she might have missed. Then she put the sound on mute and began channel flipping. But her mind was not on anyone’s true Hollywood story, busting myths, or the Thigh Master; instead, it wandered back to the Savoy and Darrius Martin.
As you can see, in the beginning, I — the narrator — was is in John’s head. You knew what he was thinking. But you only saw what Tina was doing. After the set of asterisks, we are in Tina’s head. John has gone to bed (meaning he’s left the scene). So, anytime you make the POV change it must be clear in the writing who is thinking and who is doing. Then indicate a clear demarcation when you need to get into the next character’s head.
This can be hard, as I said, but it must be done for the sake of continuity. If you want to learn more about this technique, I suggest you read “Characters and Viewpoint” by Orson Scott Card.