Monday, February 28, 2011

Question About POV Slips

I recently critiqued Jenn Maxwell’s first 500 words. In case some of you missed Jenn’s question, I thought I’d post it here along with my answer. (Note: I’m not sure if the Jenn who asked the question is Jenn Maxwell or someone else because I couldn’t find mention of her last name. Could be a cool coincidence.)

First, let’s look at the part of the sample in question:

Grey leans forward, excited to tell us the rest of the story. (POV slip. There’s no way for her to know what he’s thinking or that he’s excited to tell the story. Now, if he showed us something to make us believe he’s excited, then she can make an assumption.) He’s what I consider a manipulative storyteller. He likes to tease his audience with an anecdote, knowing just what to say to get you to want to hear more. It’s like he’s trying to dupe you into believing one thing, then he drops the metaphorical bomb on you. Which is what he’s about to do. (POV slip. She can’t know what he’s going to do before he does it.)

Here’s Jenn’s question: “I confess, I'm a bit confused about the POV slips. Some did seem out of place to me, but others seemed just fine. For example, knowing the guy's excited when he leans forward. It might be better to throw in some more description, like he starts talking faster, or his eyes light up, etc. But when I read it, and it said he leaned forward, I instantly understood that he was excited, and I don't see why the main character shouldn't also.

If you wouldn't mind explaining, I'd greatly appreciate it!”

Here’s my answer: “Sure, Jenn. In the example you used, a man leaning forward doesn't mean he's excited. It might mean he wants to be closer to someone or something. It might mean he's reaching for something. Maybe he's just changing positions in his seat. Or maybe he’s avoiding being close to someone or something behind or beside him. There really isn't enough of a reason for her to make an assumption like that. Now, use him leaning forward WITH something else and she can ASSUME she knows why he's leaning, but she can never really KNOW. If you word it like, "It seems" or "I believe" or "He probably", then that tells the reader that the POV character is making an assumption based on what she's seeing.”

The other POV slip in this sample is when the character knows what’s going to happen before the reader does. This pulls the reader from the story and reminds her that she’s being TOLD a story. Readers don’t like to be TOLD anything, which is why we constantly preach to SHOW your story as much as possible. Readers want to EXPERIENCE the story, not just hear about it. In this particular example, the author should delete, “Which is what he’s about to do.” Instead of telling the reader what’s about to happen, the writer should just skip that sentence and go right into showing the scene.

Does this help?


  1. These are very good examples, thank you for sharing them. POV slips can be so subtle - when a writer knows the intimacies of every character, it can be difficult to become the reader who knows nothing of them.

  2. haha, no I'm Jenn Johnson, not Jenn Maxwell. It is merely a fun coincidence!

    I did understand the second POV slip in your example, but mostly because of the tense. If you're in present tense, how will you know what's about to happen?

    I think my confusion in the first is that I heard that leaning forward during a conversation is an indication of being interested and excited. And my mind made the connection even though there was nothing beyond what we were being told to support it.

    This does seem to make more sense now, thanks!

  3. Margo: Thanks for the nice comment.

    Jenn: Too funny of a coincidence! You're right about the present tense also being an issue. However, I believe no matter the tense, the second example still wouldn't work. I'm glad this helped though.

    Lynnette Labelle

  4. I had a discussion like this over the weekend with my writers group.

    Even telling the reader "He likes to tease his audience with an anecdote, knowing just what to say to get you to want to hear more . ." is a bit out of perspective (in my view). The author is having a character reveal something to the reader that is unsupported by anything but the character's assertion.

    I've spent too much time critiquing tonight. Time to go do some editing in my own story.

    Thanks for clarifying the POV thing Lynette. And thanks for being such a good sport Jen :)


  5. Showing usually takes more words, but it's well worth the effort.

  6. The blog is very good!