Point Of View Errors! How To Spot And Fix Them

Ah, point of view (POV), a writing essential to include in your book but something that you can get so easily wrong.

It doesn’t take much to slip from the view of the character who is telling your story, and you might not even notice you’ve done it. That’s where the following advice comes in handy. Check it against your work in progress to find any errors and correct them before releasing your read into the world!

Point Of View Errors! How To Spot And Fix Them

Your POV Character Knows Something They Shouldn’t

As the writer, you know your story inside out, especially if you’ve been drafting it for months on end and have completed many editing passes.

You know exactly how the story goes, what happens when, and all the plot twists. When you know the story so intimately, it’s easy to overlook if you’ve written that a character knows something they shouldn’t.

It could be a simple slip in a piece of dialogue, an internal thought, or buried in a paragraph. In any case, do an editing pass where you specifically check the knowledge of your POV character. Look for events they reference or mention and make sure that:

1) They are supposed to know this information.
2) This is the point of time in the story when they do know this information.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to miss that your MC has referenced a conversation they had no knowledge of or that they’ve spoken about an event too early. These kinds of errors could have happened in an early draft or be leftover from an editing change. You know the story so well; you missed it, but readers won’t. Always check and ensure your POV character knowledge is on point.

Your POV Character Knows What The Other Characters Are Thinking And Feeling

Unless your story is from the POV of an omnipresent narrator, the POV character can’t know what the other characters are thinking.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for new writers.

Scour your scenes for sentences where the POV mentions another character’s thoughts or feelings as if they’re facts and rephrase so it’s an observation instead. That way things are plausible and the right info gets across to the reader without causing confusion.

Example:

Jenny studied Carla’s face. She was angry about the way things had gone at the party.Here the POV character of Jenny knows how Carla is feeling and is straight-up telling the reader.

Jenny studied Carla’s face. Was she angry about the way things had gone at the party?Here, Jenny questions if Carla is angry based on her observation of her expression and questions it to herself, which lets the reader assume Carla is angry without breaking POV.

It’s easy to mess up, but also easy to fix.

Have your POV character observe or speculate from the tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language of the other characters, and you’ll have your bases covered.

You’re In More Than One Character’s Head At A Time

This is very similar to the previous error, but instead of your POV character knowing what everyone else is thinking, your paragraphs switch directly to the other characters’ thoughts.

Jenny wondered what she’d done to annoy Carla so much. It wasn’t like she ignored her at the party. They hung out most of the night. Carla just knew that Jenny had no problem with the fact she’d abandoned her for more than an hour, leaving her to sit by herself in a room full of strangers. Jenny thought the party had been so fun, the perfect place to make new friends.

Since Jenny is the POV character in this example, slipping into Carla’s POV for a sentence in the middle is an error.

If the reader needs to know how Carla felt, put her thoughts of abandonment and disgust at being left in a room of strangers in its own scene, with Carla being the POV character. You could also rewrite the scene with dialogue instead, where Carla tells Jenny (and the reader) how she felt. That way you won’t break POV or cause any confusion and you’ll automatically have more tension. It’s a win-win.

There Are No Scene Breaks Between Character POVs

While you might know not to mix POV within the same paragraph or scene, if you’re jumping from one character’s POV to the next with no obvious scene break (such as a space, asterisk, or other markers), then the reader will wonder what is going on.

Without such a signal, POV jumps can be disorientating. Just as switching locations/settings in a book requires a scene break, break up your character POVs the same way.

As you can see, these POV errors are simple to make, but can also be just as easy to fix. Once you know how to spot them, you may even avoid adding them in the first place—or at least edit them out before showing your work to anyone else.

— K.M. Allan

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16 thoughts on “Point Of View Errors! How To Spot And Fix Them

  1. Great tips! I see the one about knowing other characters’ thoughts or feelings a lot. Often times its just a matter of changing “Mary was mad at him” to “Mary looked mad,” but better written than this of course. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sitting here nodding my head, Ms. Allen. I’m fresh from correcting POV errors in a nonfiction manuscript.
    I suspend fiction writing two years ago when my wife started cancer treatment. We’re now reaching out to agents, pitching our memoir of our experience. I made two of the POV errors you describe in the manuscript.
    I tell the story from my viewpoint. My wife gave me close to 20,000 words more content when she reviewed the first draft. I made the mistake of leaving in her statements of what she was feeling by simply leaving in the content as she wrote it.
    I did a lot of research about the statistics of reactions to chemo, after chemo was over. In the fifth revision I finally noticed I was mixing together the ignorance of the moment with the insight we gained after in the same paragraph – in quite a few places times.
    The second point was important because the mistakes we made in our ignorance is the main theme. The first point is, well, I’m her husband which should tell you everything you need to know about how much I know about what she’s thinking.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Glad to hear my tips could help. The memoir you and your wife are working on sounds like a read that would be helpful to others going through the same circumstances. I wish you the best of luck with finishing it and finding an agent.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: That’s a wrap! December 2020 – Rebecca Alasdair

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