The Red Pen: The POVerdict

Hiya! Crap, it’s been a while, and I apologize for that. Especially when I have so much I want to share with you!

For today, though, I’m pleased to just announce that we’ve finally found compromise on the POV issue I’d related earlier. To quickly recap, an author I’m editing for had been writing through a sort of hybrid 3rd person limited/omniscient POV. The story alternates between POVs such that we have the sort of “head-hopping” found in an omniscient perspective, but it’s only between two characters (not all), which would signify the POV is limited.

So we originally thought entire scenes/chapters would need to be rewritten from one character’s POV or another to keep within 3rd person multiple limited perspective. This would entail extensive revision and kill some of the playful back-and-forth between the two main characters. On the other hand, revising it to be omniscient would be a lot of work, too, as additional characters’ thoughts would have to be written in. The solution proposed, then, is to simply insert section breaks between paragraphs where the POV makes the jump. The section breaks will serve as a visual cue to the reader that POV is going to shift, so the author can jump between her main characters’ thoughts within the same scene. In short, it hopefully means hardly rewriting anything; instead, it’s more of a structural revision. We’re lucky in this case that most of the scenes are in multi-paragraph chunks within a single POV to make this possible.

In the instances where we see a POV shift on a sentence-by-sentence level, on the other hand, the author will need to commit to one POV or the other and rewrite them as such. Again, though, this should be easy, as in a lot of cases, one character’s POV is definitely dominating, so it’s only a matter of revising stray sentences here and there.

I can’t share the author’s work here, so let me make up some BS text on the spot to demonstrate what I’m talking about:

Lucy was livid when she found out she had to revise her manuscript. She simply didn’t understand the problem with the way she approached point of view.

Bob, on the other hand, didn’t understand what the big deal was. Why couldn’t Lucy just suck it up and do it the right way?

Lucy looked at Bob and huffed; it figured he wasn’t going to take her side on this. [and this paragraph continues in Lucy’s POV…]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]

[A paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

So, obviously the red font denotes Bob’s POV. We can see at a glance that Lucy’s POV dominates the first few paragraphs of this “story.” The first section, then, should be solely from her POV; therefore the two sentences from Bob’s POV that have strayed into there need to be rewritten into Lucy’s POV—what is there needs to be reasonably inferred by what Lucy can observe of Bob’s outward actions or dialogue. What we can also see at a glance here is that, once Lucy’s POV ends, we have a few paragraphs solely from Bob’s. This is okay. Nothing requires rewriting; all we need to do is insert a section break before Bob’s POV begins. Then the reader hopefully won’t be as confused when the scene suddenly continues in his head.

The revision (in bold) can look something like this:

Lucy was livid when she found out she had to revise her manuscript. She simply didn’t understand the problem with the way she approached point of view.

“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” Bob said. “Why can’t you just suck it up and do it the right way?”

Lucy looked at Bob and huffed; it figured he wasn’t going to take her side on this. [and this paragraph continues in Lucy’s POV…]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Lucy’s POV]


[A paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

[Another paragraph in Bob’s POV]

Alternatively, the rewritten portion above could still have Bob not say anything. Something like:

Lucy looked at Bob and huffed. She could see from the way he screwed his face that he didn’t understand why it was a big deal. It figured he wasn’t going to take her side on this.

In a case like this where part of the original does get cut, if it’s something the author really likes and doesn’t want to lose entirely, she can try to find somewhere else to fit it without infringing on the wrong POV.

I don’t know how much sense I’m making with this, but let’s just say the author seems happy about it, which makes me happy. And let me also say there are entire scenes only in one POV, so the whole thing is not going to be chopped up in small sections all the way through. That would be a whole new issue if so.

I can’t say, though, that I’ve read many (if any) books like this. What do you think? Is this a reasonable approach that you’ve seen before (and that’s been done well), or do you think it’s still confusing for the reader?


About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

20 responses to “The Red Pen: The POVerdict

  • Alannah Murphy

    Cannot think of a specific novel example where this type of POV change happens but it sounds to me, as if it’s going to work. You did a great job at explaining it so don’t worry. I remember my days, when I didn’t even know what the hell a POV was…lol

    • thefallenmonkey

      Yeah, I’m still stumped trying to think of a book that does this, too, but it so happens that the next manuscript I received to edit does exactly the same thing, and it seems to work fine. So fingers crossed that the author has an okay working with it. 🙂

  • tahliaN

    Sounds perfect to me because it’s exactly the solution I used for my novel, which had the same ‘problem’.

    I have one main POV, another main character whose POV is just there occaisonally but more as the novel goes on, and a third one that is two separate scenes.

    I don’t think I’d like it if it flipped back and forth in short chunks all the time, but if it’s an occaisonal flip to someone else then back to the main one again, that works. I think my shortest change is about 4 paragraphs, before it goes back to the main character.

    It’s great to know that you have sorted out the same solution, gives me confidence that what I did was ok.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Phew! That’s reassuring to know that you approached it the same way, Tahlia. And the managing editor who suggested this to me is an author and said she’s treating POV this same way in some of the scenes she’s currently writing for her next novel. I do feel confident that it’ll work. How did you fare making those revisions? The author is on vacation so this, so hasn’t tackled it yet, so I’m just hoping that she’ll have an okay time of it.

  • Milo James Fowler

    The section break is the way to go; it’s done this way in The Passage, which I’m currently reading (85% through on Gizmo). Usually, in my own work, I try to keep each section/chapter in one character’s POV, then shift in subsequent sections/chapters.

    • thefallenmonkey

      I’m with you, Milo, on preferring to keep it to one POV per scene or chapter. It’s good knowing there’s this solution for those who’ve already written a long piece in error, but I’d be hard-pressed to go into a new work with this approach now that I realize how it risks confusion.

  • Nicki Elson

    Hooray for a solution everyone is happy with! You know, having to rewrite a sentence here or there to get the 2nd person’s reactions across either through dialogue or body language could actually even end up making it a stronger piece as a whole—the show not tell thing.

  • Eva

    … sorry for the long silence. But am back from moving madness now. And so happy to see you have managed to find a solution for your writer that “keeps it clean cut”. Although I cannot tell you about a book I know that did the same it seems that this is a way to go that readers will find clear to understand but doesn’t totally devastate your writer. Got my two thumbs up there! 😉

    • thefallenmonkey

      Awesome. I feel incredibly better hearing that this isn’t just a band-aid, that it could legitimately work. Heard back from the author, and it sounds like she’s still cool with it. In the meantime, Eva, I’ve been finishing up my first-round of edits on this other author’s work, so my apologies that I haven’t gotten to your pages yet – except for the first page, which gets my attention straight away. Nice bit of humor with the guy pissy over a match, and voice really comes through in the dialogue! 🙂

      • Eva

        Hey – cool you do find it interesting enough. And don’t worry, I am happy you read it, whenever you have the time. 🙂

        • thefallenmonkey

          SO lame of me, I know, when it’s only a few pages. I just wanted to do it justice and sit down with it when I could probably focus and not be swarmed in preoccupation, which has become really bad lately. 🙂

  • Glen

    It is amazing how deeply you have to think about these problems – but ignore them and it shows!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Honestly, it makes the head spin, doesn’t it, Glen? It’s so easy to make these mistakes unconsciously, too; I’ve since started going back through my own manuscript and can’t get over how much I still see POVs straying in that shouldn’t!

  • Melissa

    I don’t find it confusing at all & I’m really happy to hear it all worked out for the author. Like I said before: IT’S ART. LET IT BE. Sigh. I’m really tired of the all the rules floating around this industry.

    BTW – just noticed your banana count at the bottom! EEE!!! GOOD LUCK, MONKEY!!!!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Aw, thanks Melissa – you’ve reminded me to update that count to, uh, 6-for-6. Meh. Those were my December/January versions, which I’ve since overhauled and am presently fine-tuning for a new query-blast this spring. 🙂

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