Point of View

As many of my readers know, I used to be a Catholic priest. As such, I gave a sermon every Sunday. I guess it got into my blood, because now I like to think about issues of writing in terms of a sermon. So please bear with me, of course my tongue is in my cheek.


preacherFriends, I want to talk to you today about a sin that cries to the heavens for vengeance.

A writer sits at her computer. She struggles with getting her characters across. She is SORELY tempted to give more than one character a point of view in a scene. The devil waves the alternative in front of her, promising all manner of wonderful characterization if only she will give in on this rule. It looks so easy, just switching between characters. “Besides,” the devil says, “they do it all the time in romance novels.”

Damnation awaits the writer. Read the holy books. Ansen Dibell in her treatise on PLOT published by Writer’s Digest Press, says, Chapter 3, Verse 40, “Never, never, NEVER, shift viewpoint in the middle of a scene.”

Oh, I know the devil will make it look easy. You just have to report that a minor character is sad or happy for some reason. Or the devil will come along and slip in such expressions as “David heard the doorbell ring,” when you’re in Susan’s head. Beware.

Or a minor character will suddenly know something. “Fred guessed it was Sam at the door.” This is a most pernicious error. You must stay in the mind of the point of view character.

The writer who switches viewpoint is hell-bound. He or she cares not for the reader. Imagine the poor reader being bounced around like a Ping-Pong ball, now in one head, the next minute in another. This sin cries to the heavens for retribution.

Lift your eyes up! Concentrate on the rule: One point of view in a scene. This is the way to salvation. Now say it — yes all of you say it. Are you going to give up your evil ways? In a single scene how many viewpoints can you have? One! That’s right, you people are saved!

Now place one hand on the manuscript that’s sorely afflicted with multiple points of view. And place your other hand on this text. Pray that the message will flow from my words into your manuscript. Yes! Yes! I see by your faces you’ve been saved.

But wait, friends. This pernicious error of multiple viewpoints is spreading. The young are at risk. You can help stamp out pernicious viewpoint changes. Send a check or money order. Or use Master Charge to further this effort. Our operators are standing by. Remember: THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE VIEWPOINT UNTIL THE SCENE IS OVER.

(yet many authors do change viewpoint in a scene. What do you think?)


8 responses to “Point of View

  1. Ed,
    Great post. I too think it’s better not to change POV within the scene. What do you think, though, about dropping a character’s thoughts into a 3rd person scene in 1st person (usually in italics)? I really dislike it and regard it as just another example of changing POV mid-scene, but I see a lot of beginning writers doing it. I always advise writers to stay in 3rd if they started in 3rd, Thus: :

    Andrea opened the door to discover George on the doorstep. Oh dear, I shouldn’t have opened the door. [2nd sentence usually in italics.]

    is changed to:

    Andrea opened the door to find George on the doorstep. Oh dear, she thought. She wished he’d go away.

    Not a great example, but you get my drift.

    • I’m having trouble figuring out exactly what you are suggesting, Danielle.
      Ed sat down at the card table. He saw the cheat across from him dealing off the bottom of the deck. I’m gonna have to shoot that guy, Ed thought. Ed kept watching the cheat. He got one guy to fold, then another. The cheat had learned all his tricks in Australia, so he figured he took take Ed and his gang easy.
      In that passage I shifted point of view and I tried to do it well, by shifting slowly to the bad guy. However, I don’t recommend it. It’s too dangerous. The reader gets to think they are at a ping-pong match.
      I don’t think that’s what you were talking about, Danielle.

  2. Amen! 🙂
    I loved the article. Heavenly advice!
    I’m in total agreement. If the POV is weak and scattered, then so are the characters.

  3. Pingback: MJ on Writing: Viewpoint Tips and Tricks | Author M.J. Kane·

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