Tag Archives: close pov

Four Sins of a Newbie Writer

I’ve done a lot of beta-reading in my day, and I find that my critique points often align along the same sort of issues. I thought it might be helpful to type up a list for anyone who is just starting out writing–I know a lot of people are using their self-isolation time to start a new WIP for Camp NaNoWriMo, for example. 😉 As always with these sort of posts, I’m not claiming I’m some genius master writer, but I do firmly stand by this list.

Sin #1: Being Too Mysterious

It’s happened more than a couple times that my very first, page one comment on a manuscript is that the author is trying to be too mysterious in the first couple paragraphs. In the first few pages, it is courteous to readers to clearly introduce your MC’s name, age, and identity. When authors dangle tidbits of information and invite readers to piece the puzzle together, it makes readers work too hard, rather than being able to sit back and enjoy the story–and that often means readers will stop reading and pick up a different book. These slow, spoon-fed introductions always makes me think of some cheesy anime character intro where they make their grand entrance to the show in silhouette.

The man walked into the bar and sat down with a weary sigh. “What’ll it be?” asked the man behind the bar, his voice a low growl. Green eyes glinted. The monk laughed. This was going to be an interesting night.

Okay, so here is the information we aren’t privy to in the above paragraph (not taken from a beta manuscript, just a few lines I made up that are representative of many past beta reads). There are no names, and the only physicality we’re given could belong to either man… or the monk… or a third party observer! Also, who is the monk? Is it the guy who just came into the bar or somebody else? Just how many people are in this scene anyway???

And take a look at the oh-so-mysterious line “Green eyes glinted.” Short sentences of physicality have started to drive me absolutely bananas recently–I think I’ve seen too many of them in books by authors like Sarah J. Maas, and they just… aren’t working for me anymore. Authors normally throw them in to establish a lyrical, poetic, or moody feel, but they read as lazy writing to me at this point.

Most crucially in the above few lines, the POV feels shaky; most readers will make the assumption that we are in the head of the first man, not the bartender, but that is not necessarily the case. This leads into the next sin…

Sin #2: Head-Hopping

Head-hopping is when authors change POVs within a scene. Unless you are some master literary craftsman who understands how to do this, stick with one POV in each scene, lest your readers become disoriented.

Wow, thought Paul, she’s super hot. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from her.

Emma blushed, noticing his gaze. Hey, good-lookin’. What she wouldn’t do for a man in uniform.

Okay, before our two characters above start getting it on, we have to fix an enormous problem; first we’re in Paul’s head, then we’re suddenly hearing Emma’s thoughts. That’s going to give your readers serious whiplash, and it will introduce major confusion throughout the manuscript. If you are using 3rd POV, you can only have your POV character think and react to information that they know.

And to help ground your readers if you’re switching POV from chapter to chapter, always use the POV character’s name in the first sentence–and ideally, make their name the first word.

Sin #3: Noticeable Dialogue Tags

There are a scant few dialogue tags I use on the regular in my writing. Here they are:

  • said
  • asked

Of course I’ll throw in a “murmured,” “growled,” or “spat” every once in a while, but generally, “said” and “asked” will do me–and my favorite scenario is when I don’t have to use dialogue tags at all and just let the dialogue sit by itself. 🙂

Here’s some dialogue from my current WIP, with extra dialogue tags thrown in.

“I’m going to pop by the liquor store, then we’re having a night in at your place. Any booze requests?” she inquired.

I thought for a second. “Just rum for me,” I sighed. “But get yourself whatever you want.”

“You getting sick?” she asked me. She knew me too well.

“Bit of a sore throat,” I told her. “That’s all.”

Okay, so this snippet is a telephone conversation between the MC and her best friend. Notice how every line includes some sort of dialogue tag (“inquired,” “sighed,” “asked,” “told”). Most of these aren’t necessary. For example, a question mark indicates a question (duh), so generally speaking there is no need to use “asked” or “inquired.” Our MC is telling her best friend what she wants to get from the liquor store, so “told” is also repetitive. As for “sighed,” it adds a bit of color, but not enough to make it necessary here. Some people would keep it, but I’d personally get rid of it.

My rule of thumb is to nix any dialogue tag that is not pulling its weight. One little thing to note, though, is that dialogue tags can do a lot for a sentence in terms of rhythm; sometimes it’s nice to break up sentences with a “said/asked,” just to keep things flowing nicely. But don’t worry about that if you’re a beginning writer–just take a good, hard look at all your dialogue tags and ditch the ones that are useless.

This is the way I wrote the text originally:

“I’m going to pop by the liquor store, then we’re having a night in at your place. Any booze requests?”

I thought for a second. “Just rum for me. But get yourself whatever you want.”

“You getting sick?” She knew me too well.

“Bit of a sore throat. That’s all.”

I can understand that to some people the above might read a bit sparse–that’s a personal preference thing. My point is that many newbie writers employ dialogue tags for every bit of dialogue, and this can quickly bog down your characters’ conversations and annoy your readers.

Sin #4: Using Telling Words to Show

“Show, don’t tell”–we’ve all heard it, but it’s often tough for writers to understand what that means. I could write a whole ‘nother post about “show, don’t tell” (and when you actually should tell), but I’ll save that for a different time. What I really want to talk about here is when writers think they’re showing, but they’re not.

Here’s an example:

He heard a braying voice from the other room.


She saw sparks fly from the machine.

Notice how “he heard” and “she saw” introduce distance into the sentence? It filters all action through the character’s senses. If you have centered your readers in a POV, we understand intuitively that a braying voice is something the character is hearing and that sparks are something the character is seeing. In the above example, these sentences tell, rather than show.

So get your character out of the sentence and let the action flow, rather than telling us what’s going on. Here are the sentences fixed up:

A voice brayed from the other room. / There came a braying voice from the other room.

Sparks flew from the machine.

Notice how much more actioney the above sentences feel? That’s because we’re suddenly not limited by having everything focus on the MC. Yes, we should be in their head, but not to the point where every single sentence tugs us back to the character.

I really hope the above tips are useful if you’re a writer just starting out! However, my biggest recommendation for avoiding these sins and developing your fictional voice is to read good books by competent writers. I’m going to be frank here: there are a lot of authors out there who are extremely successful commercially–but they don’t necessarily have the strongest chops when it comes to narrative voice. You should make it your mission to read authors who are good at their craft and pay attention to what they’re doing, maybe by even typing one of their chapters into a Word document so that you’re forced to pay attention to their stylistic choices. Here are a few of my absolute favorite authors when it comes to narrative voice:

  • Charlaine Harris (read for character description and voicey 1st POV)
  • Derek Milman (read for dialogue and voicey 1st POV)
  • Eloisa James (read for dialogue and character dynamics)
    • On a quick note, James very occasionally head-hops, but she does it as a master writer should: with purposeful subtlety that hopefully won’t annoy the average reader.
  • Kristen Britain (read for her wide range of emotion and sentence simplicity)
  • Maureen Johnson (read for voicey 1st and 3rd POV)

Can you think of any other “writing sins”? Who are your favorite authors to read for their narrative voice? Leave a comment down below!

Writer’s Corner: Close POV

If you’ve read some of my reviews lately, you may have noticed me harping on about “close POV.” (Or the unfortunate lack thereof.) I realize that this phrase might look like gobbledygook, so I thought today that I would explain what I mean when I say close POV, why I like it, and some quick ways to implement this in your own writing. Just a head’s up: once you start writing this way or noticing these techniques in the books you read, you will really notice when authors don’t write in this way, and it will annoy you.

So “close POV” stands for “close point of view.” I often say “close 3rd POV” or “close 1st POV.” “1st” and “3rd” stand for “first/third person point of view.” Explaining the differences between these terms is a little bit beyond this blog post, but here’s a good explanation if you need it.

“Close” is the key word, and it refers to the closeness of the reader to the main character. Ideally, the reader should feel like they are the main character themselves, rather than a camera following the main character around. Feelings, thoughts, actions, observations—all these things need to be written in a natural, engaging, “show, don’t tell” way that tethers the reader to the main character.

But wait, you might ask, what about first person POV? Isn’t that the absolute definition of being as close to the main character as possible?

Actually, no. There are many books out there written in first person that feel like the narrator is, well, narrating. If there is any sense that the narrator is talking to the reader, then this isn’t close enough to qualify. Consider the opening lines of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song.

Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there,
I’ll tell you how I become the prince of a town called Bel-Air.

Apologies for getting that stuck in your head. You see how it feels like we all just settled down around a campfire, ready to hear Will Smith tell us an awesome story? Close POV does not do that. Instead, it’s visceral and raw, as if you’re a neuron in the main character’s mind.

Here are some simple tips to implement close POV in your writing.

“Verbs of the Head” Must Go!

Get rid of “verbs of the head.” Nothing annoys me more than seeing a sentence like this:

Marge wondered to herself who this “Slenderman” was that her niece was always going on about.

If Marge is the main character, we know she’s the one doing the wondering. So why is “wondered to herself” necessary?

The answer is that it’s not necessary, so just ask the damn question: Who was this “Slenderman” that her niece was always going on about?

Another (bad) example:

Barbie squinted at her reflection in the mirror, seeing something that gave her pause. Was that a wrinkle? she wondered. God, I’m getting old, she thought.

And the fix: Barbie squinted at her reflection in the mirror, something giving her pause. Was that a wrinkle? God, she was getting old.

See how much smoother that is? Plus now there’s no need for awkward italics to indicate character thoughts. (Also, notice how “seeing” is also a verb of the head you can sometimes get rid of?) So quick rule of thumb is to adjust your sentences to be more direct, eliminating any of the following example verbs if at all possible:

  • wondered
  • thought (this is the big one)
  • noticed
  • saw
  • knew
  • felt
  • pondered
  • observed

Show, Don’t Tell is Fucking Important!

Mary felt sad.

God, don’t you just feel that in your gut? Don’t you just understand exactly the level and depth of Mary’s sadness? How her eyes are watering or stinging? How she knows this is going to be a big cry—and where are the fucking tissues?! How she’s trying to dam up the tears by pushing her tongue to the roof of her mouth? How it feels like a cold stone weight has settled over her shoulders?

Oh, you didn’t get any of that from Mary felt sad? How strange.

So don’t tell the reader about the main character’s feelings. Show them how those feelings are making the character feel and act. Is your character nervous? Probably they’ll have heightened or dulled senses, perhaps a quickening pulse or breath. Is your character confused? Maybe they’ll blink a few times rapidly or rattle off a litany of questions in their head. If you have a hard time coming up with these sorts of details, I highly suggest brainstorming what you yourself feel and do under the influence of different emotions, then looking up body language guides if you’re stuck.

Narrative Descriptions in the Character’s Personality

Which of these sounds more like the internal thoughts of your typical horny teenage girl?

I looked in the mirror and smiled. The merlot-red dress caressed my every curve. Perfect.

I looked in the mirror and smiled. The dress clung to my hips just right. Fuck-me redperfect.

So maybe your character will think like the first example, but more likely it’s the second one, right? The first one feels a little too old, what with “caressed” and the wine reference.

What I’m trying to illustrate here is that detailed description alone doesn’t mean you’re achieving close POV. The character’s personality and identity should inform the narration, glimmering through whenever it can. It’s hard to do, but this is what will take your close POV from a B to the A+ range.

Present Tense

I sort of hesitate to put this in here, but I think it bears mentioning. Present tense POV is increasingly popular, especially in YA, and the reason is that it’s an easy way for the POV to feel closer, even if it’s not. For example, I walk to the store is just as blah and boring as I walked to the store. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using present tense, but first off, understand that you’re going to annoy some readers by writing this way. Secondly, present tense shouldn’t be the only technique you’re using to achieve closeness, lest your narration come across as plodding and boring.

I hope this guide proves useful to people who are trying to write close POV. Please don’t take all this to mean that I am some sort of all-knowing writing guru, because I am not, but I do truly believe that these techniques make stories more interesting and engrossing, and I do my best to use them in my own writing as much as possible.

Feel free to drop a comment down below if you use these techniques or others to bring your POV closer! Which authors do close POV really well? Any recommendations?