Common Errors in Fiction Manuscripts, Part 3

Point of view and environmental detail
Too often I receive a manuscript without a strong and consistent point of view. Writers, particularly novices, tend to shilly-shally about with point of view, narrating their story from a cool and distant omniscient perspective so that the reader falls into Tina Toughie’s thoughts, and then Excellent Elizabeth’s. And worse, the author then goes on to describe the weather some fifty kilometres distant.

My comment to the author at that point often reads: Who’s story is this?

Is this Tina’s story? If so, Tina doesn’t know what Elizabeth’s thinking or feeling unless Elizabeth tells Tina. Moreover, Tina hasn’t a clue about the weather in Milltown 50 klicks up the road, not unless she has access to instant news.

So, focus your point of view. Decide who is telling this story, or chapter, and stick to it, so that every environmental description, every thought, relates to that character. By doing so, you not only allow the reader inside your character’s world, but you build that character.

I’d suggest you go even further than that: become the character. By doing so you’ll describe every action and detail from your own perspective, using your own voice. It requires a willingness to go deeply, much in the way good actors delve into themselves to bring life to the character they portray. It’s exactly the same when writing.

For help with point of view, I highly recommend Orson Scott Card’s Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters andViewpoint.

Comments? Questions? We’d love to hear from you.