During the final stages of review for my new thriller, White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy, one editor said that I had Point of View (POV) problems. I didn’t take this charge lightly because my mentor, author/publicist Arline Chase, had always taught me to never violate point-of-view rules.
Let’s back up a bit to explain. When writing a narrative story, it’s necessary to choose a POV from which to tell the story. For example, some writers tell their story in the first person, using “I.” In those cases, the “I” person is a character in the story. For example: “I returned home to find my house on fire and immediately suspected that it wasn’t an accident.” There is also a second person POV (“you”), but this approach is not common.
More often, fiction writers use the third person; e.g., “Sanford returned home to find his house on fire and immediately suspected that it wasn’t an accident.” An outsider, not a character in the story, is telling the story. Once you’ve decided on third-person, you have to choose whether it’s going to be third-person omniscient or third-person limited POV. For omniscient, the narrator knows the thoughts of other characters. For third-person limited, the narrator knows only what that particular character knows or sees; a big advantage of this approach is that the story can be told from multiple character viewpoints, resulting in the reader usually knowing more than any one character.
So where did I go wrong? I’ve used third-person limited POV for all three of my thrillers (Category 5, Prophecy, and White Thaw: The Helheim Conspiracy). If I know the rule so well, how could I be accused of breaking it?
The disagreement results from what the reviewer and I think the character knows. I will give you three examples (from the POV of my lead character, Linda Kipling) where the editor claims that I broke the rule. I will then explain why I disagree. Ultimately, I decided that the reviewer was technically correct.
- “As her assailant came running toward her, his bearing became more menacing. He had no intention of stopping until he had bowled her over. Kipling stood her ground and waited.”
- “The guard released his grip, and Kipling remained standing. Infuriated, he landed hard…”
- “An outsider viewing the dinner’s progression wouldn’t have suspected anything out of the ordinary.”
In 1), the first sentence is okay. The reviewer said that I went wrong when I stated, “He had no intention of stopping until he had bowled her over.” My response was that it was obvious to Kipling what his intentions were. The reviewer’s point is that Kipling’s assailant could have changed his mind. That sentence is easily corrected: “It seemed obvious to Kipling that he had no intention of stopping until he had bowled her over.”
For 2), again the reviewer is correct in principle. He would say that Kipling had no way of knowing that he was “infuriated.” To my way of thinking, that was more than obvious to her.
For 3), again I thought I wrote that sentence from Kipling’s POV, that as she looked about the room, she might imagine that an outsider would sense nothing wrong. However, her idea of what an outsider might think could be totally off the mark.
So, what have I learned? I’ve learned that I need to be ever vigilant when writing in third-person limited POV. Although it’s unlikely that a reader would have noticed these errors, it’s important that we writers never write even one sentence that could confuse the reader.