In addition to my own writing, I also work as a freelance ghostwriter. From that experience, I can tell you that the most common problem I see in peoples’ writing is point-of-view confusion.
It goes like this: the scene starts from the POV of one character, showing us as the readers the world through this character’s eyes. Then, with no warning, we start being told about the feelings and thoughts of another character. Instant mental whiplash. How am I supposed to follow a story if I don’t even know whose head I’m in?
Granted, there is such a thing as omniscient perspective, where the narrator can reveal the thoughts of any character he wishes. But that’s rare these days and I’ve not seen many people actually try to write from that perspective. Most fiction is written from a single perspective at a time and I’d recommend that most writers stick to that pattern. It’s the dominant one for a reason.
So how do you do it?
Simple. Pick a POV character and stay in his/her head. Don’t leave, no matter what. If you find that you must jump into another character’s head, don’t. Odd are, at some point you’ll be tempted to switch perspectives mid-scene. You’ll probably have plenty of good reasons for doing so, too. Maybe the readers really need to what that character is thinking. If that’s the case, you’ve got two choices:
- Scrap the scene and start over from that character’s perspective.
- Reveal those thoughts or emotions in a less direct way.
Most of the time, you’ll want to go with option 2. And it’s not as hard as it sounds. Think about it: how do you know what the people around you are thinking or feeling? Do you have to read their mind? No, you watch their body language, listen to what they say and how they say it. Do the same for your readers. Don’t take the short cut and leap into the head of a non-POV character. Show your readers what that character is feeling by what she does. Is she nervous? Maybe a subtle shifting of weight from one foot to the other or a sideways glance can reveal that. Is she excited? A bounce in her step or sparkle in her eye will declare that more effectively than any interior monologue.
Why does this even matter? Is it just the obnoxious opinion of a random writer? Maybe, but it’s an obnoxious opinion with a really good reason behind it.
We all want to immerse our readers in the story we weave. To draw them in and have them connect with our characters on a deep level. The best way to do this is show them the world through the eyes of our characters and plant them firmly in a character’s head. And you simply can’t accomplish that with any degree of success if you’re jumping from head to head.
So pick a POV character, take your readers into his head and keep them there.