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Writer’s Tip #15: Make Descriptions in Character’s POV

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Stay in the POV of your character.

Please add comments with your favorite editing fixes. 

When you write a description, do it through the eyes of your POV character. Notice what s/he would notice. Describe the car/street/building/etc. as s/he would see it, and only with what s/he would know. If s/he doesn’t know about the engine, leave it out no matter how fascinating the spark plugs are. If you must get that detail in, s/he can run into someone who chats about it. Now, s/he has that knowledge to share, or use.

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12 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #15: Make Descriptions in Character’s POV

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  5. Hi, I wasn’t sure where to leave a comment. I have a question. Is there anywhere online or book to buy, or if the one that reads this could help with a character’s voice? He is an Italian. However, they have lived in the United States for a while. The character is 220 but in our time looks to be 20 years old. He is educated so he would speak proper but nonetheless I don’t believe he is from Italy. I know from your tips a writer wants believable characters. Not sure how to pull this off? Oh by the way he is a shape shifter not a vampire.

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    • Voice is one of the defining elements in a story that separates adequate writing from great. If done correctly, it will allow your readers that ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ all writers aim for. You are wise to pay attention to that early on. I start looking at voice immediately after I’ve written a plot outline and it takes me several drafts before I get it down. Like you, I have characters in several of my novels that are foreign, living in America. It is a challenge to get their accent, syntax, word placement, facial expressions accurate. But, those very features done correctly bring the character to life. I know I’m done when the character takes on a life of his own in my novel, pops up in scenes I hadn’t planned on because he knows he should be there.

      That’s the power of voice.

      Check my sidebar for writing books I recommend. The two I think will help you the most are The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and How to Write a D*** Good Novel by James Frey. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

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  6. I agree, s0beurself, POV is a favorite of mine also. I’ve noticed that the books I get into the most do the best with their POV. I have spent many hours figuring out how characters would act if they really were a professor, what they would do at night if they were a mom, how chronic headaches would affect their daily activities, all to make sure I’m in character. Challenging, slows the writing process down, but so rewarding in the end.

    Hey, Cheri–it took me at least five years to get POV, as well as the help of my writer’s group who were merciless with me. What a difference it makes when it’s right!

    I’m waiting for your next post!

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  7. POV has probably been the most elusive of all novel elements for me–first grappling with how to best structure the novel, and then laboring to remain consistent once that decision has been made.

    I’m much improved over where I was five or six years ago, and I’m readily able to address POV inconsistencies in manuscripts I edit in my business. But in the professional edit cycles for Separation of Faith, several inconsistencies were pointed out to me that I had simply not been able to see in my own writing.

    Because I’m so sensitive to this whole element of novel writing, I was especially perturbed earlier this year while reading a novel by a well-known, prolific author whose works have been published by a top New York mainstream house. That was the first (and now only) novel I’d read by her, and the book was littered with POV inconsistencies–and I mean blatant inconsistencies rather than subtle ones that might have been easier to overlook.

    That was one frustrating experience, both as an editor and a writer! Given all the grief the industry pours out regarding the lack of editorial quality in books published via alternate avenues, I was blown away that something coming out of a mainstream house could have been so poorly edited and yet still end up on the bestseller list. Guess that’s what can happen when you’ve established your name as an author.

    Makes me even more determined.

    Good luck with the POV decisions in your new novel. They really do set the foundation for the whole book, don’t they?

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  8. Funny you’d say that, Cheri. I am struggling through purifying my POV in my next novel, which reminded me how challenging it is. It is the most oft-asked question I get–and it’s very hard to explain.

    Thanks for the comment.

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  9. I think that POV is one of the hardest elements for new writers to get their arms around. And I find myself getting tripped up still, catching missteps during an edit. Thanks for this post and the reminder.

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