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  Top Six Novel Writing Mistakes (continued)

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3.  Too many shifts in the point of view.  Point of view is a way of saying who is witnessing the events, whose eyes are seeing the action.  Generally, a scene should have only one point of view;  that is, the reader should stay inside the mind of one person.  Otherwise, the plot takes on a dizzying aspect as the POV jumps here and there.  

Leaping back and forth with the POV is a mistake in a novel.  Here’s the reason:  all novels ask the reader to suspend disbelief, as novels are fiction.  But when the POV switches frequently between characters, suspending disbelief becomes harder because the reader has a seemingly supernatural ability to go from brain to brain.  

Here is an example of point of view that flits around so much as to be distracting:

 “I don’t understand why Sandra puts up with him,” Jolene said, wondering if Ally was interested at all.  “I mean, I’d have bailed out of that relationship a long time ago.” 

“Me, too,” Ally replied.  She didn’t want to upset Jolene, who she knew could get angry thinking of Sandra.  “I would’ve been long gone.” 

The waiter arrived with their wine.  They were quiet until he filled their glasses.  He returned to the service area. 

Brushing her hair from her forehead, Monica smiled at Ally.  Monica knew Ally had her own problems with her boyfriend.  She wanted to yell, “Follow your own advice.  Leave him.”  But she knew better. 

“Sometimes Sandra acts like a fourteen-year-old.”  Jolene glanced again at Ally, trying to read her eyes.  “Ally, you okay?” 

Ally made a dismissive gesture.  “I’m living the dream.  Couldn’t be better.”  She wondered if her words sounded hollow, and friends could see through her. 


See how we hop around as we read this, from one mind to another at a dizzying pace?  

Yet if the point of view is maintained with one character, you might ask, how can the reader learn what other characters are thinking?  Two ways: We can observe the other character and thus learn what she is thinking, or we can speculate about what she is thinking. Instead of writing, John was puzzled, which instantly changes points of view to John’s, we write a puzzled look was on John’s face.  The POV character is observing John’s puzzlement.  Or we can speculate: instead of saying John was puzzled, we can write: as if John was puzzled or apparently John was puzzled.  Observation and speculation don’t switch the point of view.

4.  Interior monologues: Interior monologue is a fancy way of saying thinking.  The novelist Jack Bickham offers this definition of a scene: “It’s a segment of story action, written moment-by-moment, without summary, presented onstage in the story ‘now.’  It is not something that goes on inside a character’s head; it is physical.  It could be put on the theater state and acted out.”   

Thinking isn’t cinematic; it can’t be acted out on a stage.  Most of the time, the reader can intuit what the character is thinking—a character’s dread and nervousness, or thoughts of love, or desire for revenge—without the character having to think it because the character is saying and doing certain things.   

Some interior monologue is often necessary, of course, but too much will stall the novel’s momentum.  A character’s thoughts are almost never as interesting as her actions or dialogue.

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