I wasn’t going to post anything so soon after yesterday’s post, but I ran across this in the course of doing something else and thought it would be useful to share.
This is a snippet from a fan fiction Lord of the Rings story that I wrote. You don’t need to know anything about LOTR or have read my stories, because the details are not the point here. The POV for pretty much the entire story is Eomer’s. Note in this paragraph, though, that originally I brought in thoughts Gamling was having (which shifts it to his POV for a brief moment). That doesn’t work entirely well in the overall piece. It is possible to have multiple POVs, but it isn’t good to jump from one person to another like this. The first part (red text and with a strikethrough) is the original wording, shifting the POV to Gamling. The portion in green text rewords those lines to shift them to Eomer’s POV, in keeping with the rest of the story.
Gamling met his gaze. “I have often ridden to battle, either for my king or alongside him. But now I have no call to fight, other than to remove disturbers from the Hall on occasion, and even that I do not have to do with my own hand. It would seem my days as a warrior are ended.” He had thought about this before. In some ways, he felt almost useless when Gondor would call for aid and the king would gather men to ride out. Always, now, Gamling was left behind. It was not so much that he enjoyed warfare, and was eager to risk himself in battle, but it felt…weak, to be one of the few who did not ride to the defense of peace. It was evident he had given this matter much thought. Eomer was sure he was as pleased to see peace as the rest of them, and did not desire the need to go to war, but for Gamling to watch his king and fellow soldiers ride to battle without him must surely grate. Most Riders would think such a thing made them appear weak, whether others perceived them that way or not.
This is a good thing to keep in mind in your writing. Changing POV can confuse the reader. Further, if you aren’t intending to have multiple points of view it really muddies things. The story will flow better if it doesn’t jump all over the place. Once you start writing from a certain person’s POV, try to stick with it. Remember, that means not expounding on things they wouldn’t know (someone else’s thoughts, things that are happening when they aren’t around, etc.). Their POV should only include what they know – whether they think it themselves, hear it from someone else or even ‘surmise’ from what they see as Eomer does above. What he says about how Gamling is feeling is his assumption based on what he has seen and heard Gamiling say and do, but Gamling never actually spelled it out to him.
I can look at someone’s expression and think they look angry or sad or happy, but whether or not I am right in my interpretation is not something I can know unless that person gives me more input . “I’m so happy I could just burst!” Yep, that’s what I thought from the expression on your face. But for all I know, they may look happy but are hiding a sadness or anger or upset that I don’t see. My POV can’t include that information unless I have been informed of it, or I have found out in some way (maybe read a diary entry they wrote that makes me realize what I think I see is wrong or overheard a conversation between others).
As writers, sometimes we want to share information with the reader, but are limited by our POV choice. It can be tempting to ignore the POV and shove the information in anyway, but usually that is not a good idea. The choice then becomes how to either make the information known to the POV person via some means or change the POV choice for the story to allow for more leeway. If I write in first person, (“I made some coffee and sat down at the table to check my email.” vs third person “She made some coffee and sat down at the table to check her email.”) then I can’t include any information that I haven’t specifically made sure the main POV character would know. If someone steals a necklace and hides it, I can’t just pop up and say “They hid it in a hollow tree in Riverside Park, near the small duck pond.” Unless I was there with them and saw them do it, or they told me that’s what they did, or I receive that information from some source (dream, diary entry, whatever), I wouldn’t know that. And anyone reading the story would cry foul.
Hopefully this will prove a helpful reminder. Yes, I’ve made this mistake (in the above snippet and in other stories), but I try to avoid it, and fix it when it creeps in.