I’ve edited a lot of fiction. Read a lot of it, too.
I can nearly always spot the newer writers, because their control of point-of-view slips frequently. They drop into the dreaded telling, instead of showing, often without realizing it. And their narrative voice sometimes doesn’t match the character’s voice.
There’s usually more evidence: Setting descriptions pop up in the wrong place, and the internal perspective of the POV character is missing. Unintentional and unflagged head-hopping often makes scenes unreadable.
There’s a sense that the writer is incredibly conscious of their prose. They’re writing words, not telling a story.
Getting a better grip on these aspects in your fiction will improve it immeasurable.
There Is A Simple Fix For All These Flaws
It really is stupidly simple, but it takes a bit of practice to internalize it and execute it every time you write, so that you are producing well-paced, gripping modern fiction.
When you begin to write a scene, pause for a moment and, in your mind, put yourself in your POV character’s shoes.
Walk around that scene as if you were that character, feeling what they’re feeling and seeing what they’re seeing, through their eyes. You don’t get to “see” the scene from any other character’s perspective, just the POV character’s.
Let the scene unfold and report it to the reader through the character’s eyes, feelings and perspective. Stay in your character’s head while you’re doing it.
And when the scene’s action begins, process what happens through your character’s feelings. Think about how the character would react to what is happening. And report that to the reader, too.
That’s it. That’s the whole “trick”.
It’s simple, but so powerful, your prose will immediately improve
I experienced this breakthrough in quality when I first started as a fiction author (far too many years ago to mention a number!). I don’t remember how I stumbled upon the idea of walking in a character’s boots, but I do remember when I tried it, for the results were nothing short of miraculous.
The first four novels I wrote were…well, they were bad. I can’t believe I was so ignorant of what was “good” writing, that I actually submitted them to paying markets (this was back in the day when traditional publishing was the only publishing available).
They were promptly and rightfully rejected.
Two of those books will remain on my hard drive forever. I doubt I’ll even open the files. Perhaps one day when I’m feeling brave….
The other two I use as reader magnets for one of my pen names. They were competently written but missing the “it” factor that would have made the sale.
For my fifth book, I wrote the whole book using this “walking in the character’s boots” technique I described, above.
That book was the first book I sold to a traditional publisher. Not only that, it won a national award (the Emma Darcy Award), which resulted in two international editors (one in the United States and one in the United Kingdom – I was living in Australia at the time) arguing over who got to read the book first.
Not only that, I could feel the difference in the quality of the writing myself. I knew it was a saleable book before I submitted it anywhere.
Why This Technique Works
This simple shift in your mindset while you write will do this:
- You’ll avoid all POV slips automatically – you simply can’t write in another character’s POV, if you’re standing in the POV character’s skin.
- You’ll start using the character’s voice for internal and external dialogue, and even for the narrative prose.
- You simply can’t “tell” anything, because that requires stepping out of your character’s boots and you’ll feel the difference as soon as you do. Stay in your character’s boots and you’ll be showing the whole scene.
- If the character is too busy/stressed/overwhelmed to notice the scenery, you won’t drop pace-killing scene setting into the wrong place in the scene. When your character does have time to notice the scenery, they’ll see it from their unique perspective, and you’ll report it that way to the reader: Cop/crime characters will notice all the CCTV cameras in a room. A housewife will notice the color of the cushions.
- You’ll feel what the character is feeling, when they’re not too busy dealing with the action happening in the scene, and it becomes much easier to report the character’s unique reactions to the scene, when it’s appropriate to give that information to the reader.
- Getting into flow becomes ridiculously easy, because you’re living the story, not writing it.
Try It For Yourself.
Find a scene you’ve already written—an7 older scene, which was written far enough in the past that you can’t quite remember what you were thinking when you wrote it, and perhaps can’t even remember what happens.
Read through the scene to get the major action points and dialogue back in your head.
Then, without referring to the previous version, re-write the scene while using the technique of walking around in your character’s boots.
If you have to figure out who the POV character is in your scene, that’s a large hint that you have POV issues (either you’ve head-hopped, or you haven’t got into a character’s perspective deep enough to signal they’re the POV character). Pick a POV character from the characters that appear in the scene. If your main protagonist is in the scene, they should probably be the POV character.
Now re-write the scene while standing firmly in your character’s boots, and seeing the scene unfold from behind their eyes, while hearing their thoughts and reactions and emotions.
Leave the scene to cool off, then come back and read it when it is as cold as you can stand to let it get.
There are other subtle and gross benefits gained from using this technique, but even if it only delivered the enhancements I’ve mentioned above, your fiction will improve so much, readers and editors will notice…and respond positively.