Point of View Vs. Voice

Two major players in writing are POV (point of view) and Voice. We need to get familiar with each and then triple check our manuscripts. Lack of voice or POV issues are sure signs of an amateur and guaranteed to land your query or partial in the big R pile (R stands for Rejection, but if you’re a writer, you know that).

Voice is something  you will NEVER-EVER-EVER-NEVER get an agent or editor to define for you. They would sooner attempt to clog dance on request. I will tell you, voice is what it sounds like. Voice is your character’s personality and how you make them come across to the reader. Depending on what you’re writing, you will have characters with sad little poignant voices, hopeful voices, perky cheerleader voices, moping teen voices, or my favorite snarky, witty, so charming you want to slap them voices. Nailing down what an agent is looking for in terms of voice is like nailing your jello to the wall. It won’t happen. You have to know your characters like your siblings, really know who they are, and when you are using their personality – POV, let that voice come out.

The lovely thing about writing is that we are encouraged to write the lines you wouldn’t do or say in real life. If your frazzled PTA mom wants to tell the hot new mother on the committee that she looks cheap, she can, but only if that’s who your character is. Let the reader love and understand your character’s motivations and personas. We can get behind a character we love and follow them anywhere. Let them really come off the page, don’t hold back, be true to them, true to your voice, let it out on the page, and it will be dazzling.

Point of View is the point of view from the character you are speaking through. We have to be very careful to only reveal what the character at hand knows, sees, or can sense, and if we only sense it, we must be clear that they think that’s what’s happening, not that they know. During a squabble with an overbearing mother, a teen can spout their superiority, degrading their mother and storming off. They may reveal that they saw the look on mom’s face and totally won that one! BUT they cannot storm away and know that Mom was regretting having been so pushy, having left work early, or is cleaning the counter-tops to calm herself before round two.

As the writer, we’re a bit like the great and mighty OZ. We know what everyone is seeing, thinking, experiencing, but our individual characters are not omniscient, omnipresent or anything else. (um, unless they are, maybe you’re writing fantasy). Go back through your manuscript and read every line looking at it as if you are only the character in POV and delete the areas where you slip into OZ mode. Wait to change scenes, and then add the information if it is pertinent to character development or forwards your plot.

Combining the two: Once you have your characters’ voices clear in your head, be sure to use POV to the best advantage. For example, in the example about the teen and the mother, I’d use mom’s POV. The teen is erupting, so mom is seeing everything, taking it all in. Teen is limited to her own rant and emotion, while mom has the ability to very clearly see her teen’s emotion as well as tell us about her own response. Using teen’s POV here would eliminate an aspect of the scene (mom’s take on it all). However, if you’re writing a YA, mom’s feelings are of minimal impact to plot and you can skip. It’s just not about her.

Final ramble for today: know your peeps, how they think, talk, act and react, then let it flow over the top enough to suck your readers in. Use the best POV to get the most impact from every single scene and eliminate any POV errors before sending your manuscript off to an agent.

Wow. Is that clear as mud for you???? And also, I’d like to thank @dolly612 over on Twitter for giving me a topic to blog on when my mommy-writer-brain was completely shut down!! Thank you!

8 comments to Point of View Vs. Voice

  • Nicely done. Jello to the wall–yep, that just about says it all. It’s a strange alchemy. Hard to describe, but when it’s right, it’s magical.

    Good luck. Super blog.

  • Awesome post! I’m gonna retweet it. Cheers!

  • Denise! Thank you!!!! I talk to so many other writers like myself and voice is always an interesting discussion LOL Then at a recent writers conference, the entire panel of experts were lip locked – not intentionally. It came down to a matter of personal impression, individual taste, and there simply weren’t collective words to explain to us hungry writers what it meant, they simple “know it when they see it” LOL I left with plenty to think about. Thanks so much for your comment!

    PK! Thanks for the feedback!! So often I’m left with a silent post tapping the screen and wondering “is this thing on???” LOL Thank you!!!

  • I’d like to thank Dolly612 also. It’s a good blog and lots of info….especially for the new writer who still hasn’t got “it” – Oh Alright!! – and for those of us who should know better but still do “it” switch POV that is.
    I wish I was Nora…

  • Excellent post, I wish I’d have read this years ago when I was struggling with p.o.v. in an mg novel. Thanks

  • Catherine! Thanks for your comment! I struggle with this so much and when it was suggested as a post, I knew it would hit home LOL.

  • kate

    Love this! Just found your blog. Thank you.

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