DailyWritingTips

Maintaining Consistency in Point of View

Just as you wouldn’t trust a tour guide who changes the tour itinerary every five minutes, readers can be thrown off by a narrative that flip-flops between points of view. Let’s look into this pivotal element of storytelling that often goes unnoticed until it’s not consistent.

Why Maintaining a Consistent Point of View Is Important

Maintaining Consistency in Point of View

Consistency in your point of view (POV) offers your reader a steady lens through which to experience your story. It establishes the narrative’s voice and lays down the ground rules for presenting the information. Straying from your chosen POV can confuse readers, disrupt their immersion in the story, and dilute the narrative voice.

How to Achieve Consistency in Your Chosen POV

  • Decide on a POV before you start writing: Whether you choose first-person, second-person or third-person, knowing your POV upfront can help you maintain consistency.
  • Stick to your chosen POV: Resist the temptation to switch POVs for dramatic effect or to reveal information.
  • Read and edit with POV in mind: Pay particular attention to ensuring POV consistency during your revision process.

How Inconsistent POV Can Impact Your Narrative

Imagine you’re reading a mystery novel written in first-person POV. You’re gathering clues alongside the detective protagonist. Suddenly, you’re privy to the thoughts of the elusive murderer. You’d feel cheated, right?

Inconsistency in POV can reveal information prematurely, break the suspense, or simply bewilder your readers.

Examples of Consistent and Inconsistent POV

Consistent: “Tommy walked down the unfamiliar street, heart pounding. He had no idea where he was going.” (Third-person limited POV stays with Tommy’s perspective.)

Inconsistent: “Tommy walked down the unfamiliar street, heart pounding. He had no idea where he was going. Adele watched him from the window, feeling sorry for him.” (The narrative abruptly switches from Tommy’s perspective to Adele’s.)

Common Mistakes That Lead to POV Inconsistency and How to Avoid Them

  • Head hopping (abruptly switching from one character’s perspective to another’s)
  • Inconsistent use of pronouns (switching from “I” to “he/she” or “you”)

Both can be avoided with careful proofreading and editing and by using software or beta readers to catch inconsistencies. I sometimes use the Search & Find feature in Word and Google Docs to see where I’ve used certain words like “he/she” and so on.

Stay Consistent

Like the foundation of a house, your story’s POV needs to be solid and consistent. A jumpy or inconsistent POV can disorient your readers faster than a rollercoaster ride. Keep your POV steady, and your readers will stay with you for the entire ride!

Exercise: Spotting and Correcting POV Inconsistencies

Now that you’re a POV consistency whiz, let’s test your skills! Here are three passages with inconsistent POVs. Can you spot the inconsistencies and correct them?

  1. I walked into the room, heart pounding. My eyes scanned the faces, all unfamiliar. One woman, who must have been in her 60s, stared at me with a pitying look. She had seen too many like me before.
  2. John looked at the picture, feeling a lump form in his throat. You try to remember the last time you saw her.
  3. We ran as fast as we could. The wind whipped against my face. You can hardly see anything in the darkness.
Answer Key
  1. I walked into the room, heart pounding. My eyes scanned the faces, all unfamiliar. A woman, who must have been in her 60s, stared at me. I couldn’t help but think she had seen too many like me before.
  2. John looked at the picture, feeling a lump in his throat. He tried to remember the last time he saw her.
  3. We ran as fast as we could. The wind whipped against our faces. We could hardly see anything in the darkness.