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Mindreading and POV shifts

You are a mind reader. You have to be because you know what each character thinks and their intentions.

However, when you're writing in 1st person or 3rd person, the narrator can’t tell the reader multiple characters’ intentions, thoughts, or experiences. These need to be shown through the character’s actions.

Let’s take a look at a POV shift.

I was heading downstairs to ask my mom about my outfit for the school dance. Hearing the sizzle of something frying, I headed for the kitchen. “Hey, mom. I was wondering what you think about this for the dance tonight.”

She turned from the skillet to get a good look. “Ah…” she said, disapproving of my sequined mini skirt and matching halter top. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. Where did you get that outfit? I know I didn’t buy it for you.”

Now, the shift is when we are told the mother’s intentions and thoughts.

The narrator/MC can’t know her mother turned ‘to get a good look’ or that she is ‘disapproving.’

So, her part will need to be changed.

She turned from the skillet. “Ah…” Her eyes raked over my sequined mini skirt and matching halter top with that disapproving look. “I don’t think that’s appropriate. Where did you get that outfit? I know I didn’t buy it for you.”

These shifts are easy to write and easy to miss while editing, because you know everything about the characters.

Let’s take a look at another example.

Jim was so excited to tell his husband the good news. When he heard Sam pull into the driveway, he ran to the door and opened it wide. He couldn’t wait. He grabbed him in a fierce hug, almost knocking both of them over.

“Whoa.” Sam said, wondering what caused this attack. He pulled back from the hug. He’d had a rough day at work and while he enjoyed the greeting, he just wanted to get in the house and sit down for a moment.

Here we are told both Jim’s and Sam’s thoughts, as well as what both experienced before they were in the scene together.

Of course, you know what Sam’s day was like and you wanted to tell your reader why he didn’t react in a certain way to the one he loves’ excitement. But this will could be revealed by dialogue instead.

“Whoa.” Sam pulled back from the hug. “Can we talk about whatever you are so happy about inside? I had a rough day, and I just want to sit down and relax for a minute.”

How can you spot POV shifts?

During one editing round, you read closely for this specific issue. Forget the other potential problems for now and concentrate on this. You can look for improper grammar later. Keep your attention on this issue only.

Why is not shifting important?

If you shift from one person’s perspective to another in 1st or 3rd, it can push the reader out of the scene, and you want to keep them in it for as long as possible. You’ve created an immersive experience for your readers and little things like this can break their escape from reality.

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