Oops! Point-of-View Mistakes


Photo by Steve Johnson

I know what you’re thinking … It seems nearly impossible to make a error in your manuscript with point of view (POV). I mean, first person, third person … how many people start off in the manuscript saying, “I this and that” and ending up saying, “She this and that?”

Pish! Easy peasy, piece of cake. Case closed, I don’t need to read any further.

That’s what I thought until a recent mistake showed me it’s easier than you think to make a POV error, and it might not be as obvious as the prior example. Here’s what I did wrong. First, a disclaimer: I am not a published fiction writer, just a fellow student blundering through mistakes and trying to learn from them.

Part of my mistake resulted from how I developed this particular picture book manuscript. I started off in third person, writing a lyrical concept book, then I wanted to add in a narrative storyline. I added dialogue. It felt stilted. So I switched to first person and there’s where I got in trouble.

Not only did I add dialogue tags, such as “I say,” but added some statements (unquoted) such as, “I rubbed my wet eyes.” Sure, this sounds okay so far, but I did not remove the original, lyrical lines in the narration. I had added first-person dialogue and dialogue tags, which inadvertently changed my narrator to a small child. I could no longer have lines like, “Their clopping hooves turned to thunder.” Would a 5, or 6-year-old child make an observation like that? Whoops!

When choosing a POV, I learned to consider, more closely, the perspective of the narrator. If I choose a first-person narrator, then this is a character with a voice, a vocabulary, and a way of speaking. If I choose a third-person narrator, there’s still voice, but I have a little more lyrical freedom. Although, I suppose you could have a first-person poet narrator! Fun!

I should mention that when I say “lyrical freedom” that doesn’t mean anything goes (in my opinion) for a picture book audience. I try to make sure the words can be understood by the context of the story and/or the illustrations when the structure of the sentence or vocabulary seems a little advanced.

Problem solved! Or was it? I recently came across the lovely book, Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. The book starts out sounding like third person, talking about “the Lupine Lady” and using the pronoun “she.” Then the narrator says (not in quotes), “I know. She is my great-aunt, and she told me so.”

Okay, then this is a first-person narrator telling the story of her great-aunt, as we theorize was told to her. But in some places, she says how her great aunt felt. I suppose we could believe that her great-aunt told her great-niece how she felt about the events of her story. Then, at the very end, the narrator (great-niece) and her great-aunt have a conversation with each other, and it’s more obviously first person.

So what is happening in this book? Is the POV switching? I concluded this was a very interesting way of using first-person POV, but that it was consistently first person.

What do you think? Have you made or had any POV confusion?
Feel free to comment below!

2 thoughts on “Oops! Point-of-View Mistakes

  1. rosecappelli says:

    Great job, Karen! Lots to think about. I was recently looking at a NF picture book about bats by Laurence Pringle. The first page is written in second person, inviting the reader to imagine they are a bat. Then it switches to third person. I think he did that to grab the reader and pull them in. So maybe if switching POV is purposeful, it can be acceptable. Sort of like knowing the rules then having the freedom to break them.


  2. Karen says:

    Nice! I hadn’t seen POV switching in a picture book yet. That’s cool. I know some novels have multiple POV and switch too.

    My case was just an error – I wasn’t switching POV, I was essentially writing with two different voices on the same POV. Whoops.

    Fun to see some examples of more sophisticated uses of POV! Thanks for sharing this!


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