Submission Autopsy – Part 4 – POV

The setting: In the operating room. A manuscript autopsy is being performed by the eminent Dr. Editor and her ever-faithful helper, Editorial Intern. Immediate cause of death has been determined to be an acute case of Dullitis – the covers of the manuscript were too far apart. Contributing causes are slowly being uncovered in this autopsy. So far, the patient suffered from massive hemorrhaging between Show vs. Tell, Fluffitis and Backstoryosis, Dialog tagococcal, and the latest – Point of Viewicemia.

Dr. Editor: Quick, Editorial Intern, my smelling salts! I’ve met the beast and it’s going to be a tug of war to extract this out of the manuscript.

Editorial Intern: Why, doctor? After all, the manuscript is dead, so what difference does it make?

Dr. Editor: Bite your tongue and wash your mouth out with Draino. My dear, Editorial Intern, have you learned nothing? If I extract Point of Viewicemia without care, there will be nothing left of this poor manuscript to bury. No matter how horribly a manuscript died, it deserves a smidge of dignity. Hand me the buzz saw. No, no, the tiny one. (smoke arises from the depths of the manuscript, leaving an acrid odor wafting about the operating room)

Editorial Intern: Gah, what’s that smell?

Dr. Editor: Sorry. Plug your nose. It’s an infected First Person Point of View (POV). It tends to give off a rancid stench when it sits right next to the Limited Omniscient POV. Oh my, look here, you can see the lesions that were left by the Objective POV.

Editorial Intern: First Person , Limited Omniscient, Objective points of view. I’m confused.

Dr. Editor: Yes, yes, so was this manuscript. You see, what happened is this manuscript was slowly strangled by combating points of view. Look at this paragraph; it’s written in the Objective point of view and right next to it is another paragraph written in the First Person point of view.Then it switches over to Omniscient. Oy.

Editorial Intern: (blinking with bewilderment) Objective? First Person?

Dr. Editor: Say, just where did you get your MFA from anyway? Dr. Scholl’s? Come on, think! Objective – look it up in the dictionary. Objectivity is based on facts, things that are external – like action or dialog, not internal – like thoughts or feelings. Simply put, the reader can’t see anything other than through the dialog or action. You never get into anyone’s head.

First Person, on the other hand, is where the story unfolds through the eyes of the narrator, and it’s only his thoughts and impressions we get to see. Keep in mind that this point of view isn’t necessarily the truth because you’re limited to this one person’s perceptions.

Editorial Intern: Tricky stuff.

Dr. Editor: It’s that and a bag of chips, I tell you. And there’s more than just these two points of view. There’s Third Person Objective, Limited Omniscient, and a few others that I can’t possibly go into or I’d never finish this autopsy. Suffice it to say that when a manuscript mixes points of view together, it creates a toxic smell that’ll frizz your hair. My problem isn’t what POV the manuscript used but rather that it stays consistent. Lookie here, I’ll pull out this one offender and read it to you:

I couldn’t believe that I’d won the Hot Bellybutton Contest. My competition was sooo tough this year. That snobby Marcia Mammary had a bellybutton tuck last summer, and I’m pretty sure Rosie Pinkgut used all her clothing allowance on a personal trainer. I hadn’t done anything other than oiling my bellybutton down every night and keeping it lint free.

Marica looked at the new winner and curled her lip. “Nice crown, O-Ring. Who cares about a stupid contest anyway? Especially since Brad Meathead asked me to the beach this weekend.” She tossed her hair and gave the new queen a flip of her middle finger.

Rosie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She felt her temper rise to the boiling point. Brad was her boyfriend, and who did that loosey goosey Marica think she was kidding with that innocent act? No one wanted to win the Hot Bellybutton Contest more than anyone she’d ever known. Marcia, however, knew that Rosie was, in fact, planning on stealing Brad away at the Cotillion this weekend. Good luck with that, she thought.

Can you count the POVs, Editorial Intern?

Editorial Intern: Um, First Person in the first paragraph, the second paragraph is Third Person Objective, and the last one is Third Person Omniscient.

Dr. Editor: Exactamundo. Now, remember, I don’t give one whit which POV the manuscript is in – but that it freaking stays in one POV.

Editorial Intern: But what happens when you want to have a story with more than one character’s point of view?

Dr. Editor: Sure, this happens in just about every manuscript. A story can get boring if we’re in one person’s head all the time. The trick is to keep one point of view per scene. If the manuscript wants to get into someone else’s head, then there needs to be a scene switch. You can’t, can’t, can’t be in Marcia and Rosie’s head in the same scene. This is called head hopping. Whenever I see this, I know the manuscript is a newbie. The truth of this is that very few manuscripts can pull this off effectively, so the common recommendation is “don’t try it.” Ever.

Editorial Intern: Is there anything else you see in there?

Dr. Editor: Wait, pull aside that modifier and exclamation point. Ah, geez, the final insult. This manuscript went into the point of view of a very minor character.

Editorial Intern: Why?

Dr. Editor: Good question. There very few valid reasons for a story to be seen through the eyes of a minor character. The action is with the main characters, so that’s where the focus must remain. Elevating nothing characters who add zippo to the plot is illogical. It derails the strength of the narrative and adds to the confusion.

Editorial Intern: Doctor, you’re taking off your gloves. Does this mean—

Dr. Editor: Yes, Editorial Intern, I’m finished with the autopsy. This was one of the toughest autopsies I’ve done in a long time.

Editorial Intern: So have you determined an exact cause of death?

Dr. Editor: I have. It was a conflagration of Show vs. Tell, Fluffitis and Backstoryosis, Dialog tagococcal, and Point of Viewicemia. It’s amazing the entire manuscript didn’t explode into a ball of fire. I’ve heard of this happening. You remember Miss Snark? The story on the street is that her office blew up in a raging inferno from one of these kinds of manuscripts, and that’s why she closed down her blog. Beware, Editorial Intern. Recognize the signs of Manuscript Extreme Dullitis. You blow up my office, and it’s coming out of your paycheck.


Later that night, Editorial Intern crept back into the operating room. She was still confused about the POV’s – especially Third Person. So she pulled out Dr. Editor’s medical malpractice manual and read…

Objective Point of View: This is, in a word; detached.The writer tells what happens without revealing anything more than can be inferred from the action and dialogue. The reader never knows a character’s emotions or inner dialog.

Third Person: Can be omniscient or limited. Omniscient means that the narrator knows all the thougths and feelings of all the characters. Limited means that the story is limited to the thoughts and feelings of one character.

First Person: The story unfolds through the “I” of the story. This can be limiting because that “I” may not be reliable or trustworthy. Also, the emotions can only be felt through one character.

Editorial Intern closed the manual and decided she needed to start drinking. Heavily.

3 Responses to Submission Autopsy – Part 4 – POV

  1. Jean says:

    Thanks for this series. I’ve made notes!

  2. What a delightful dose of good medicine. Thanks for painless surgery. I enjoyed it and made notes – believe me I’ve never seen an autopsy done better. Patricia Cornwell would be so pleased.

  3. Had so much fun reading the autopsy series since I’m a medical student that hopes to be a writer someday 🙂 Thanks for all the information. They were priceless.

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