Whose Head Am I In?

In many of the fiction books I edit (and biographies), the characters are supposed to be normal people. They’re not superheroes or live in fantasy worlds. But often they oddly have the supernatural ability to read minds and experience things beyond their five senses. When a writer gives their characters information they couldn’t possibly know, it’s a sign that the writer needs to understand point of view. Here’s a fun and easy way to learn this lesson.

Have you ever seen or used a GoPro camera? You can mount one on a bike, ATV, boat, helmet, or even your pet. 😉 The camera records what the wearer sees and hears as they ride, ski, run, hike, etc. When you watch the footage, it shows you exactly—and only—what the wearer experienced. To write a character realistically, it’s helpful to think of the person wearing a GoPro camera. We should only read what the person is looking at, touching, hearing, etc. If something is out of range of the camera, it’s not believable. Let’s look at an example.

Brie was at the beach with her boyfriend, Aiden. She watched him surfing the wild waves with his buddy Logan. Brie preferred to sit on a lounge chair with a floppy hat on and let the guys conquer the unpredictable ocean. She saw them sitting on their boards far out from shore—so far she could barely tell them apart, waiting for the big waves. Aiden reached down in the water to adjust his ankle strap, then tipped his head at Logan when the water rose behind them. The guys flopped down on their boards and paddled furiously. Brie’s face lit up when Aiden caught a wave and slid into the barrel, and she jumped up and cheered loudly. He crouched low on his board, gliding effortlessly at the front edge of the massive wave curling over him like a tube, his hand skimming the inside wall of the water. Logan was impressed since he didn’t even catch the wave.

She squealed as Aiden rode in all the way to shore on the other side of the cove. At the whitewash, he leapt out onto a boulder. He was so pumped—that was the third wave he’d ripped today. He would let Logan get the next one. After spitting out briny water and waving at Brie, he dove back in and duck-dived into the oncoming waves, watching the direction of the next set. He paddled up next to Logan who said, “Shredded it, dude!” As the waves rose like humpback whales, Brie knew Logan was feeling pressured to catch a good one. He hadn’t caught a wave yet today. She was so proud that her guy was the best surfer in the cove.

Let’s say Brie was wearing a GoPro on her floppy hat. Now we’ll replay the scene from the GoPro recording which will show us exactly what Brie experienced. If she didn’t do it, think it, or use her own five senses to discover it, it’s an impossibility.

Brie was at the beach with her boyfriend, Aiden. She watched him surfing the wild waves with his buddy Logan. Brie preferred to sit on a lounge chair with a floppy hat on and let the guys conquer the unpredictable ocean. She saw them sitting on their boards far out from shore—so far she could barely tell them apart, waiting for the big waves. Aiden reached down in the water to adjust his ankle strap [the camera/Brie can’t see into the ocean], then tipped his head [Brie is too far away to see this] at Logan when the water rose behind them. The guys flopped down on their boards and paddled furiously. Brie’s face lit up [the camera is focused outward, so she can’t see her own face] when Aiden caught a wave and slid in the barrel, and she jumped up and cheered loudly. He crouched low on his board, gliding effortlessly [Brie can’t know if it’s effortless or difficult for Aiden to keep his balance] at the front edge of the massive wave curling over him like a tube, his hand skimming the inside wall of the water [Brie can’t see his hand inside the wave]. Logan was impressed [Brie can’t read Logan’s thoughts—she can only observe his actions] since he didn’t even catch the wave.

She squealed as Aiden rode in all the way to shore on the other side of the cove. At the whitewash, he leapt out onto a boulder. He was so pumped [Brie can’t know what Aiden is feeling, she can only observe his actions]—that was the third wave he’d ripped today. He would let Logan get the next one [Brie can’t read Aiden’s thoughts]. After spitting out briny water [Brie can’t taste the water in his mouth] and waving at Brie, he dove back in and duck-dived into the oncoming waves, watching the direction of the next set [Brie can’t see what Aiden is looking at]. He paddled up next to Logan who said, “Shredded it, dude!” [Brie is too far away to hear this] As the waves rose like humpback whales, Brie knew Logan was feeling pressured [Brie can’t know what Logan is feeling] to catch a good one. He hadn’t caught a wave yet today. She was so proud that her guy was the best surfer in the cove. [Not a fact, needs to be reworded]

Do you see how we are reading a scene and getting three people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions at once? That’s not realistic. The writer combined everyone’s perspectives together. However, the reader can only be in one person’s shoes—and head—at a time. Since the writer starts with Brie’s point of view, we need to read only what she thinks, does, and what her five senses detect.

Here’s how this scene would be written correctly from Brie’s perspective. Then we’ll put the GoPro on Aiden to see how it looks from his point of view. 🙂

Brie was at the beach with her boyfriend, Aiden. She watched him surfing the wild waves with his buddy Logan. Brie preferred to sit on a lounge chair with a floppy hat on and let the guys conquer the unpredictable ocean. She saw them sitting on their boards far out from shore—so far she could barely tell them apart, waiting for the big waves. When the water rose behind them, the guys flopped down on their boards and paddled furiously. Brie grinned when Aiden caught a wave and slid into the barrel, and she jumped up and cheered loudly. He crouched low on his board, appearing to effortlessly glide at the front edge of the massive wave curling over him like a tube.

She squealed as Aiden rode in all the way to shore on the other side of the cove. At the whitewash, he leapt out onto a boulder. He pumped his fist—that was the third wave he’d ripped today. Brie knew from experience he would let Logan go for the next one. After spitting out water and waving at Brie, Aiden dove back in and duck-dived into the oncoming waves until he paddled up next to Logan. Brie looked in the direction where the next set of waves would appear. As they rose like humpback whales, Brie figured Logan was feeling pressured. He hadn’t caught a wave yet today. She was so proud of Aiden! In her eyes, he was the best surfer in the cove.

That’s much better—we are completely in Brie’s viewpoint and limited to her observations. Now let’s put the GoPro on Aiden and see how this scene would be written accurately from his perspective.

Aiden was surfing with his buddy Logan, his adrenaline pumping at the awesome waves whipping up. His girlfriend Brie sat far away on the beach watching them, her red floppy hat a tiny beacon. The guys sat on their boards, waiting for the big waves. Aiden reached down in the water to adjust his ankle strap, then tipped his head at Logan when the water rose behind them. The guys flopped down on their boards and paddled furiously. Aiden saw the perfect wave and caught it at the exact moment to slide into the barrel. He crouched low on his board, muscles tight, hoping to ride the powerful current to the end. He kept his balance and stayed at the front edge of the massive wave that curled over him like a tube, then stuck his hand out to slice through the inside wall of the water. As he neared the shore, he looked over to see Brie jumping up and down.

Aiden rode all the way in to the other side of the cove. At the whitewash, he leapt out onto a boulder. He was pumped—that was the third wave he’d ripped today. After spitting out briny water and waving at Brie, he dove back in and duck-dived into the oncoming waves, watching the direction of the next set. He paddled up next to Logan who said, “Shredded it, dude!” As the guys watched the waves rise like humpback whales, Aiden stayed back to let Logan catch the next one. They razzed each other constantly about who was the best, but it was all for show. They both loved to try to conquer the unpredictable ocean. Brie took it seriously, though, and always bragged that he was the best surfer in the cove. He didn’t mind being her hero!


Savvy Writer Tip:

When writing, pick one character and write their experiences as though you were watching the footage from their GoPro camera. Limit everything to what they do, say, know, and what their five senses detect—no more. You can switch to another character’s point of view in a new chapter or a new section. Just be sure to establish each person solidly and give the reader plenty of time before putting them in someone else’s body. Writing a character’s experiences in an accurate point of view is the sign of a proficient, savvy writer! 🙂

 

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