Whose point of view is your story told from? Does it change?
Consider the example below:
Something was beeping. Not the oven timer; the room smelled different, like pine. Nate opened his eyes and saw his youngest daughter in a hard-backed chair to the left of his bed.
Who can hear the beeping? If it was an omniscient narrator, the narrator would know what the source of the noise is, even if no one in the room does. It doesn't say "I heard beeping" or "I opened my eyes", but the scene is clearly narrated through Nate's point of view. This is what we call "close 3rd person" narration, as opposed to "3rd person omniscient".
It's common for stories written in close 3rd to have more than one POV (point of view) character, but the point of view should not change mid-sentence or mid-paragraph. You CAN change point of view after a paragraph, but my advice is to only change POV at the end of a scene. For example, in my first (unpublished) novel, Forgetting Charlie, I have two POV characters. I change POV at the beginning of each chapter and readers can usually tell which character’s head we are in by who the subject of the sentence is (e.g. “Flynn watched Mary as she danced” puts us in Flynn’s head, whereas “Mary danced while Flynn stood aside and watched” suggests we’re following Mary).
As you're reading your story, ask yourself "whose head are we in?" Then make a note of any places where you've included a different character's thoughts. We call this "head hopping" and these sentences often confuse the reader or pull them out of the story. Highlight any instances of head-hopping to come back to. Some will be deleted, others will be edited to a different POV, others will be turned into character behaviours or dialogue (see part 3 of this guide).
Using Different Character Voices
If you do decide to change POV, you can alter your character’s “voice” to help the reader. Some things that help to define voice are:
- race, nationality and culture
- slang or pop culture references
- confidence level (forceful or passive, direct or vague)
- habits, mannerisms, hobbies and interests
- internal thoughts
- metaphors, similes and comparisons
Describing the same noisy space, one character might use a more poetic voice “the voices twirled and leaped around the room in a choreographed unison” whereas a more direct, down-to-earth character might say “everyone talked at once, but the same message came through like a chant at a football game”. Character voice is not just about dialogue, but how the story is narrated.
If you are using multiple POVs for your story, make a note of where they change and look for places where the voice could be a little clearer.
Even if you are only narrating from one POV (in 1st person, limited 3rd person or omniscient narration), now is a good time to look at your dialogue. If you removed all dialogue tags (he said, Molly screamed etc), would you still be able to tell who was speaking?