The revision process involves a close examination of many different aspects of the story. One that must be consistently portrayed is point of view.
Point of view doesn’t have to be solely that of one character, but it should only be shown from one character at a time.
Each of the major players has a story and a point of view. Some authors use the aftermath of an action scene as an opportunity to advance the antagonist’s story line. That is a good strategy, as we need to show why the enemy is the enemy.
Transitions and point of view are crucial to the story. A well-paced narrative has a kind of rhythm.
The regrouping scenes are transitions, places where we move the plot forward through conversation or introspection. This allows the reader to process what just happened through one of the characters’ eyes, or their point of view.
We justify the events that just occurred, making them believable. Transitions are also opportunities to ratchet up the tension.
But these are also places where it is easy to accidentally shift to a different point of view character, so the revision process involves paying attention to who is talking and giving them the entire scene.
One kind of transition is introspection:
Keep the scenes of introspection brief and go easy on them if you are given to using italics to set them off. A wall of italics is hard to read, so don’t “think” too much if you are using those.
Conversations: Each character must speak uniquely, sounding like themselves. Don’t dump conversations into a blender and pour out a string of commentary that makes them all sound alike.
I also suggest you don’t get fancy with speech tags/attributions. It’s best for me as a reader when the author avoids words that take me out of the narrative. Some words are eye-stoppers. I recommend you stick with said, replied, answered—common and ordinary tags that don’t leap out at the reader like ejaculated, disgorged, spewed, and so on.
Occasionally, you can get away with more forceful tags, but keep them to a minimum. You can also do away with speech tags for brief exchanges if the scene contains only two characters.
Make the characters' actions and words show the force of their emotions, rather than relying on exclamation points to convey excitement. Keep the overuse of exclamation points down so the dialogue doesn’t become breathless.
Fade-to-black and hard scene breaks: I’m in two minds about using fade-to-black scene breaks as transitions. Why not just start a new chapter?
One of my favorite authors sometimes has chapters of only five or six-hundred words, which keeps each character thread truly separate and flows well.
In a short story, a hard scene break is sometimes required, as you don’t have the option to do chapters. Editors with open calls will often ask that you insert an asterisk or hashtag between scenes.
We want to create a sense of intimacy, of being in the character’s head. One way to do that is to use stream of consciousness, a narrative mode that offers a first-person perspective by showing the thought processes of the narrative character, along with their actions and conversations.
This device incorporates interior monologues and inner desires or motivations, as well as pieces of incomplete thoughts that are expressed to the audience but not necessarily to other characters. Consider this passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses, as Bloom attends a funeral for an acquaintance and is unable to avoid the painful memory of his son’s death.
The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.
In this narrative mode, we see the POV character’s rambling thoughts, as well as witness their conversations and actions. This is a difficult device to do well, and the only time I have used it was in a writing class.
Many authors employ the first-person point of view to convey intimacy. With the first-person point of view, a story is revealed through the thoughts and actions of the protagonist within his or her own story.
And then I was alone in the dark silence of the empty street, with the rising mist as my only companion.
I have used first-person point of view mostly in short stories and find it easy to write.
However, I write my longer work in an omniscient voice. The story is told from an outside, overarching point of view. The narrator sees and knows everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling.
A way to convey intimacy when writing in third person omniscient is to use the third-person subjective. This mode is also referred to as close 3rd person.
I like this mode and frequently use it. At its narrowest and most subjective, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it. This is comparable to the first person in that it allows an in-depth revelation of the protagonist's personality but differs as it always uses third-person grammar.
It is easy for me as a reader to form a deep attachment to the protagonist when a story is written in this mode. This is also a good way to avoid the first draft curse known as “head hopping.”
When an author switches point of view characters within a single scene or even a paragraph, you have head hopping. First, you’re in her head, then you’re in his head—it becomes difficult to follow who thought what.
Head-hopping occurs in the first draft because the thoughts of every character are clear to the author, who writes them as she “hears” them.
For the reader, it’s like watching a “he thought, she thought” tennis match. It is critical from a reader’s perspective that authors avoid head-hopping. The best way to do that is to begin a new chapter each time you change the point-of-view character.
And as a note, head-hopping happens most frequently when using a third-person omniscient narrative—the god-like narrator who sees all and knows all.
In the revision process, we want to have smooth transitions between scenes. We work to ensure consistency in our narrative mode, especially in regard to point of view. Making good revisions is a challenging project and can take longer to complete than writing the first draft did.
But the reward is well worth the effort.
Credits and Attributions:
Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
Wikipedia contributors, "Narration," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Narration&oldid=777375141 (accessed Dec. 30, 2019).
Quote from Ulysses, by James Joyce, published 1922 by Sylvia Beach