In the classes I teach for the Outreach International Chapter of RWA and in the Yellow Highlighter Classes I teach, I mark a lot of passages where the point of view is not well anchored. Anchoring the point of view is one of the most important aspects of mastering point of view. This is because when the point of view is not well anchored the reader doesn’t know through which character they are experiencing the scene.
Like a ship at sea without an anchor, the non-anchored scene pitches and twists. This makes it difficult for the reader to tell who is experiencing the scene. In the case of mid-scene viewpoint shifts where the point of view shift is not well anchored to the new point of view character, the reader has a hard time shifting gears and following the new point of view character.
This makes it important to make it clear who is experiencing the scene consistently throughout the story…something I call anchoring in the workshops I teach.
The main way to anchor the point of view is by naming the viewpoint character and having him or her experience something.
Books are filled with experiences, but here are some examples of non-anchored and anchored point of view experiences:
Examples of non-anchored point of view:
The red truck wound its way slowly up the drive.
The smell of manure was heavy and acrid on the breeze.
Church bells chimed the morning worship hour.
Examples of anchored point of view:
Ted watched the red truck wind its way slowly up the drive.
The heavy acrid smell of manure burned Jill’s nose.
The chime of the church bells alerted Joe to the morning worship hour.
Notice that in the examples of the anchored point of view it is clear who is experiencing each thing. Ted watches, the smell burns Jill’s nose, and the church bells alert Joe.
Notice that in the non-anchored examples that no one is experiencing these things. The truck wound its way, but it is not clear who is seeing it. The smell of manure was heavy and acrid, but it’s not clear who smells it. The church bells alarm but it is not clear who is hearing them.
These are perhaps extreme examples because we don’t need to anchor the point of view of every sentence. If we did, our writing would get quite clunky and wouldn’t be much fun to read. But we do need to anchor often enough that the reader understands who is describing the red truck, the acrid smell of manure, and the sound of the church bells.
We always, always, always anchor the point of view at the opening of a chapter, after any scene break and after any point of view shift. These are primary places where your reader comes onto the scene not knowing whose experience of the scene they are being treated to. Once you’ve anchored the viewpoint in these key places you will occasionally anchor an experience to a viewpoint character. For the most part this kind of anchoring seems to be less problematic than the anchoring which is missing at the start of a chapter, a scene or after a viewpoint shift.
Because it is important for the reader to know whose experience of the scene they are getting, always start each chapter, scene change, or viewpoint shift with a point of view anchor.
For the clearest anchors begin with the viewpoint character’s name and have him or her experience something no other character could experience. This will usually be a thought or a feeling but could be a physical sensation, a sound, a smell or a taste or even a sight. When anchoring point of view is one of the places that it is okay to say that a character saw something, smelled something, heard something or tasted something. Generally, in other instances it’s considered repetitive to say Joe saw the truck. If we’re in Joe’s point of view and Joe experiences something visual then it’s clear that he saw it, so stating that he saw it is repetitive. When we anchor point of view we are telling the reader whose point of view we’re in, because they don’t know, so stating that Joe saw the truck is not repetitive. That said, you can add interest to your anchors by spicing up the anchors. For example, rather than Jill smelled the acrid smell of manure–the acrid smell of manure burned Jill’s nose. Both versions get us to the same place as far as anchoring the viewpoint…but the smell of manure burning Jill’s nose is a bit more active and a bit more dressed up. It provides more of an experience for the reader.
Beginning your chapters, scenes, and point of view shifts with a strong anchor will help your readers follow your characters smoothly through your story. This also lays the groundwork for getting into deeper point of view, which is a topic that I cover in greater detail in my workshops on deep point of view.
You can find my topic based workshops at Outreach International Chapter Of RWA.
You can find out more about my markup based, hands on Yellow Highlighter Classes on my Yellow Highlighter Class page here on this website.