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Voice, Focus, POV:
How to Make All Three Pop

"Musings" - June 2008

by Margot Finke

Okay, you ask, “What the heck are Voice, Focus, and POV?”  Well, I’ll tell you.  They are three elements you must get right if you want to become a published writer.

VOICE: The Reader’s Personal Involvement With Your Characters

Your character’s “voice” makes him human and real to your reader.  It also makes readers care about him and the problems they share.  Every character in your book needs a unique voice.  You can accomplish this by giving them individual quirks that identify them.  Specific and repeated speech patterns also help characters become individuals in their own right: living, breathing people, so wrapped in the fabric of your tale that readers really care what happens to them. Use actions and reactions after dialogue, instead of the usual said. This paints a more intimate picture of the character’s emotions, and enriches them.  The goal is for your reader to know, by the character’s actions, reactions, and speech, which character is speaking, without the need for attribution.   If you can make this happen some of the time, you have nailed voice.

FOCUS: How to Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Your Story

Focus is similar to juggling a number of balls in the air. As a writer, you must juggle various elements of your story.  You begin with the characters, and their impact on the plot, plus a host of small interconnecting details you need to keep in mind. If you put one character in the wrong place at the wrong time – that’s one ball dropped.  If you forget that character A had a fight with character D in chapter 4, yet both seem buddy-buddy in chapter five, that’s ball number two down.  Then, if you send your main character down a sidetrack, without giving him a realistic option of finding his way back to the main story path, you have the makings of a domino effect:  a chain reaction that can have all those balls bouncing around your feet. Disaster!

As they say in sports, “Keep your eye on the ball!”  For writers, this means knowing where your plot is headed, keeping your characters pointed in the right direction, and tracking the small details that often become lost, and doom new writers to rejection.

POV: The Character Through Whose Eyes Readers See the Story

POV means point of view, and usually applies to your main character.   This means that your plot needs to unfold through their eyes.  Everything that happen, is either seen, heard, or experienced by your POV character. However, having two POV characters is not unheard of for middle-grade or young adult books.  Two characters, who take on the POV role in alternating chapters, can grip readers with their different slant on events.  Their wildly different responses to a variety of plot stimuli can also make exciting reading.

Beware of  “head hopping.” This term is used when several different POV characters are introduced, willy-nilly, within one chapter.  If you do attempt this  ( for YA books, and older mid grades, I suggest introducing no more than one new POV), you must set up the preceding paragraph in a way that prepares your reader for the POV change.  The same applies when you go back to your original POV character.


To sum up these most important factors:

Rules are made to be broken, and no one says you can’t break these three particular rules.  You can.  Yet, unless you break them brilliantly, editor’s frown, and rejection letters flood your mailbox.


Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.

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