Sandra Gerth - author of the Writers' Guide Series

3 quick tips to avoid POV violations in your book

POV violations

Since we all have busy lives, I thought I’d give you three quick tips you can apply to your manuscript or add to your self-editing checklist right now. Each of these tips will help you avoid point of view (POV) violations that will jar readers out of your story and might make them stop reading.


Tip #1: Don’t describe the character’s voice before they speak

If you are telling your readers how a character’s voice sounds before they even speak, you are violating the point of view. No matter whether the POV character is the speaker or the person listening, they can’t know what the voice is going to sound like before they actually speak.


Brooke pressed her lips together, but her voice sounded even. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”


The solution is to place the description of the voice after the first line of dialogue:

Possible rewrite:

Brooke pressed her lips together. “Don’t worry.” Her voice sounded even. “I’ve got this.”


Tip #2: Avoid the “Burly Detective Syndrome”

Using descriptors such as “the blonde” or “the lawyer” instead of a character’s name can be a POV violation too, at least when they are used either for the POV character or for a person the POV character is familiar with.

I don’t think of myself as “the brunette” or “the writer,” and I bet you don’t use descriptors like that for yourself either. You probably just use “I” when you’re thinking about yourself, so your characters should do the same—which translates into using the character’s name or a pronoun.

This issue is often called the “Burly Detective Syndrome,” originating from a detective pulp fiction series in which the author avoided using the main character’s name and referred to him as “the burly detective” or “the red-headed sleuth” instead.


Tip #3: Don’t describe things the POV character is familiar with as if they were seeing it for the first time

This issue often occurs whenever you’re introducing a new character or setting.


A middle-aged man with thinning hair darted into Brooke’s office and skidded to a halt in front of her desk.


Let’s assume Brooke is the POV character, and you’re telling the scene through her point of view. If the man turns out to be a colleague of hers that she has worked with for years, introducing him as a middle-aged man with thinning hair violates her POV. She would not think of him as “a middle-aged man”; she would use his name when thinking of him. Very likely, she would not notice his thinning hair either because she is used to the way he looks and wouldn’t waste a thought on it unless something had changed or something—maybe a gesture—drew her attention to it.


Possible rewrite:

John darted into Brooke’s office, skidded to a halt in front of her desk, and fisted a hand into his thinning hair.


For more tips on how to avoid POV violations, check out my writers’ guide Point of View: How to use the different POV types, avoid head-hopping, and choose the best point of view for your book


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6 thoughts on “3 quick tips to avoid POV violations in your book”

  1. Don’t describe the character’s voice before they speak?
    I bow to your experience but is it always wrong

    My Example.
    Kat and Ellie asked in melodic unison. “Who’s Doctor Luke?”

    Doesn’t this bring the speech to life?

    • How about turning it around:
      “Who’s Doctor Luke?” Kat and Ellie asked in melodic unison.

      That way, the sentence has the same vivid elements, but you are not violating the point of view by telling your readers about something the POV character can’t know yet.

  2. I bought your POV book and love it. I just would like to ask if omniscient POV is dead and should be avoided? I watch a lot of youtube videos and many authors say stay away from omniscient POV and some say write what you want so I am confusd. I am writing a fantasy novel and I have a large cast. I prefer to write in omniscient give the thoughts and feelings of each character. Please help, do you suggest a new author write in omniscient if I can do it, or just write 3rd person multi limited?

    • I wouldn’t make a blanket statement such as “never use omniscient point of view.” It very much depends on the kind of book you’re writing, including its genre. For genres like romance or mystery, staying away from omniscient is a good idea, but I still see it in speculative fiction (science fiction & fantasy). Here’s my suggestion: Take a look at your favorite books that are comparable to the one you are writing, but they need to have been published within the last 5 years. Pick ten books and analyze them for POV. Is omniscient still common enough that readers would accept it without a problem?

      If you are aiming to publish with a publisher, take a look at their submission guidelines. Do they give advice on POV? What about catalogue of published books? Are the majority third person limited?

      Hope that helps!

  3. Question, please.
    In regards to narrative thoughts in 3rd person past tense.

    1. Can you please explain how modern writers are expected to write inner narrative thoughts in 3rd person past tense please.

    Do we use italics is it in past or present tense? A d do ee need to say he/she thought, pondered, etc to let the reader know it’s a thought?

    Loving your books btw.

    • Basically, you have two choices:
      You can write it as direct thoughts–in present tense and first-person pronouns, offset in italics. Or you can write them as indirect thoughts–in past tense, third-person pronouns, and standard font (no italics).

      Since italics are harder to read and interrupt the flow, I would choose the first method only for short, very immediate thoughts and go for the second method for the rest.

      Usually, you don’t need any thinker attributions such as “he/she thought”–we are in their POV, so it should be clear that it’s their thought.

      For more on how to write character thoughts, take a look at my book Point of View. It has an entire chapter dedicated to character thoughts:


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