Now that we’ve gone over the different perspectives from which most novels are written (first-person, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient), we can begin to discuss the many, many ways in which writers can make mistakes in regards to perspective.
A perspective error is any point in the story where the writer unintentionally presents information that is not consistent with the perspective in which the story is written.
The simplest type of perspective error is when an author accidentally switches perspectives. It happens most often in stories that have been adapted from one perspective to another—say the first draft was in third-person limited, but the author decided the story would have more impact written in first-person perspective from the protagonist’s point of view. So, they rework the second draft into first-person, but they miss a few lines here and there. Other times, this is just an absent-minded mistake. Here is an example:
“You can’t keep going like this, Rachel,” Geoff said to me. “You need to get some sleep.”
“I need to be here when Diana gets back,” I replied, shaking my head.
Geoff sighed. “Rachel . . . it’s been two weeks. No one survives outside the walls for more than a day. You know that.”
She refused to look at him. “When Diana gets back, she’ll need someone to throw her a rope.” I knew that she was still alive, somehow. But I couldn’t say it out loud. I just couldn’t.
Although the example is written in first-person from Rachel’s point of view, there is one point where Rachel is referred to as “she” rather than “I”—a slip into third-person perspective.
The two best ways I know of to catch these slip-ups are:
- Read your story out loud—often, your mouth and ears will notice mistakes that your eyes didn’t.
- Have someone else proofread your story—you know what you’re trying to say, and often your brain will fill in what a sentence was supposed to say rather than noticing what it actually says. Other people won’t have this problem when it comes to your writing, so ask them for a hand.
This is just the first of dozens or even hundreds of ways that writers can make perspective errors. We’ll discuss more in the future.