- Avoid distance words such as, “She saw,” “He heard,” “she smelled,” “he felt,” etc. “She smelled smoke.” can easily become, “Smoke tickled her nostrils.” “He heard her approach.” works better as, “Her high heels clicked over the marble tiles.” And “She saw the birds fly overhead,” more clearly sets the scene when, “A flock of geese flew across the chambray sky.”
- If the POV character doesn’t know about it, you can’t tell the reader about it. This is probably one of the most glaring errors I’ve seen in contest entries and excerpts for editing. Lines such as, “Jenna didn’t notice when Sheila slipped the knife into her sleeve.” are impossible if you’re writing in Jenna’s POV. If we’re in Sheila’s POV, you could go deeper by saying something like, “While she kept her gaze locked on Jenna’s face to distract her, Sheila slipped the knife into her sleeve. Jenna never blinked. Good. She hadn’t noticed.”
- Use “anchors.” Remember balance? Well, sometimes the easy cheat is the best. Words like, “obviously,” “suggested,” “apparently,” and “seemed” can keep you firmly in one character’s head, but divulge information about a different character. “Louisa apparently didn’t get the joke. She frowned and shook her head slowly.” “The hair plastered around his head suggested Mark had been caught in the downpour.” “The dog seemed to sense his master’s presence and relaxed his stance.”
- Exceptions: Certain facial expressions and body movements can be told from either side of the POV coin. If Joe smiles, he knows he’s smiling. And Daphne can see him smile. Same with frowns, furrowed or arched brows, narrowed or rolled eyes, snorts, smirks, stiffened spines, fisted hands, and good old-fashioned foot-stomping. To save your sanity, put yourself in your character’s shoes. Stand up (or sit down, if that’s what your character’s doing), face the wall (or your dog, your desk, or any object except something that reflects), and act out whatever you’re writing. If you can feel yourself do it, you can write it in your character’s POV.
Notice how, particularly in the second-to-last sentence, Maggie is no longer just a one-dimensional figure in the story: she's become a live actor in the play going on around her, telling the reader exactly what's in her thoughts without the barrier of "she thought" or "She said a silent apology to her nephew." I didn't even acknowledge that "Steven" is actually Maggie's nephew, but the reader instantly infers it, simply by the way she mentions his name in that statement.