Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Swat that fly!

Okay everyone, get out your flyswatters.  Nope, it's not summer, but it is time you let your characters tell the story.

One thing I see a lot of is narration coming from the point of view of something that sees all and knows all.  Personally, I call this Fly on the Wall narrative—as if a fly is stationed merrily on the wall above everyone and describing the events.  The problem is...the fly isn’t a character in the story.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of stories done in this type of third person narrative and some work well.  The issue that I see often, however, is a story being told from the perspective of the main character and then the fly dropping in to have it’s say and thus pulling the reader out of the head of the main character—and subsequently, the story. 

One other main issue the fly narration often produces is passive writing in the form of more telling vs showing.

Using deeper point of view (POV), keeping in the “head” of your main character, gives the reader a chance to know them, to understand them, and most of all, to relate to them.  You want a reader invested in your characters and the story so they leave the laundry, housecleaning and any other chore behind for another time while they are riveted by your character’s journey.

Deeper POV means that things are described specifically by the POV character and thus can only be shown by what the character knows, sees, hears, feels etc. 

Let’s take an example:

Her cheeks flared an angry shade of red as she fisted her hands and aimed her steamy blue gaze toward the bane of her existence.

Unless the character can see herself in a mirror, she wouldn’t know the color of her face or could reference her own blue eyes is such a fashion, therefore the above is a description from that of a fly on the wall, and because of this, it is also telling.

Let’s revise showing the anger through the deeper POV of the character—giving the reader a better sense of the moment:

The burning in her cheeks scorched down her neck.  Fisting sharp nails into her palms, she fought back a verbal slaying and narrowed her gaze toward the bane of her existence.

Another fly example that happens often is referring to the POV character in a group:

They came to a small pathway and decided it was better for the other two to go first.

Who is the POV character in the above sentence?  Exactly-?-unknown.   The sentence also doesn’t show much about the path or tension of the scene—is it a happy, yellow brick road or a scary dark corridor?


Jenny bit her lip as she stopped behind her friends near the dark pathway.  The boys decided to go first, and she blew out a thankful breath, only to suck it back in when a cold breeze blew across her neck. 

Now we know exactly whose head we are in AND that there is something about the path making her nervous.  That “something” is what makes the reader WANT to continue to read to find out.

Remember, for a stronger read, leave the fly on the wall and let your characters tell the story.



  1. Hi Stacy,
    Great post, very informative.



  2. awesome post! I love that you gave some examples because it's easier to see how a writer might accidentally revert to the "fly on the wall." I've done it myself too many times to count and hope to catch it in the second draft!

    1. Thank you, Niecey. I'm glad you found it helpful!

  3. Thanks for this great post. I'm going to save a copy to refer back to when editing.