When I decided to be a great novelist, I knew exactly how to start my story. With me! And my Extraordinary and Very Rare experience of dating a tortured intellectual who drank…in college…and sometimes he was mean! This narrative went on for pages and pages. Oh, the pages! The fact that my pen glided so effortlessly across the paper meant I was genius and this story would capture the hearts of millions. I wasn’t even at the good part or even the beginning. By the time I was done, I had filled a notebook, one I couldn’t go back and reread because, I’ll be honest, it was a little boring. But someone else would find it fascinating!
And so I began my relationship with writing fiction. As an editor, with now daily experience in reading critically, I notice how rambling points of view can kill a story. Mind you, I still do this—go on and on for pages (or even blog posts). What one writer might consider fascinating character revelations, one editor might use as a sleeping agent.
Is this Rambling POV bad?
Only if you don’t edit it. Rambling POV is actually a good thing. It gets your brain moving and pushes you to free your imagination. In editing, you can make that point of view more succinct and targeted to your storytelling.
How do you know you have rambling POV?
Keep rereading what you have written. If you find yourself skipping over paragraphs, consider cutting those paragraphs. You might feel liberated. In case of regret, always save your drafts. If you have the energy to go back, cut and paste, your words were meant to stay.
When I read submissions, a common mistake is a rambling POV at the beginning. Too much of a good thing can bog down the pacing and a character with sass can quickly turn off an editor if the sass goes on forever before anything happens.
Just remember that all talk and no action renders your character a big snooze fest.
When can rambling POV be good?
In narrative nonfiction, it can be lovely. Though in this format, it’s not so much “rambling” as “telling a true, gripping story.” You can bet that the editor is looking at every word and trimming what comes off as rambling.
One way to tell rambling from elucidating prose is that it seems to be more about the author than about the reader. There’s a sense of “I so love my voice” or “I need to get this out before I move to the next thing” or “I’m writing so fast, this must be brilliant!” So, in the end, rambling POV can be good—as in, a good start, but amateurish if not done well.
How do you deal with rambling POV?
Understand from the beginning that may overwrite in places. Often, it’s to show your character. You can always go back and cut. In fact, you should go back and cut.
Think about how your character moves through the scene rather than thinks. We all think. It’s easy to share thoughts on a page. But what does your character do?
Don’t censor yourself from rambling. More writing is better than no writing.
Remember that most of the time, rambling doesn’t help. There are many exceptions, authors who do it brilliantly. Sophie Kinsella comes to mind. She can immerse you in her story with her rambling characters, who do very little but are ablaze with thought and insight, all of which is highly entertaining, at least to me! Those thriller writers with the unreliable narrators or fascinating protagonists, also pros at rambling POV. And good memoirists can go on and on with a purpose.
It’s always good to err on the side of knowing you’re probably not an exception, though maybe you are. It never hurts to experiment.
Back to important stuff: my “fictional” story about the alcoholic in college. Yeah, she’s sitting somewhere in my mother’s closet along with Teacher’s Pet, my attempt at writing a romance. And my master’s thesis, a truly rambling onus from the depths of Hades.
May you fare better than this. Go forth and ramble, experiment, and edit. And lastly, read the exceptions and learn.