Mastering Point of View and Voice: Expert Tips From Gabriela Pereira

point of view
Mastering Point of View and Voice: Expert Tips From Gabriela Pereira

Should you write your novel in the first person or third person? Why does this matter anyway? How does point of view relate to voice? And what’s the difference? Is there an easy way to “find” your voice if you’re new to writing?

These are questions I get asked all the time

In this podcast episode, I’m sharing a conversation I had with Gabriela Pereira (of DIY MFA) about point of view and voice. In the episode, she answers many of the most commonly asked questions writers have about point of view and voice and shares her favorite tips and strategies for mastering both. Excited? Me too! Let’s dive in.


Transcript: Mastering Point Of View And Voice—Expert Tips From Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA

SAVANNAH: Hi Gabriela! Thank you so much for joining me on the Fiction Writing Made Easy Podcast today! 

GABRIELA: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.

SAVANNAH: I'm so thrilled to have you here because your craft book, DIY MFA, is one of my all-time favorite craft books, and it's something that I recommend to writers all the time. So I appreciate you so much for writing it and for showing us all how we can DIY our own MFAs.

GABRIELA: It's my pleasure. 

SAVANNAH: Now, I did introduce you in the introduction, but can you just give us a little overview of who you are, what you do, and things like that?

GABRIELA: I am the founder and instigator of DIY MFA, which is the do-it-yourself alternative to a Master of Fine Arts in writing. Basically, we help writers get the knowledge without the college, and I'm doing air quotes here for our listeners. So yeah, that's basically what I do. I mean, we do courses. We do all sorts of workshops, and we have a membership, and all that sort of stuff. As far as the fun stuff, I am a native New Yorker, and I live there still. I had brief stints during college and grad school outside of New York and realized that you can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl. So I am now back in my favorite city in the world. And I am obsessed with theme parks. That is a fun, little side tidbit. 

SAVANNAH: I love that. What's your favorite theme park you've visited?

GABRIELA: Oh, I have to say I'm a Disney girl. I love the Disney parks. Yeah. 

SAVANNAH: Oh, I love that.

GABRIELA: Especially Disneyland because it's the original. So to me, that one's a little special. 

SAVANNAH: Oh my gosh, I love that. And who is your favorite Disney character?

GABRIELA: Belle from Beauty and the Beast because, I mean, you can't hate on a girl who loves the library, right? 

SAVANNAH: That's right. I love that. Well, we're going to talk today about point of view and voice, and I know this is a topic you're interested in. It's also something you do a great job of breaking down and making these concepts of point of view and voice, you do a great job of making those things accessible in your book, DIY MFA. So I do want to talk about that. But before we go into my questions for you, I do want to remind listeners that we have an episode about the basics of point of view. So what are the different point-of-view choices? First person, second person, third person, and then your options within third person. If you want to listen to that or if you haven't listened to it, it's episode number 90, and we will put that in the show notes. And we will put that in the show notes for easy access, along with Gabriela's books and her website and things like that.

But Gabriela, where would you start if you are a writer who's thinking about how to make the choice of which point of view to use and things like that? A lot of writers will ask me, does it depend on something? Does it depend on the genre you're writing in or the age range? Where would you start?

GABRIELA: The thing with point of view, the most important thing to understand to really wrap your head around what point of view is and how it works is you have to understand that it's all about sphere of knowledge. So the narrator, the entity that's telling the story, has a certain sphere of knowledge. You, the writer, have a bigger sphere of knowledge. You know more things than the narrator necessarily knows because you need to know all of those things, like who your character's third-grade teacher was and all of that stuff, so that you can write amazing characters. But that doesn't need to go into the book. And then the narrator's sphere of knowledge isn't necessarily the same sphere of knowledge as the characters. So there are going to be some characters who have information and know things that are outside the range of what the narrator has access to, and the narrator's access is what's going to determine how you tell your story.

So going back to your question, how do you choose your point of view, there's sort of two things. One of them is sort of artistic preference. Do you have a certain point of view that speaks to you? There's some people who they can only write in the first person. That is their jam. That is how they write. That is how they experience their characters. I'll admit that tends to be my direction as well. I tend to lean into first person a bit more than third person, but that's an artistic choice.

But then there's also the logistical choice. Like, do you need to be able to get inside the head of your villain? If that's the case, then maybe a multiple point of view is the way to go because then you can be in one character's point of view in chapter one, and then in the villain's point of view in chapter two, and then back to the protagonist's point of view in chapter three, and you kind of ping-pong like that. So it's a combination of artistic choice and logistics. But I really want to stress the importance of logistics because I think a lot of people kind of think, "Oh, first person's my way of doing things, and that's how I'm going to do it," and then they paint themselves into a corner where they need access to a character's brain and they just don't have that access. What are they going to do?

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I love that you talk about logistics because that's something I see when I'm working with writers, is kind of two parts to this. One is it's like I need to show all the things and do all the things, so they end up having eight point-of-view characters. And yes, that is a way to do it, but it's kind of like logistics plus what is the reason for having the points of view you do and for the choice you make. And like you said, if it's artistic preference first person over third person, I think that's totally valid and great. And then kind of the second layer is like, okay, how many characters, and what lens are we showing the story through those characters? And I like that you said also it's about how much knowledge the narrator knows at any given time. And something we talk about a lot in my course and my membership is that writers have the burden of knowledge, right? So we know everything, and it's really hard sometimes to write through the character's lens or the narrator's lens, but that's essential to storytelling.

GABRIELA: Exactly. As a writer, we have to be able to whittle down that huge pool of knowledge that we have to the barest essentials. I call it putting your reader on a need-to-know basis. Your reader only needs the information they need to know in that moment, and you don't need to give them all the things.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, which I think is sometimes helpful. Once you understand that distinction between the author and the narrator and the character, sometimes it's actually helpful to say, "Okay, I'm in my character's head. What can they know and what can't they know?" And then it almost makes your job easier instead of picking all the things.

GABRIELA: Exactly. Exactly. And a lot of times, narrowing your choices actually makes it more creative because then you have to work within certain constraints, and that's going to force you to think outside the box and do certain things that maybe you wouldn't have gotten there if you had had 30 points of view and you hadn't had to limit it down to three. The fact that you're narrowing your options actually can make you more creative in the process.

SAVANNAH: Right. And a better writer, I think, too because I see a lot of people that they kind of choose multiple points of view by default because they're like, "I don't know how else to convey this information." And then when it comes time to edit, they're just like, "Yeah, I feel like that something's wrong," and they decide they're going to whittle it down. And they're like, "But I don't know if I can execute it the way that I think I need to." I like to tell people, "Rise to the challenge," right? Rise to the challenge. Limit your options. It'll actually make it easier and more impactful. So you have three rules of point of view: keep it consistent, keep it sustainable, and keep it real. Do you want to talk about those?

GABRIELA: Yeah. Keeping it consistent means once you pick a lane, you need to stick in that lane. You can't suddenly start out doing first-person point of view and a single first-person point of view and then just be like halfway through the book, throw it out the window, and multiple third-person point of view just comes out of nowhere. That is going to throw your reader for a loop, and your reader's not going to be a happy camper. So you need to pick a lane, and then once you've made that choice, stick to it. And remember, sticking to it actually makes you more creative because now you're working within constraints.

The second one is sustainable. So you want to make sure that whatever choice you make is something you can sustain for the long haul. One thing that I often see is writers try to get really fancy, and they do second person, or they do epistolary, or they do diary-entry form. And those are all perfectly fine ways of handling point of view, but is it going to be sustainable for the long haul? It could be. There are books that are written all in second person. There are books that are written all in diary form or epistolary form. But you want to make sure that you can pull it off and that you're not painting yourself into a corner, because there are certain things that certain points of view can't do.

For example, in epistolary form or diary form, it's going to be a lot harder to pull off dialogue because people don't write dialogue in their diaries. That's just not realistic. So you're going to need to figure out ways to handle dialogue and ways to handle characters talking to each other in a way that actually feels real to the form that you've chosen. So that's the thing that you need to think about in terms of sustainability. Is this something you're going to be able to sustain for the length of the project that you're writing? If you're writing something short, you can totally pull off super-fancy points of view, but if it's something long, then you need to really think about it.

SAVANNAH: Yeah. The other thing... I'll just chime in really quick. The other thing I see too is when people do diary entries or they try to get a little more creative, they sometimes forget that when you're writing in a diary, you do have hindsight, right? Or they'll include hindsight in two chapters, and then they kind of just abandon that. And it's funny because the other day a writer I worked with, she had beta readers that were like, "We love those three chapters where you did hindsight." And she's like, "Oh, great, because I wasn't planning on going back and sustaining that, but they wanted more and more and more because it just felt very random." So I love the keep-it-sustainable tip. 

GABRIELA: Yeah. And again, the understanding what the form requires. When you're writing a letter, you're not writing it as the things are happening. You are writing it after something's happened. So the character's perspective is going to be different. And to make it realistic, you have to actually acknowledge that in the process of writing what you're writing.

The other thing to think about too, especially with diary entry and epistolary form, is why is the reader reading this thing in the first place? You don't necessarily need to answer that, but you need to at least, as the writer, know how the reader came across this person's diary or how the reader might have come across these letters and where they came from. I find that epistolary and diary form can be a lot more effective when they're used in parts. Jane Austen does this all the time, like inserting letters between the characters in her books, and that works really well because it's periodical. It's not like the whole story is told that way.

SAVANNAH: Right. Yeah, I love that too. And then your third tip was keep it real, so it kind of goes right into that.

GABRIELA: Exactly. You need to understand what the sort of realism of the form is. And the other thing to understand, and this is something I learned from an amazing writer, David Morrell, who came on our podcast and came on our summits. And he was talking about, at one point at the conference, about how point of view came about, like how people started using different points of view.

SAVANNAH: Interesting.

GABRIELA: And the way he explained it is people started out with the first person because they felt like that was the most realistic way of telling a story. You're hearing it from the horse's mouth. The character who experienced the story is the one who is telling you the story. Like, "Call me Ishmael," that kind of thing. You're in it with the character, right? And then eventually, they moved into third person because it was more like just the facts, ma'am. The character was almost like a reporter telling the story in sort of an objective, distant kind of way.

So understanding where these points of view came from then gives you a window into how you can use them yourself. So if you're choosing a first-person point of view, recognize that the reader is going to be hearing it from the horse's mouth, as it were. The reader is hearing it directly from the character who's experiencing the story. And so that's going to affect how the story is told, and that's going to affect the level of realism in the story, as opposed to third person, where it's a bit more objective a little bit. I mean, nowadays, people use limited third person, where you're really up close and personal. The narrative distance is really tight, but you still have that slight objectivity. You're a little further away than if you were in the first person, where you're in the character's brain. So you need to understand how the realism factor plays into each of these different types of point of view and then just use that awareness to inform how you write the story.

SAVANNAH: Yes, I think that's excellent. And I love what you said about third person because this leads me to another question that I get asked all the time that I see writers confused about all the time, and that's third person because we have two options. We have limited. We have omniscient, right? And a lot of writers will think that using an omniscient narrator that can dip into everyone's head and know everything about everything is going to be a lot easier. So they're like, "I'm going to write third person omniscient." And usually, my advice is, "Well, this is actually going to be a lot harder than you think." What do you think about that?

GABRIELA: Omniscient is funny. There was a time, I want to say maybe 20 years ago-ish, where omniscient was dead. Everyone was just like, "Don't use omniscient. It's dated. It's 19th century. It's not like this thing that we're using anymore." And now we're seeing it creep back into more contemporary literature, but it has a different feel to it. So I think the way omniscient narrators tend to work best is when they're almost invisible, when the narrator doesn't draw attention to itself and instead just sort of fades to the background, and the story rises to the front.

I think the way omniscient sort of feels dated is when you get this very opinionated narrator, who's kind of breaking the fourth wall and in your face and telling you... I mean, it can work in some cases when it's sort of tongue in cheek and it's like, "Dear reader, this, that, and the other." But it has to be treated in that tongue-in-cheek way nowadays, whereas you could totally pull that off if you read... I feel like Louisa May Alcott does this, where she'll be like, "Reader, notice this, this, and this. Or the character was feeling blah, blah, blah," and the narrator's directly talking to the reader and it feels like really... Nowadays, it feels intrusive. At the time, it felt totally natural, I'm sure.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I think a lot of readers these days, we want that closeness. So like you said, if that omniscient narrator is a little more invisible, it works. But I think it's still hard to write because we have to find that balance of... I mean, in all points of view, we have to find the balance of interiority versus that objective frame. But I also hear, speaking of interiority and third person, I also hear a lot of writers think that third person means I don't need to include any interiority. What do you think about that?

GABRIELA: Yeah. So no, that is not the case. It just means that the interiority is going to be different, and it's going to come across differently. So when you're in the first person, the character's thoughts are the narration. So whatever the narration is doing, that is what's going through the character's head. So it's really natural to move from interiority to not, because you're moving from basically narration to action and dialogue. But in third person, you actually have to put the thoughts in a little bit more deliberately, but the characters still have thoughts and feelings, and they still have to come across on the page. And putting them in italics and italicizing like, "Oh, no, what did I just do?" as the character, I find that kind of a little goofy. I think it can work sometimes. But to me, I feel like it's much more effective if the thoughts are sort of seamlessly worked into the narration in a way that isn't quite so... I don't want to say... Didactic isn't quite the right word, but sort of obvious as that way.

SAVANNAH: Yeah. It's very noticeable, and it draws you out of the story, which I think if we look at the goal of what we're trying to do, we want people immersed in the story.

GABRIELA: Exactly.

SAVANNAH: So whatever we can do to avoid them not zooming out and being like, "Oh yeah, I'm reading a book. Maybe I should put this down and go do chores," we want to avoid that.

GABRIELA: Exactly.

SAVANNAH: Then, we want to talk about voice too because I think... I mean, obviously this all relates, and you have to know how you're framing the story, who's telling the story to look at voice. And there are levels of voice which we'll get into, but I want to kind of stay on this third-person omniscient and this third-person narrator because I feel like a lot of people think that a third-person narrator doesn't have a voice because they're just this objective person that sits outside the thing, or they're invisible and they have no voice. What do you think?

GABRIELA: Oh, they absolutely have a voice, and the issue is going to be how obvious that voice is. The fact that the voice is invisible doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It just means that it's so seamless. An invisible voice is really hard to pull off. An author who does this really well is Eva Ibbotson, who she wrote The Secret of Platform 13 and a couple of other books that I'm blanking on the names right now. They're middle-grade novels. I read them when I was working on my thesis because I decided when I was writing my creative thesis for the MFA, I thought maybe I wanted to use an invisible third person, omniscient third person. So I wanted to see it in action, and then I realized, "Oh, this is really hard. I'm not going to be able to pull that off," and I tried something different.

But the fact that it's invisible doesn't mean it's not there. It's just so artfully done that the reader doesn't notice it. The reader's in the story, and the reader's not thinking, "Oh, look at that narrator there. Look what they did." The reader's just kind of focusing on, "Okay, what's happening next? Where's the character? What's the story doing? Where's the story going?" So that's the trick with omniscient, especially omniscient narrators, is you don't want it to draw your attention away from the story. You want your reader to feel like they're in the story. So it actually takes a lot more artistry to pull that off than if you have a really in-your-face narrator who's very opinionated and noticeable, because that's easier to write, I think.

SAVANNAH: Yeah. Yeah. So speaking of voice, this is something that confuses a lot of people. How would you define it?

GABRIELA: When I talk about voice, I refer to it as your literary DNA. It's like the way you express yourself as a writer. And one of the things, one of the pieces of advice that really gets under my skin is when people tell students or writers to find their voice, like you're digging through couch cushions looking for loose change. Your voice is not something that you just misplaced.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, it’s not in your closet or something like that. 

GABRIELA: Exactly. You're not going to be doing your spring-cleaning and find your voice randomly. Your voice is already in you. What you have to figure out is what that voice is and then hone it so that you're using it to the best of its ability. And the way I often explain it is voice is like a sunflower seed. You can grow the best sunflowers from a sunflower seed, but you're not going to grow roses from it. So you can make certain things really good in your voice, but if you try to make your voice something completely different from what it is, you're not going to succeed because that's not what your voice is. Your voice is a sunflower seed, not a rose seed.

SAVANNAH: Right. I love that, and it's such a good visual, but it's so true because we all have our own unique worldview, our own values, our own upbringing, our own preferences, all the things that make us unique. And I love that you said it's our creative DNA, because as someone... I coach writers, and I edit for writers. And if you put four different pages in front of me, I could tell you... Not just because of the content of the story, but I could tell you by how someone writes something whose work that is. And I think-

GABRIELA: Absolutely. 

SAVANNAH: ... sometimes writers, they put... I almost feel like they put voice on a pedestal, and maybe it belongs there. That's fine, but it becomes a scary thing, that it's like, "I don't know how to get this." And they go to the advice of find your voice, like you said, and they think it's this elusive thing that only the best writers can get to. What are your thoughts on that?

GABRIELA: Everyone has a voice. Even when I was in third grade writing really wacky stories about a pet unicorn, I had a voice. It's just that voice was my third-grade voice, and hopefully, it has matured now at this point. What I find is helpful, at least for me, is to name your voice. So my voice, when I write, my voice is called Professor Valley Girl.

SAVANNAH: Valley Girl? 

GABRIELA: She knows her stuff. She really communicates it. She gets deep and nerdy into the craft and all of that, but she's approachable. She's kind of like a Valley Girl. She's fun. You could hang out at the mall together, and it would be fun. That's sort of the vibe, the feeling that I'm going for. So voice is a combination of the content itself and what you're sharing, but then also how you're sharing it and sort of the expression around it. And it can be something that's as micro level as the word choice you use in a particular sentence, or as macro level as the whole story that you decide to tell. So voice covers a lot of ground, and it sort of has a big scope. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, which is why it's probably so intimidating, especially if it's kind of a foreign concept or something you've never really played with before in your own writing. But I think also it's fun to see how voice shows up in different genres. And that's something to keep in mind too if you're writing genre fiction, and it could be something to play with too, for better or for worse. But if you're writing a hard-boiled mystery, what does that feel like? What is that creative DNA of that story and that author writing that story, versus something like a flowery romance? So I think it's something fun, and I would love people to read your book to figure out how to break down the barrier of why voice is so intimidating and all that. But you talk in there too about multiple levels of voice. Do you want to talk about that?

GABRIELA: Yeah. That's the other thing with voice that's kind of tricky, is that it operates on multiple levels. So the ground level is the characters' voices. So your characters are going to sound a certain way, and different characters sound different from each other. If all your characters sound the same, that's a problem. If your characters are... If they start sounding one way and then they suddenly change the way they sound, that's also weird. It's going to throw your reader for a loop. So you want to make sure that your characters sound like themselves, like they're realistic characters, that they come across like themselves.

Then above that, one level up, is the narrator's voice. So the narrator can be a character in the story. That's when it's a first-person point of view. The narrator is a character. Or third person, when the narrator is not a character. The narrator is like this entity outside the story looking in. That narrator has a voice, and that voice is going to be different than the voice of the characters. So if you have a first-person story and your characters are talking a certain way or they're behaving a certain way, that's going to be different than the way the narrating first-person character is going to be narrating the story.

A great example of this are the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, where you see the stuff that the kid is writing in the diary has got a different voice than when you see the little characters in the doodles talking and interacting with each other. It's nuanced. It's not wildly different, but it is a slightly different voice. It is a slightly different attitude in the characters. And the character presents himself differently in those doodles versus the way he presents himself in the narration, which is the diary form. So that's the second level up.

Then you have what I call meta voice, which is kind of rare. You really only have it when you have a story within a story. So you have some sort of a container holding the story. So you've got someone telling... A great example of this would be The Book Thief, where it's narrated in the first person. It's this amazing narration. If you want to have your point-of-view mind blown, you need to read this book. It's first-person omniscient point of view, and just think about what that means. And it's narrated by Death. And you have these moments where you're zoomed into the story so much that you kind of forget who's telling the story, but then you've got moments where Death sort of steps in and kind of narrates what's going on. And that would be a moment of meta narration or meta voice-

SAVANNAH: That's cool.

GABRIELA: ... where you've got this sort of external voice that's holding the story together.


GABRIELA: And then there's a last version which I've only started kind of thinking about, which is the author's voice. And the author's voice may be different than the voice of the narrators and the voice of the characters. It can get muddied, especially when you're writing first person, because people often confuse the first-person character with the first-person narrator with the author, thinking that the author is the character. And especially if you're writing something that's kind of contemporary and maybe loosely autobiographical, that can kind of muddy the waters a little, and your reader might start to confuse whose voice is whose. But you, as the writer, need to be very clear, especially if you're writing something that is contemporary and autobiographical, you need to be really clear on what things are your character's voice, what things are your narrator's voice, and then what things are all you.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I love that breakdown. It makes me want to go nerd out on stories even more. And I think it just goes back to what you said earlier about being intentional about the choices you're making and knowing what you're in for, because it's not... If you were to write something with all four layers of point of view, it's not something you just show up and do and expect it to all work out. You need to have a reason. You need to have the motivation and the ability to sustain it, like you were saying earlier. So it's really cool. I don't want it to feel overwhelming to listeners. Instead, I want it to feel almost empowering. Like, look at all the cool tools we have to play with to control the reading experience or to give the readers... to match what's in our head on the page and give them that experience. So I think that's pretty cool, and it makes me want to ask you for our listeners, when should we worry about this stuff? Because that feels like a lot. Is this a first-draft problem? Is it in the editing?

GABRIELA: Usually, voice and point of view work themselves out by the time you get to the end of the draft. So I would tell writers... And when I'm working with writers one-on-one or in courses who are in the process of writing the draft, my advice is always, "Get it down. Get to the end. That is the goal." Your goal when you're writing draft zero is to just get to those magical words "The End," and that's it. But trust that you're going to kind of work some of this stuff... It's like you have to metabolize it as a writer. You go into writing a draft, and at least my experience has always been it's like in bits and pieces, and I have sort of ideas here and there. And then those ideas start to kind of grow and sprawl, and eventually it kind of becomes something that has a shape to it, and then you can kind of push it to the end.

But in that process, the point of view kind of metabolizes and figures itself out, and the voice kind of works itself out as well. But when you get to the end, now you're going to have this draft that might be a hot mess because you may have tried first person in chapter one, and then you may have figured out that actually it's third person, and you wrote chapters two, three, and four. And then you're like, "No, never mind. Let's go back to first person." So you may have a whole lot of stuff, like mishmash of stuff, and that's natural in the process of metabolizing the point of view and the voice.

So what you need to do when you're going back, and this is what I always advise writers to do as their first pass at revision, is to go through and look for the scenes that don't fit. So figure out what the end result is that you want in terms of point of view and voice, and then go back and look for scenes that don't fit that model. And then what you do is you don't try to tinker. You don't try to go in and change the he, she, its to I and me, because that's going to be weird and you're going to break your voice. Instead, what you do is you read through the scene. I call this rebooting the scene. You read through it. Then you set it aside, and then you just write it from memory in the new model.

SAVANNAH: I love that.

GABRIELA: What that does is your brain holds onto the stuff that's juicy and useful, and it lets go of the junk that you don't need, and it keeps that voice fresh and gives that energy that you had when you were writing it fresh because you are writing it fresh.

SAVANNAH: Mm-hmm. And you have all the hindsight of knowing what that draft became and all that. But two things I love that you said, and I want to make sure listeners hear this, is one, it's okay to experiment in your draft. Because I talk to my listeners all the time about how I see lots of drafts. That's my privilege as a book coach and an editor, and they're messier than you guys think. So it's okay if yours are also messy and you try versions of narrators or points of view or voice. It's okay. And like Gabriela said, once you get to the end, then you can make that decision how you want to go.

I also like that you said starting fresh with something that you've already created, because I see all the time people will take that scene and they will change the he, shes, and theys to the Is. And then I read back through it or they read back through it, and I'm like, "Whose head are we in, and what is even happening?" because it just doesn't work that way, and it creates a lot of problems trying to take something and edit it into something different. So I actually love that term rebooting a scene, and I feel like listeners can borrow that and use it in their own writing. But I love that. So it's kind of like have fun during your first draft. Then we'll worry about editing and making things more intentional once you get to the end.

GABRIELA: Absolutely. And one thing I'll also add is when you're in that draft-zero mode and you're just trying to get to the end, one trick that I find is if you change something, like let's say you change point of view or you change the voice or something, you're like, "Okay, I like this new voice," write a note to yourself in the text and then write the letters TK. And TK are two letters that basically never show up together in the English language, so what this does... I mean, editors use this all the time. It stands for to come. But I use this whenever I want to make a note to myself that's easy to find because then when you do a find-replace, it automatically highlights all the TKs, and it's not going to find random TKs inside of words because the English language doesn't work that way. So this way, you can kind of mark your changes as you go and make notes to yourself as you go, and then go back and easily find them and be like, "Oh, that's what I was doing," or, "Oh, that's where I changed point of view from first person to third person or whatever."

SAVANNAH: Yeah, I love that tip, and we are big fans of TK on the podcast. We talk about it a lot, and it tends to be listeners' new favorite tool. So I'm so glad you brought it up. And I see a lot of people do this in different ways, and I think TK is one of the best ways, because imagine you have this draft and you have all these comments on the side, or you have a notebook that's next to you and you're trying to track everything. It ends up just becoming crazy and too much stuff to manage. So that's why I like, like Gabriela said, doing the TKs in the document, and then you could just easily search for those and take some of the stress out of the equation. 

GABRIELA: For sure.

SAVANNAH: Okay, so we talked about point of view. We talked about voice. Is there any last-minute words of wisdom or common mistakes you see people make that you want to address before we sign off?

GABRIELA: Oh, gosh.

SAVANNAH: I know it's not an easy question.

GABRIELA: I know. I mean, there's so many. I guess the one thing, since we're talking about going back and revising things, the one mistake that I often see a lot of writers go through is that they'll start... They'll print out their whole manuscript after they get to the end of draft zero. And then they'll sit down with a red pen, and they'll start on chapter one, page one, sentence one, and they start line editing their chapters. And redlining should be something that happens way at the end of the editing process. There's a lot of work and a lot of mileage that needs to be put in before you get to that stage where you're tinkering at the sentence level. And the reason you don't want to do this early in the editing process... It's still important. Don't get me wrong. Line editing is incredibly important and incredibly valuable, but it needs to happen at the right time.

And the reason for that is that let's suppose you decide that you don't like the voice in chapter one and that, by the way, chapter one's not really relevant anyway. The story really kind of kicks off in chapter five, and you've just spent two weeks editing and line editing and tinkering with chapters one through four. I mean, imagine those are two weeks that are completely wasted that now you will not get those two weeks back. So being sort of methodical with going through the revision process.

What I always recommend writers do is they start with the narration, which includes voice and point of view, and you start with those things, and you reboot your scenes where you need to. Then you do a couple of passes through the manuscript, focusing on characters. You're going to want to do one pass where you focus on the protagonist because they're the main character. But then if you've got important supporting characters, you may also need to do passes through the manuscript focusing only on those characters. If you have a really important villain character, you may need to do a pass through the manuscript only worrying about the villain. And by the way, when you're worrying about the villain, any scene the villain doesn't show up in, you don't have to edit that scene because the villain's not in it. So you get to skip it. It goes super fast. So yes, you're going through your manuscript way more times, but you're going through it more quickly because you're only focusing in on one specific thing every single time.

And then once you've dealt with your characters, that's where I work with writers to work out the scene, the order, the story structure, and these scenes go here, these scenes go there. But if you don't understand what the characters are about and what their motivations are and why they're doing what they're doing, then the order of the scenes is kind of irrelevant because the scenes, they're sort of like dominoes, but they're dominoes sitting on top a layer of characters. So they're not going to stay standing up if the characters are all shaky.

Then from there, you kind of work your way scene by scene and make sure that things are tight, the dialogue is working and things like that. And then you line edit. So there's a whole lot of stuff that needs to happen and a whole lot of times that you're going to go through your manuscript before you even get to that red pen, sitting down with the printed-out manuscript thing. That's still very valuable, but it happens at the end.

SAVANNAH: Well, and to that point, if you go through the phases like you're suggesting, the red-pen part should be easier because it's more condensed to what you really want to say. You're not going to waste time on words that are going to get edited and things like that. So totally agree. It's one of those things I hate seeing happen, when you're like, "No, please go back and just edit the bigger picture first before you dig into there," because it makes... Like you said, you spend two weeks editing something with the red pen, and then how on earth can you get rid of those when you've spent two weeks on it, right?

GABRIELA: I know. It makes it harder to not be precious with your words when you've spent all that time working at it and editing it and whatnot and tinkering with it. But if you kind of go through those larger, big-picture things first, then like you said, the smaller sentence-level stuff, not all of it is going to work itself out, but a lot of it will.

SAVANNAH: Yeah. I know that you recommend thinking about point of view and voice before going into these edits, but I think the line-editing phase is where you can really make that voice shine. So if you haven't done that bigger work and your goal is to express your voice in the best way possible, it's going to be harder if you skip those big-picture steps.

GABRIELA: Absolutely, 100%.

SAVANNAH: Yeah. Well, Gabriela, we're going to link to all your stuff in the show notes. I think that this is going to be listeners' one of their favorite episodes because you just get right to the heart of what we need to know about point of view and voice, and you're so good at explaining things. So I really appreciate you coming on the podcast today. Any final words for listeners?

GABRIELA: Not really. I guess if they want to connect with me further, the best way to do that is going to be at And the best way to find me and to connect with me more is to go to That's where you can get on our newsletter and things like that.

SAVANNAH: Great. And we will link to all of that in the show notes and to your book, which again is one of my favorite resources. So I super appreciate that. But thank you again so much. We'll probably have to have you back someday because I really enjoyed this conversation.

GABRIELA: Oh, this was an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Final Thoughts

My favorite takeaway from this episode was Gabriela's statement that your voice isn’t some elusive thing that you “find.” Instead, we ALL have a unique voice that just needs to be honed and expressed using tools like point of view and word choice. It’s so true! 

To learn more about Gabriela Pereira, visit her website at or check out her book DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community. You can also connect with Gabriela on Instagram here.

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →