The Thought Police

Livermore Civic Center Library

Winston Smith, George Orwell’s main character in 1984, a futuristic novel published in 1949, defies “Big Brother” who sees every move Winston makes in Oceania. The telescreen monitors his heartbeats, emotions, and thoughts. One evening he finds a small corner in his flat where he escapes and writes his musings in one of the last blank, bound journals that escaped destruction when the world went paperless. He shapes his destiny when he uses ink, not pencil, to record his thoughts on quality cream-colored, pages.

Grammar Police Award

Last October I blogged about editing (“Grammar Police” post October 17, 2013). English grammar, both in speech and written form, are replete with multiple rules that require writers to employ a team of editors before submitting manuscripts to an agent or publisher. Since George Orwell’s fantasy more than 65-years ago exposed the limited thought process, it would seem that writers are finally free to fly. Ah, but not so. Although the “Thought Police” Orwell painted exists only in his novel, a new guardian force rules today’s writers.


Instructors and mentors, whether academic or associated with for-profit publishers, have formed a new stratum of Thought Police. Every paragraph, perhaps every sentence, is monitored for point of view (POV). Authorities justify this “Big Brother” scrutiny with a single question: Whose story is this? Thoughts are limited to that character.


In Next of Kin, I have two main characters, Captain Luis Rojas (male), and Detective Taylor Madrid (female). Rojas has more than twenty years of experience in law enforcement; Madrid less than half that. It’s impossible for them to see the world of crime through the same eyes, so I chose a dual POV. Supervisors and associates clamber for their individual POV rather than be seen through the eyes of the duo. That can’t happen. Why? because modern Thought Police have blown the whistle on verbs like thought, believed, recognized, realized,  reflected, ruminated, understood, considered, wondered, imagined, concluded, presumed, mused, surmised, commiserated, envisioned, pictured, conjectured, guessed, anticipated, expected, speculated, pondered, brooded, despaired, sympathized, and dozens more.

Tree chopper

I can only hope (Oops! That’s the narrator’s POV) that neither of my main characters fall prey to the misfortune of Orwell’s Winston Smith. When tortured by the Thought Police, he was brainwashed to believe that two plus two equals five. If that happens, future agents and publishers might require a math class as a prerequisite to writing. I hope I publish my novel before then.



Filed under Blogging, Editing, Writing

8 responses to “The Thought Police

  1. I am confronting a similar issue in Ardent Spirit. My protagonist’s inciting incident actually takes place in her absence. From whose point of view can I show the reader that chapter? I’m going to be coming to you for a professional opinion.

    • Julie, the reader must experience the protagonist’s emotion at the time of the inciting incident, not through a dream, flashback, or memory, and definitely not though narrator’s exposition.However, news delivered by messenger qualifies if the reader sees the action and feels the emotion at the time the protagonist receives that news, even if the trigger event happened earlier. The message, not the original event, becomes the inciting incident. Send me a personal email so I can review this scene for you.

  2. Personally, I would follow Vi’s point of view as I pondered, brooded, and speculated upon the number and density of the hundred or so boulders that I surmised would be recognized when I realized the anticipated pain I envisioned when I make the expected landing on those presumed hard places. I guessed it would, upon reflection, fail to bring the sympathy I understood, actually concluded was my due.

  3. Vi, I’ve always said ‘rule’ is a four-letter word. The thought police’s jurisdiction ends here!

  4. Jan

    I always enjoy reading about POV and found your blog on this subject helpful. Listing some of the words the “thought police” will catch was a good reminder to me. In my manuscript, the protagonist’s first person POV takes precedence. The final chapter, however, lets a major secondary character enter his POV, as the scene escalates tension and emotion to its final conclusion. I want the reader to feel these from his POV. The protagonist’s POV are purposefully kept out of this final scene as she is drugged and in need of rescue.

    Thank you for your helpful blog.

    • Jan, consistent POV is crucial to a novel. I’m not the “thought police” here, but I’m certain your editor, if worth her pay, will tell you that this last-chapter switch is dangerous in first person POV. Not only does it break the writing rules of POV consistency, it shoves the protagonist from the spotlight to second place while she is helpless.

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