Monday, April 4, 2011

Post Nano Series: Editing/Revising Point of View--as in Perspective

Head hopping. Sounds painful doesn't it? Well, I've learned that I am GUILTY of doing just this. The good news is that once you recognize it--or a wonderful beta reader points it out for you--you can fix it.

POV--point of view. How do we keep it straight and how do we make it work for us? That's the topic for today. You all know the difference between First, Second and Third (limited and omniscience) points of view--if not check out the links below. I want to talk about character point of view (or whose eyes you are behind while looking at the world) because this is where I slip up. There are different ways to slip.
found on google images
The POV character knows something he has no way of knowing.
For example:
Talon listened intently while studying the map of the tram rail line. He turned now to Ruin and played the part he was expected to play. “I understand perfectly. What will be the reward for my sacrifice?”

Ruin smiled again, this time with a little more respect for the daredevil in front of him.
Oops, how can Talon know that? Maybe there are physical clues that make him think that, but that isn't what I wrote. This kind of slip can be hard to catch because it's not obvious that you head hopped, but it is easy to fix when you catch it.
Ruin paused and Talon felt a wave of approval roll over him. (this works because Talon is an empath)
You move from one perspective to another in the middle of a scene. 
Generally you save character perspective changes for a new scene or chapter. Once you start a scene from one character's POV, STAY IN IT. :)
“There is…” Selvan blinked and Talon cursed himself. The spell dissolved and he was too exhausted to reestablish the connection. A groan escaped as he called on the demon for strength, but it laughed at him as it retreated to the back of his mind. His only option was to release Selvan and return to his seat.

“I’m sorry. What were we talking about?” Selvan tried to hide the confusion that clouded his mind.

“The Saran Bridge master.”

“Ah, yes…”
I moved from Talon's point of view to Selvan's. Although Talon knows that Selvan will be confused as he comes out of the mind control spell, this is a head hop. I opted to show the confusion instead of stating it.
Selvan’s brows drew together and he shook his head for a moment before frowning at Talon. “I’m sorry. What were we talking about?”
Your character says/thinks something that slips into a different POV.
This is harder to explain, and I'm sure I've done it, but couldn't find an example in Sendek. Let's say you've been writing from one characters perspective for several scenes and he always refers to his mom as "mom". Now you write something like this:
I watched Debra push the spilled noodles into the trashcan, her long hair covering her pretty face as she bent over.
Two things here.
1. Would he call her by her name in his head? NO, he'd think mom.
2.  Do kids notice details about their mom? Maybe, but this reads a bit creepy to me. Creepy doesn't mean POV change, but I've seen this in several stories and it pulls me out and makes me say, "Wow, that was really creepy." Please don't do this. If your MC is a kid, don't use his eyes to tell me his mom is attractive. Sorry, didn't mean to get sidetracked like that...

What other ways have you noticed that we head hop or slip POV?

Other Links on this Topic:
Kay Dacus Making POV Work for You
Suite 101: Head Hopping: What it is and Why to Avoid it
Author's Den Top 10 Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make #4 Check out the other mistakes too.
Writing World Headhopping, Authorial Intrusion and Shocked Expressions
Flogging the Quill An Executive editor's take on head hopping
Heather McCorkle Demystifying Point of View
Elaine AM Smith asks What's Your Point of View?
VR Barkowski There's More to POV than Meets the I is an excellent look at how writing from the opposite sex's point of view can get tricky.


  1. Charity,

    Great round-up, thanks, and some very useful pointers. I have to say, though, that head-hopping is not, in my view, necessarily bad. Obviously you have to be aware you're doing it and in control. But I've read quite a few books - proper, professionally edited books - where the POV shifts between paragraphs and it works fine. In fact, it can be quite exhilarating.

  2. Yeah I see POV slips in new writer's stuff all the time, including my old stories. Once you get a little practice it's easy enough to get it under control.

    Although some people still try to bust me on it. Like in my novel "Where You Belong" people would complain about the first chapter because the narrator is three so they'd say, "Well a 3 year old wouldn't know that." Well, duh, he's not writing a book when he's three! So the distance of when the narrator is narrating from can be a problem for some people.

  3. All very easy mistakes for third person limited. But for omniscient it is a different animal. I generally don't even like reading omniscient, but it can work for some stories.

    For limited, one of the works I'm editing for an author right now uses head-hopping pretty heavy. I think the key is to give the right indicators that you are changing POV. Line breaks, paragraph breaks, etc. all help the reader distance themselves from the POV you have been using. It's a delicate line to walk. I generally just use one POV per chapter in my own writing. Easier to keep up with that way! :)

    Thanks for the great round-up of ideas!


  4. Good tips on POV, Charity.

    At rare times I slip from the characters head into an omniscient narrator. Sometimes I do it on purpose which is fine but sometimes I do it without realising. It's a problem and I have to watch for it.


  5. Ha! Yeah, probably better not to have the kid describe his mother's beauty, unless the author's going a little to VC Andrews for my tastes. *cringe*

    Good tips, Charity. I've been transitioning my Anabelle series from 1st to 3rd person, and so it's been easier with this one. I hate to think of how my NaNo piece looks, though, in terms of head-hopping. Which is why I still haven't gone back to look at it yet :)

    Nice image find, btw. :)

    East for Green Eyes

  6. Good job - I like to write in the 3rd person POV with different viewpoints - head-hopping in other words - within reason of course, can't drive readers crazy! :)

  7. Simon and Tara, thanks! I've read several books that switch POVs each chapter and it can work if done carefully. There simply needs to be something to mark that their is a change in perspective to help the reader stay grounded.

    Good point Rogue. I think in your case it shouldn't be considered a POV slip. Especially if the voice of your character is the adult version. I mean, writing a book from a 3 year old's perspective would be bizarre anyway, right? :)

    Jai, I think we all do it sometimes. Goodness knows I do.

    LOL, I loved that image the moment I saw it. Thanks Rosie, and don't give up on the Nano. You never know what it might turn into.

    D U, as I mentioned above, different POVs can be very effective. I'm thinking of Scott Westerfeld's Peeps and End of Days. Each chapter was a different characters POV and I never felt lost in his world.

    Hi Michael! *waves*

  8. Hi, my name is Becka, and I'm a recovering head-hopper.

    It's probably less recovering and more hoping my critters point it out to me so I can fix it ;) I started writing in 3rd omni, but it turns out you have to be an amazing writer to pull that off without becoming a head-hopper. And I am not that amazing :)

    Thanks for all the links! I'm always trying to learn more about POV and how to spot my problem areas!


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