POV: Get That Head Hopping Outta Here

Continuing with a week of writing about, well, writing this week. Yesterday, I ranted about $10 words and purple prose. Today, it’s point of view: Who’s speaking all that non-purple prose we’re writing?
 [Commercial Interruption: At the end of the week, I’ll be drawing a name from commenters for a copy of Becoming Your Own Critique Partner. One entry per comment each day, plus an extra for Twitter followers @Suzanne_Johnson. And another extra if you tweet it–use my Twitter name and I’ll see it. ]

Okay. I have to ‘fess up here. I’m a bit of a POV Nazi. I love POV shifts by chapter or by scene break, but if you shift POVs on me within a scene or — God forbid and call in the Marines — within a freakin’ paragraph, I will close your book and never pick it up again.

Drives. Me. Nuts.

I took an online workshop a year or so ago, and began shuddering as soon as the second lesson was posted. The instructor–a published author–said that in romance it’s important to shift back and forth between the hero and heroine’s POV within each scene so that the reader knows what both are thinking.

I know what I was thinking. I was thinking I wouldn’t be taking any more workshops from that particular person and had to refrain from challenging her to a public POV duel in the streets of Cyberville.

Head-hopping. Gah.

I started writing in first-person, and find it’s still the easiest way to get into a deep POV and stay there. But it has a lot of narrative limitations to work around. My current WIP is in third, with POV shifting among five characters. Admittedly, it’s a bit like a juggling act but so far it’s working, and the POV shifts occur either with chapter breaks or scene breaks and only when the story demands it. 

And sometimes, to make sure my POV is as deep as I can make it, I’ll write a scene in first person through that character’s eyes and then shift it to third person. It’s a good way to make sure your character’s distinctive voice is coming through. 

So, talk to me about POV. Does shifting point of view within a scene bother you? Have you found anyone who could pull it off well? Am I off base here–go ahead, you can say it. POV challenges you’ve faced? 

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

7 thoughts on “POV: Get That Head Hopping Outta Here

  1. I thing that changing the POV to much in the same paragraph can quickly lead to confusion about what is going on. If I have to keep going back over something to try and keep the different characters from blending together I would lose interest in the story real quick.
    So I would try and shift the POV as required to move the story forward but try to make sure it is clear who’s POV it is that has taken center stage.

  2. Ohhh. I agree. I can’t handle changes mid scene. Give me a chapter break (which is what I prefer) or at least a little thing of hash marks, minimally a space (I don’t like spaces, though….I’d rather have hash marks or something).


  3. Head Hopping is another one of those literary things that didn’t bother me before I knew what it was. Now it makes me crazy. I am all about the character driven story, and my favorite authors use deep POV. I just can’t get into a character’s mind if I’m only going to be there for a few lines. I like to read/write what my character thinks along with what they say, and I don’t know how you could do that without staying in their POV for the whole scene.

  4. Yay, converts!

    James, I think the biggest danger to head-hopping is confusing the readers as to whose POV they’re in.

    Lynn, I don’t mind the extra lines between sections as long as there’s an initial cap or some other typographical element to make sure I realize we’re changing gears.

    Teri Ann, I’m not sure if it bothered me before I knew what it was or not. I probably just didn’t like what I was reading but couldn’t articulate why!

  5. I HATE head hopping! I can’t stand it. The first time it happens, I can forgive the author. The second time, the book hits the wall.

    I love to write 1st person, but haven’t sold a story in that POV yet. Woman of Honor is told from one person’s POV, 3rd person. Knight of Glory and I’m now working on Champion of Valor, will also be 3rd person, but from several people’s POV, but I’ll only switch at a scene or chapter break, never within a scene.

  6. Well, I’m not doctrinaire about things like this. If there’ a good reason to break or twist a rule, I say proceed but with care. I’ve seen one or two examples where this was done in an extremely sly way, but there was a good reason and it was done deliberately and with consummate skill (the kind most of us don’t have).

    That said, shaky POV is usually the product of carelessness and an imprecisely imagined scene. It’s most apt to appear in early drafts where the author has not yet fully imagined the scene from the POV character’s standpoint. Such scenes almost always become more vivid when POV is stabilized.

    With respect to head hopping in romance, well, the need to give readers the contents of both characters’ heads in a romance scene strikes me as timid. Surely *not* knowing what is going on in the other’s head is part of the drama. When it comes time to know what is going on in the other’s head, that is when the writer puts for his or her awesome authorial power.

    Even so, I *do* split scenes, but only at a natural break and solely for ironic purposes. Scene 1 is fromcharacter A’s POV; he exits, thinking he has accomplished his objective. Scene 2 is from B’s POV, continuing the action of Scene 1 from A’s exit. In that scene we see that A has in every possible respect drawn the wrong conclusion. The key is that each scene has to be a distinct narrative unit.

    The other time I might bend this rule is in free indirect narration. As in first person, when something dramatic is related the narration becomes “hot”,by which I mean the reader has a lot of intense information to digest quickly. Sometimes I want to cool the narration by shading toward a bit more conventional third person narration. Technically that’s a POV shift, although it shouldn’t be noticeable by most people.