Good morning and Happy Thursday!
First of all, a brief explanation of the difference between POV switching and head hopping, although the two are similar. A POV switch is when you write a paragraph, or a few paragraphs, or half a scene, in one character’s head, then the remainder of the scene is in a different character’s head. (I’ve often seen writers switch back and forth from paragraph to paragraph, which is extremely jarring). Head hopping is when you are in a character’s head, and that character mysteriously knows the thoughts or feelings another character is experiencing.
As an editor, I’ve heard all the reasons why POV switches and head hopping should be acceptable. I’ve heard the argument that it is okay if it’s ‘done well.’ In my opinion, it’s seldom, if ever, done well. And, just in case you’re not doing it well, it’s best to avoid it altogether. I’ve also heard, “Nora Roberts does it.” True, but Nora Roberts can do pretty much whatever she wants, and she’ll still sell books. If you’re already successful, then you don’t need to take my advice. But, if you are an untried author attempting to publish, you’d probably be wise to heed my words.
Head hopping is jarring and oftentimes confusing. Just when a reader is starting to relate to a POV character, jerking them out of that character’s head and into another character’s can be a tad disconcerting. Confusion pulls readers out of the story, and they’re likely to stop reading. The last thing you want as an author is for a reader (or editor) to stop reading!
Some examples of how the POV rules are violated: (In each of these, we are in Mary’s Point of View)
Mary didn’t notice the man lurking in the alley. – If your POV character didn’t notice something, then it can’t be mentioned in her scene. We can only know what the POV character knows.
Mary was tired of the same old argument. Couldn’t they ever agree? John stared at her, trying to formulate his words. – Mary wouldn’t know he was trying to formulate words.
Mary’s face beamed with happiness when he said he loved her. – Mary can’t see her own face beam. She can feel the happiness, (Mary’s heart lifted with joy when he said he loved her)
This one is a little less obvious, but it’s still a no-no:
Mary’s blue eyes filled with tears. – Mary wouldn’t be thinking of the color of her own eyes.
Some people believe that, in a love scene, the thoughts of both characters should be revealed so readers can get a sense of how each of them feels. Not so. If you want a love scene from each of the character’s perspectives, let one of them have a scene, then do a scene break and ‘finish’ from the other character’s POV. Also, you can convey what another character is feeling without dipping into their thoughts:
Mary slowly undid the buttons on his shirt. He gasped when her fingers stroked his chest. His hand closed around hers. “If you keep touching me like that, I can’t be responsible for what happens.” – We know her touch affects him, that he wants to make love to her. We know, at this point, he has some control, but he’s on the brink of losing it.
Even if you feel you can smoothly switch POV’s in a scene, you would be better off not attempting to do so. Most editors prefer that you have control of POV, and pleasing an editor is the first step to publication. Hooking and holding onto readers is the second.
If you have trouble staying in one character’s head during a scene, try writing a draft in first person. This method will help you to know, feel, hear, see, and think only what your character knows, hears, sees, feels, and thinks.
Best of luck and happy writing!
Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. She writes suspense and paranormal romance and is a freelance editor, as well as an editor for The Wild Rose Press (as Ally Robertson). Find her at…Website: www.AliciaDean.com Twitter: @Alicia_Dean_ Facebook: Alicia Dean