Why POV (Point of View) Matters

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

14 thoughts on “Why POV (Point of View) Matters

  • Great advice! When I received my first rounds of edits for my debut story, I had a lot of POV issues as well as other issues. LOL But now I’m more POV aware. Though the occasional thing still slips through. My CPs are great at catching them though. 🙂

  • Good post. The deeper the writer goes into the thoughts of the character, the more the reader can identify with that character. Headhopping is jarring, making the reader unsure who to identify with–hence, reading superficially.

  • Well, and extremely well said. Keeping in one character’s POV for the scene allows the reader to connect with the character. If you head hop you lose the opportunity for the reader to deeply attach to that character. Great post!

  • Great post! And great advice! I was reading a book the other day, and within the first two pages, we were in the head of three or four different characters. I got frustrated just that quickly and put it aside.

  • Good post, Alicia. I think we all start out head hopping, not realizing we’re doing it until a CP or editor points it out. It seems so much easier for me now than it did in the beginning. And yes, I do see a lot of head hopping in the older works of popular authors. I don’t think it was so frowned upon years ago.

  • Super post. Wish I’d read it before I submitted my short story to you. In fact, wish I’d had this article in front of me before my novel came out … way back in 1996! This is a keeper, Alicia. Printing, hanging it over my desk. 🙂 And this blog is one I’ll come back to over and over again. I’ve read all the posts and learned so much. Thanks gang!

  • Yes, Callie. I’d hate to read my first novel. No telling how many POV switches I made. 🙂

    Thanks, Jess. I’m flattered. I’m so glad you found this blog helpful. Your Christmas short story only had a few minor instances of POV issues. I haven’t read the other…plan to very soon, but I’m sure it’s great. I love the plot!

  • Excellent advice, Alicia! POV mistakes or lack of control is my 2nd personal pet peeve as an editor. Lack of SHOW vs TELL is my 1st. There is so much that can be said and SHOWED if a writer will just take the time to use their words. 🙂

  • Such good examples, Alicia. I’ve been working on ‘deeper’ POV. I’m reading a lovely book right now, but a number of times when in the hero’s POV, the author describes him as huge and muscular. It’s disconcerting. Not enough to make me want to put it down, but yikes. I also recently finished a novel where there was an over use of proper nouns. When in the hero’s POV, for example, his mother was referred to by her first name and, frankly, so was he at times when he was the only one in the scene. So much to think about! Thank you for the great post,
    -R.T. Wolfe
    http://www.rtwolfe.com
    Black Creek Burning (Crimson Romance, 2012)

  • Absolutely true and so very helpful! It always mortifies me when a crit partner points out a “head hop” in my work. The good news is, with the aid of fantastic, knowledgeable advice like yours, the mistakes become easier to recognize and avoid.

  • Great post! I really liked the examples, too. You are so right about head hopping being “jarring.” As a reader, I like to be with one character for a while before getting into another one’s head. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Thanks, ladies. I appreciate the comments and so glad you agree. I’ve critiqued and edited for many of you, and I’m so happy you don’t want to argue if I suggest you fix a head hopping issue (Not that any of YOU do it, but it’s nice to know you would change it if you did )

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