Friday, February 12, 2016

Four Tips For Understanding Point Of View And Head Hopping

This past weekend I was made aware that there are still younger writers, especially one's who probably don't have a degree in writing of any kind, that don't understand what point of view, or POV, and head hopping is. I thought I would touch on the subject again.

I know I've written about it a couple of times in this blog, but if I can reach a few more aspiring authors it's worth the effort. You can never be reminded too many times, in my opinion, what the creative writing skills are, and how to implement them in your writing.

POV is an important skill to understand, and one I stress more so than any of the others. Mainly because nothing drives me more crazy than to be reading a book and not know which character's head I'm in. The other issue I take away from this, is young readers are taught that this is okay reading - it isn't. Biggest reason why - when they decide to write later on, they won't implement the skill in their manuscripts.

I've noticed this more in middle grade, MG, and in young adult, YA, books. Not all writers in these genres do this, and I'm grateful to the author's that don't, but there are a lot that do. American authors tend to be a little more lax with the creative writing skills and need to realize the importance of educating our youth to the correct way to use creative writing skills. Not because other countries are better at this, but because it will bring us up a notch. I've heard, in the past, editors claim that there are no rules, but there are. And I would imagine that it makes it more difficult to edit a manuscript that is chocked full with creative writing mistakes. 

Now, onto what POV means and head hopping.

1. There is only one main character - First of all, even if you're writing a romance novel, there is only one main character, or protagonist. It's their story. I know you want to make it about both of the lovers in the tale, but it can only be one character's story. There are those who will argue this point, but when you're in the middle of a scene and you are jumping from one head to the other, it makes it hard to understand who is talking, or feeling. 

You can go into other character's heads, but should split it up with either a scene break or chapter break. This way the reader knows who is going through the act, and emotions at the time. There is one exception, but I will touch on that later on.

2. Point of View and what that means - The point of view, or POV, is who's head you are in. They are the only character, at the time, that you can touch on their feelings, senses, such as taste, hear, touch, that you can write about their experience in the scene. Or go "into their heads" such as internal thought.

Example : Kamm wished he could share the Mage’s conviction. “I pray your faith is not misplaced. Regardless, if necessary, I will fight. Age has not dulled my senses or skills. I remain a strong and capable Djen.” Before Esalon could reply, or disagree, Kamm laid a hand on his shoulder. “You should claim a seat before there are none.”
The Mage turned away and then back again. His brows wrinkled and the corners of his mouth twitched with words unspoken. A slight bow and he left to find a vacant space on one of the benches that filled the circular chamber.
Kamm watched his friend and confidant move through the throng. They parted as he passed, either in deference or from wariness of this master of herb lore and spells.

As you can see, this is in Kamm's head. I do not touch on what's in Esalon's head. I show the facial expressions to give you an idea of what the Mage is thinking, but I remain is Kamm's thoughts.

3. The different types of POV writing - There are, however, several types of POV choices a writer can decide to use as their premise.

  •      Omniscient
  •      First person
  •      Third person 

As I mentioned above, there is an exception to the rule of staying within one character's head per scene - Omniscient. Basically you, as the writer, play God. You are saying to the reader that you are the main character in a sense. You can control all the character's wants, needs and feelings. This, however, is not suggested writing. It takes a certain skill to be able to pull this off and not lose your readers in the process. I would not suggest you write this way. I, personally, do not like to read books like this. I want to know my main character, and that said character should not be the writer.

First person is much more intimate with your protagonist. This type of POV is seen through the eyes of the main character. It is truly "their" story. Pronouns, such as "I" or "me" are used, verses "he" or "she". The reader can only know what the main character knows. For me, I prefer third person because there is a lot more description with the story. This type of writing you only know what this protagonist sees, tastes, feels, ect...

Third person uses "he" or "she" verses "I" or "me". I choose to write in this POV because I have a lot more freedom to describe scenes, and details. I still have one main character, but I can go into the other character's heads as long as I split them up between a scene at least. But it is still my protagonist's story. This person has preference throughout the novel. If you decide to change to another character's head in the middle of a scene, this is what I call head hopping. 

4. Head hopping -  This is where you jumped from one character's thoughts to another in the middle of the scene. This is where confusion can set in for the reader. In my opinion, this is Omniscient and should not happen. You should only be able to be in the head of one character per scene. This is where the young writers of today get confused. When they read books that do this, they think this is the way to write - not so as far as I'm concerned.

I get the impression that the writer is lazy and doesn't want to write a new scene from the other character's head - example - a lover's scene. You should write the first scene from one of the character's thoughts and feelings. And then repeat the scene right after, as a new scene, in the second lover's head. 

When you do it this way, the reader will fully understand how each character feels and what they're experiencing. You do not have to completely copy the scene verbatim from the first character's POV, but enough so that the reader knows what is happening.

Just remember with each POV "shift" it can take the reader several pages to get into the head of the new POV character. This is why I do not recommend doing this. If you do this too often the reader can get weary and can't emotionally attach to any of the characters. Without that emotional attachment, there is no empathy, and a story that the reader will really care about. And what can happen? They set down your book. This is the last thing you want.

The writer controls the shape of the story she/he wants to tell. They lead the reader along with pacing, emotions, and perspective by their choices of POV. So try to stay within one character's head per scene. This will eliminate the head hopping and the loss of your reader.

I hope this helps those writers out there who really didn't understand what POV shifts and head hopping are. And I hope my tips and suggestions help you with your dream of writing a novel and your readers loving your story and characters.

I know when I first wrote Fable I did this. It was because I didn't know any better and with the help and instruction of my wonderful writing coach, Janet Roots, I learned the valuable lessons of creative writing. 

Did you, as a writer, go through this when you wrote your first rough draft, and did someone point this out to you? I hope someone did take the time to teach you the correct way to use POV. I'm sure your story was well worth the instruction to make it all the more better. 

Until next week, have a wonderful weekend! Happy Valentine's Day!!

Love, Lisa


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