EDITING 101: 26 – POV Head Hopping…

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

POV Head Hopping

Point of view (POV) issues are something I run across frequently when editing. It’s a subtle part of writing that sometimes escapes newer writers, and can even be tricky for experienced writers.

When deciding to write a novel or fictional piece, an author has to decide what point of view they’re going to write in. Many writers choose third person past tense. An example of this is (not great writing, just an example!):

  • Mary was scared. She walked through the dark forest, looking for Samuel. Nighttime had come early and she wasn’t prepared for being there so late in the day. Accidentally, she tripped over a tree root. “Samuel!” she called.

This is written in past tense, as you can see, and is in third person. You can identify the person by the pronouns used. First person would use “I,” second person uses “you,” and third person uses “he/she.”

Point of view issues come into play when there is more than one character on the scene. Ideally, each scene should stay in one person’s point of view and there shouldn’t be too many POV changes in each chapter. For instance, in this next section, we have Mary and Samuel in the same scene:

  • Mary was grateful she had found Samuel. He huddled against the cave wall, waiting for her to start the fire to warm them both. She grabbed some sticks and leaves, shoving them together and then searching her backpack for the matches.

This scene contains two people but the point of view remains in Mary’s point of view, which is correct. Head hopping, which is a problem, occurs when some of the scene is in one person’s POV and some of the scene is in the other person’s POV without there being a scene change. An example of head hopping is found below:

  • Mary was grateful she had found Samuel. He huddled against the cave wall, waiting for her to start the fire to warm them both. I’m so cold, he thought. She grabbed some sticks and leaves, shoving them together. Samuel knew she would be searching her backpack soon for the matches.

The part where Samuel is thinking is in his POV. Mary can’t know what he is thinking, so it’s not in her point of view. The sentences that starts with “Samuel knew…” is also in Samuel’s POV. Some key words to watch out for in terms of POV are:

  • Thought

  • Noticed

  • Felt

  • Realized

  • Knew

  • Believed

These words can only be acted on in one POV. When using them, be careful that you’re staying in the POV you intend to be in. If you decide to change POV at the end of a scene rather than the end of a chapter, authors use symbols such as * * * or # # #. The pound/hashtag marks have meaning in the publishing world and it might be best to avoid their use. I’ve seen authors use three periods or extra spacing, but those can be hard to see and are not as strong a visual clue as a marker of some sort.

The information I’ve described is based on third person limited point of view. It’s called limited because it is restricted to what each character knows at any given time. There is also such a thing as third person omniscient, where the narrator knows everything and can tell the reader everything that is going on regardless of character. It is not used frequently in modern writing and was used more in the past. There is also a newer phenomenon called deep POV. If you’d like to try these, research them!

Next week we’ll discuss ‘Semicolons’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE

NOTE:

This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.

I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.

If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.

Susan

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34 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 26 – POV Head Hopping…

  1. I’d never heard of head-hopping until I got my first manuscript back and my editor pointed it out to me. I’ve been trying to get to grips with it since then, but this post has really helped me understand it a lot more, Susan. Certainly, the bit about not changing POV too much in a chapter is something I never thought about. Is there a point at which you should defiantly stop changing the POV in a chapter?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you found it useful, Hugh! Generally, you should stay in one POV as long as possible before switching. Sometimes that’s a whole chapter, but sometimes it may only be a couple of paragraphs. Occasionally it might only be a one-paragraph quick switch if it’s really necessary.

      The times to be watchful for head hopping seem to be climactic scenes or fight scenes. Many authors want to show everything from several characters’ POVs at the same time. But you can’t do it. You can write out the scene separately from each POV character’s perspective to see which one really has the information required for the story. You can always keep the other POVs to share with fans later!

      As the Blog Turns: On tomorrow’s post, find out exactly what Luke was doing while Han and Leia were in the cockpit almost kissing. Was he combing the snarls out of Chewie’s fur or polishing C3P0’s chrome? Stay tuned!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A question, Susan: Instead of using asterisks, have you seen different points of view placed in separate paragraphs? As I was reading your example above, my reader’s eye wanted to see them in their own paragraph.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As I said to Robert in a comment below, anything is possible if you do it well. No, I have not seen different POVs in different paragraphs, but I have seen other editors discussing the phenomenon in private editing groups. Their comments indicate that those, at least, were not done well. I think someone mentioned it reading like a ping-pong game… :/

      Do you know of any books that did this and were successful, Tina? 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Not off hand, Susan. But I have a sneaking suspicion I might have done it once or twice in my latest novel. I just can’t remember! I want to chalk that up to an aging brain, but I know it’s not true. If I did do it, I wouldn’t have ping-ponged, because that annoys the crap out of me. I’ll let you know if I find an example when I finally read the actual book 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • I was thinking of this issue when I commented to Hugh, above. Yes, I have seen POV switches by paragraph, especially in fight scenes. In my opinion, though, such switching back and forth is not necessary and is distracting. It comes from authors wanting to show EVERYTHING that’s going on, and it just isn’t feasible. I can see one switch—if it were truly crucial—to another character’s POV for one paragraph, but not several times (or more).

          Liked by 2 people

  3. It is so easy to make this mistake! I’ve caught myself doing this on a few occasions. This goes to show how important self-editing is so vital. Then, of course, professional editing. No author will be able to catch all of their errors. Even Stephen King will tell you this! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree! I once was ordering a bunch of rack cards from VistaPrint. I couldn’t print out the draft or save it as a PDF to ask someone else to review it, so I stared at it for, like, half an hour before hitting Ok.

      My 250 (500? Don’t remember) rack cards all said, “PalPal accepted.”

      Sigh. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I had someone review my book and he criticize it because he found a couple of typos. So I reviewed his book and found the POV kept changing. I found it annoying and distracting even when it otherwise was a good book.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. IMO, strict construction of POV lessons kind of depend on goals. Are you writing to fit into a likely tried and true cookie-cutter model, or to establish precedence avant guarde? Here’s what I’m now pitching to reviewers of Rarity from the Hollow: This novel is written in third person omniscient narrator. “…The author has created a new narrative format, something I’ve never seen before, with a standard third-person narration, interspersed, lightly, with first-person asides. This makes me think of Eugene O’Neill’s play Strange Interlude where internal and external dialogue are blended…partaking a little of the whimsical and nonsensical humor of Roger Zelazny or even Ron Goulart….” Jefferson Swycaffer, Affiliate, Fantasy Fan Federation. https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R1QI8J7NME5GE/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B017REIA44 Some of the inner thoughts of characters are in italics following the speaker’s voice. For some busy book reviewers, this style could feel like it slows down the read and could result in head hopping if an attempt is made to read this novel too quickly, but for leisurely readers with time to contemplate it is a good fit. “…If it does not make you think, you are not really reading it….” http://www.onmykindle.net/2015/11/rarity-from-hollow.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you can pull it off well and don’t leave readers confused or experiencing jarring changes, go for it! 😀

      The “rules” of writing are there as guidelines for new writers to learn how to write properly and well. Once you have them under your belt—as in any profession/career/talent—you can experiment with different things. A professional ice skater cannot create a new kind of jump without first mastering a basic Waltz or Salchow jump, in addition to all the more difficult jumps that follow.

      New does not always equal bad. I hope your book takes off! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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