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:
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’
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.