Pick Your POV
By CP Bialois
“The most common mistake newbie writers make is to head hop.”
How many times have we heard this? A handful? A dozen? A hundred? Yet each time it’s preached like the writing gospel. I guess the best way to answer it is with another question: What is head hopping? Head hopping is having multiple POVs (Points of View) in the same paragraph. That’s it. It’s as simple as that.
Okay, okay, so, you’re wondering what’s my thinking behind this post, right? Well, in a nut shell… Third Person POV. That’s right. Today I figured I’d talk a little about a couple of the different POVs we use as writers.
Whenever we decide to sit down and write one of two things happen. Either we begin with our usual style or we take on the character of the story. I admit, I fall into the latter more times than not. It’s really cool when you feel you’re the conduit for the story to be told. If this happens, we often have no say in what POV is used. Sometimes it’s first person and sometimes it’s third. I haven’t had the urge to write in second so I don’t know whether to take that as a good or bad thing.
What if we fall into the first category? Is it a POV we’re comfortable using that comes naturally or is it one we learned?
For me, it’s Third Person Omniscient about 98% of the time. It’s more natural and easy to do. I look at it simply as this: We’re walking down a corridor painted in gray toward a large window which represents the overall scene. Along the way, there are other windows on either side of us that allow us to see and understand what else is happening within the scene like watching a movie or TV. We have the freedom to know what everyone is doing without any restrictions and allows us easier access to characters we may not have noticed or understood otherwise.
Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s because I’m one that prefers to look around at everything happening instead of focusing on a single point. I don’t know, but I do know it’s way more fun for me to read and write like that.
In Third Person Omniscient, the story is told through the narrator’s voice in a single POV so there are no breaks between each character focus within a scene. There are two types of this called Objective and Subjective. In Objective, we’re told the story through a passive means by not getting to into the characters’ emotions or thoughts by adding dialogue tags to their thoughts.
An example is: I’m going to get in trouble for this, thought Jake
By adding the dialogue tag we’re told what he’s thinking instead of experiencing it as part of him.
In Subjective, we’re a lot closer to the characters and their thoughts.
For example: Jake shook his head. I’m going to get in trouble for this.
In this style we’re shown what’s happening as if we’re a part of the character Jake. It allows us to become more involved with the character and those around him. Each shift in the narrator’s perspective is done by naming the character or having some kind of action involving their head in the first sentence. This also allows the POV to shift from one paragraph to another, which brings me to the opening quote.
Because of the intimate feeling Subjective gives us, many authors have taken to calling it head hopping and is said to be difficult to do. To be honest, the only time I’ve noticed anyone having a problem understanding it is if they’re used to (or insistent on) looking for a single character POV like in Third Person Limited (or Multiple Selective) where each POV is separated by a scene or chapter break.
In Third Person Limited, we’re shown the story through a particular character’s POV. We only see and know what they see and know is happening. In this style, the writer takes the reader by the hand and tells them who each POV is from and is possibly the origin of the different POV debate.
Using my previous description of walking down a gray hallway, we still see the window at the end of the hall, but there are no windows and maybe doors depending on if the author wants us to see something. It’s a great style to use with mysteries and other stories where you want to build the tension and suspense.
In Third Person Limited, each POV needs to be separated by a scene break of an empty gap, multiple asterisks (*****) or another design the author prefers, or a new chapter. Usually, if chapter breaks are used, the chapter title will be the character’s name.
Each shift can be as much as the entire book or story, or even a single line of dialogue if it is tied to a different character’s thoughts or actions the author feels is integral to the story.
Both are legitimate POV styles and each have their detractors, but I’m a firm believer in doing what feels right for you and your story. There is no right or wrong in which you prefer. The main issue is Third Person Omniscient isn’t popular right now, so Third Person Limited is touted as the “proper” way to do it by many.
Let’s go back to my opening quote again. I think it’s important to keep in mind that when someone begins writing, they imitate their favorite authors until they develop their own style. So if they’re using Third Person Omniscient or Third Person Limited, wouldn’t it behoove us to help them tighten their process instead of trying to force them into something we feel is the “correct” way?
Not everyone will agree and that’s fine. Opinions are what helps us learn. What are your thoughts? Do you prefer one over the other?