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Pick Your POV

November 24, 2014

By CP Bialois

CP Author Photo

“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?

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9 Comments
  1. November 24, 2014 9:21 am

    Reblogged this on The BiaLog.

  2. L. Dean Murphy permalink
    November 24, 2014 9:23 am

    Careful when picking your POV. It’s best to use a handkerchief. Some POVs are from sordid characters.☺

  3. November 25, 2014 8:04 am

    Reblogged this on Just a writer or a thought producer! and commented:
    I agree with letting each person develop their own style.

    • November 25, 2014 12:49 pm

      Thank you for the reblog. It’s always a pleasure seeing someone else share in a belief. 🙂

  4. November 25, 2014 4:26 pm

    I didn’t realize that scene breaks for multiple pov’s were an option. I was under the impression that omniscient meant you still had to put breaks in between pov’s so readers understood which character they were reading.

    If I’m being honest (and since you asked the question *grin*), I think an author would have to be an exceptionally seasoned writer to pull off omniscient pov without scene breaks. In my writer’s critique group, two people have done omniscient pov, and every one of us critiquers got extremely confused as to what was happening as we read. I don’t just mean simply confused as to the pov, but it actually caused us not to understand anything that was happening in the scenes. When they switched pov so easily from line to line, or paragraph to paragraph, it literally made us dizzy. It felt like a movie camera was spinning around a room trying to focus on everything at the same time from all different perspectives.

    Another thing to consider with omniscient is that even if I had the super power to read minds, I could literally go crazy reading everyone’s minds at once. I’d have to zero in on one at a time.

    I do enjoy reading lots of pov’s to get to know the insides of many different characters, but I need a chance to focus before switching. But, then again, what do I know? I just finished a novel with only two pov’s throughout, so it’s probably just this unseasoned writer who can’t pull it off. 😛

    • November 25, 2014 8:31 pm

      Thanks for replying. 🙂

      Unfortunately, using scene breaks and being labeled Omniscient is one of the methods used to get people to use them. Generally, the writer doesn’t go into every head, only the ones that move the scene and story forward. Doing it for every paragraph is a bit excessive and goes back to what I mentioned about helping writers to hone their craft instead of forcing a style on them.

      As you said, you were trained to expect a scene break as are many others. When one expects a break every time, it does become confusing when there aren’t any, and that goes back to those pushing the idea of “must have” scene breaks.

      If you think about it, Third Person Omniscient is like watching a movie. Each time a person speaks, naming them or having them do something with their head is the equivalent of the camera switching to them. How many of us use those keys (looking toward someone’s face) to put our focus on the individual speaking or doing something that interests us? It’s a visual key we accept as natural before being taught otherwise.

      Each of us have different ideas and ways of doing something. Not everyone will agree as something may work better for each of us. If we write a story with only one POV or several, Omniscient or Limited, it’s perfectly all right. It’s part of what makes our craft special and exciting that anyone can look at something and get a different feeling or thought process about how it can be done and what it means. 🙂

      • November 25, 2014 9:29 pm

        Yes, I understand and agree. I do think that a writer needs to be experienced before attempting omniscient though. The writers I’ve read do this don’t pull it off to where it’s clear and concise. But then again, that’s why we’re in a critique group, to help each other hone. Thanks Mr. CP (If that is your real name. Just kidding, I read your post about where you got the pseudonym).

  5. November 25, 2014 10:41 pm

    You’re welcome. You can never underestimate critique groups. Not only do they help, but they sometimes lead to some dang good arguments for future writing fodder. 🙂

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