Stop the Head-hopping: Picking the Right POV for Your Story

 

by Amanda L. Webster

 

How do you know what point of view is right for your story? Honestly, the degree of intimacy your story requires is completely up to you. It comes down to artistic choice. Whatever POV you choose, the important thing is to keep it consistent to avoid confusing your readers.

Head-hopping is one of the many distractive elements of writing that can remind your reader that she is reading, thus pulling her out of the story. To avoid head-hopping, if you need to switch POVs, you should include some sort of visual indicator to tip readers off to the fact that a POV switch is about to take place. This could be as simple as providing a new header that includes the name of the POV character to let the reader know a POV switch is coming.

For example, when I wrote F-ing Freddy Fisher, I wanted to show how Freddy – a boy who is a bully to some and disliked by many – is viewed from the perspective of several different characters. I chose six different characters and used each of their points of view throughout the story to show what Freddy’s behavior looks like from the outside and how who he is can be colored by the perspective of the people who are viewing him. Only twice does the reader get to see inside Freddy’s head and learn what is really happening to him that makes him behave the way he does.

F-ing Freddy Fisher is written in first person, present tense. A reader could easily be confused and lose focus if I were to switch from one POV to another without some sort of visual marker to aid in the transition. Each time I switch to a different character’s POV in this story, I added a subheader with the POV character’s name to quickly transition the reader from one character’s head to the next.

Now that you know the basics of point of view in fiction writing, you’re ready to examine your current work in progress and decide what’s right for your story. If you’ve already started writing, what POV are you using and why? Is it consistent, or do you do a lot of head-hopping?

 

 

 

Amanda L. Webster is an author and editor who lives and works in Central Illinois, USA. She obtained her Master of Arts in English with a concentration in creative writing from Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Webster is the author of two YA novels, Valley of the Bees (2017) and F-ing Freddy Fisher (2017). When not writing and editing, she enjoys reading, hiking, camping, and spending time with her two sons and two cats.

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17 thoughts on “Stop the Head-hopping: Picking the Right POV for Your Story”

  1. I’ve been using asterisks to separate each POV for my characters. In my novel there’s two POV characters in the first chapter, and then more characters start coming in by the second and third chapters. I’m not sure if that needs to be changed, or if the pacing with the expanding views is okay. Your thoughts?

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    1. I’d guess it all depends on what you’re trying to say/why that character is POV. Keep in mind that the POV is a/the way for a reader to connect with that character. Depending on how fast you’re switching, it may slow or damper that connection.

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  2. There are so many different ideas out there regarding POV. I am constantly told that ideally, I should stick to one POV per chapter – even for the whole book! I mean I am incapable of that and to be honest – I don’t get it. Why not change POVs? So long as you make that transition clear – isn’t that the key? Clarity? To me, a book, a plot becomes so much more interesting when we get inside the characters’ heads, see things from different perspectives rather than sticking to one or two characters because we’re frightened readers won’t follow?

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  3. Head-hopping occurs when a writer enters more than one character’s mind in the same part or scene, which can jar the reader. Some authors can slip in and out deftly, but it takes practice. Every story is unique, though, and requires different elements. If an author feels head-hopping is necessary to enhance characterization, then breaking the rules is the author’s prerogative–as long as it’s done sparingly and carefully.

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  4. I usually cannot stand head-hopping. However, I just finished a book that is multiple head-hopping. “Forever Friends” by Amanda Kimberley ( https://www.amazon.com/Forever-Friends-Amanda-Kimberley-ebook/dp/B00K6Y4E5C/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 ). This isn’t a book for a skimmer (skims over passages in a book). I was surprised how much I enjoyed the multiple POV’s. Like I said, head-hopping, I usually despise & for the reasons you stated. It can get very confusing.

    How do you feel towards character flashbacks frequently throughout a story? Another thing that drives me crazy. When you can’t tell if it is present or the past that the characters are in!!!

    S.E.Isaac

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  5. I’m using third person, limited omniscient on a story completed last year and am now pitching. I want the reader to go through the story and be sympathetic to the protagonist’s perspective of the events.
    I’ve had request to send more pages.
    Not giving up!

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  6. In my WIP, I’m using third-@person, past tense, with POV of the heroine and her love interest. I originally only had the heroine, but something (i.e., the nagging author instinct) told me to do more research about POV for romance novels. Sure enough, the norm is to have both POVs. It was duly noted and I’m making adjustments.

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  7. Third person omniscient POV is extremely difficult to pull off. However, if you choose this one, when writing pretend you are sitting with a bunch of attentive listeners and you are the narrator. You know each of the character’s feelings and motivations. While showing their depth, you follow the plot line in interesting and effective ways. Are your listeners leaning forward in rapt attention? Then, it’s working!

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  8. It’s always good to learn as a writer. My older works in progress include quite a bit of head-hopping, but now when I finish one and work toward publishing it, I have to clean up those mistakes. At least whenever I write new stories, I don’t fall back on head-hopping anymore. I’ve read books from authors that somehow get away with it, but it can be quite confusing for the audience.

    I usually write in third person POV, but very rarely I use first person point-of-view. As for how many POVs per book or story, that usually depends on what’s happening in the tale. For romances, I often have equal parts from the hero and heroine’s perspectives. And this year, I published a historical romance/family saga which was told from twelve different POVs. The changes were clearly indicated, but it was necessary to tell the story accurately through multiple perspectives. In the past, I wrote a paranormal mystery story, and it was told from first person POV through the dead woman’s perspective, then switched to the killer’s POV for about two or three scenes. Choosing how many POVs to use just depends on the story’s plot, but head-hopping is a definite no-no in my book.

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  9. Quite useful info. I wrote a draft of one of my stories back in 2004. Last year when I reread it, I still liked it but struggled, nonetheless. When I finally changed the POV it all fell together very well. Lesson learned: When you’re struggling, and you know the material is good, but the rewrites are driving you crazy, try changing the POV,

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