Feeling a bit schizophrenic?



Couldn't help it, I love this song.

Let's talk about head hopping!

First a reminder of POV. Back in my Belated Blogger Birthday post, I touched on this topic.

Your POV is the method you tell your story. Are you the narrator following one character intimately? Are you the Main Character, telling your story? Are you some omniscient being, relaying every detail of the events unfolding?

Once you know who you are, in relation to your story, you can begin to tell it. Picking your POV means committing to one method of storytelling. I'm just going to stick with the two main POV's for now.

In first person, you are telling the story with you speaking for the main character.

I did this. I saw that. etc...

The reader should only see and hear what the MC see's and hears. Just like in real life, you cannot pretend to know the inner thoughts and motivations of the people around you. The same applies to your character. You cannot assume anything about other people, unless your MC is psychic. LoL.

Example 1

George burned with desire for me.

The MC can't know for sure that George is burning with desire. She may be herself, but unless she can read his mind, she can't be sure.

Example 2
George pulled me into his arms. His hot breath blew across my ear as he spoke, "I need you."

Here, you, the MC tell us, through George's actions and words, that he does, in fact want you.


In limited 3rd, the narrator tells the story, following only one character at a time. The narrator can only intimately know that one character they are following. They can delve into that one characters mind to tell us their internal thoughts and motivations, but not any of the secondary characters.

Example 3
George pulled Madeline into his arms, enjoying the feel of her soft body against against his own. "I need you," he whispered in her ear. Madeline sighed with contentment as she wrapped her arms around his waist.

Here, there is a minor POV change from George to Madeline. If the Narrator is in Georges head, they cannot know for sure that Madeline is content. A sigh could mean anything.

Example 4
George pulled Madeline into his arms, enjoying the the feel of her soft body against his own. "I need you," he whispered in her ear. Madeline responded with a sigh and wrapped her arms around his waist.


Ok, now on to the schizo part. POV Shifts or Head Hopping.

It's tempting, when stuck with one character, to hop over, into another characters head and give us their perspective. Writers beware here, though it is tempting, it should be avoided or at least done with some caution.

Hopping in and out of various characters heads tend to stand out to readers.

This mainly applies to the two points above. 1st and 3rd limited.

The general rule of thumb, is to pick only one character's head to be in per scene.

Now, I say, per scene because it is acceptable to swap to another character at a scene break.

However, if you really feel you need to show more than one characters thoughts and feelings in a particular scene, (if it is long enough to do this) you need to pick specific spots to swap. Figure out what characters inner thoughts and feelings are most important, for the part of the scene you are in, and stick with that character for at least 1k or so words. The larger the gap between POV changes, the more willing readers are to accept it.

Otherwise you end up with a bit of a jumble of who is doing and thinking what. In other words, your reader becomes a little schizo hopping in and out of your characters heads. =p

Example.
Connor stood up and stalked out of the shadow, trying to look large and imposing as he allowed the light to reveal him to this strange woman.
Daphne’s eyes widened as he came out of the shadow. He was a sight to behold. Unlike the other vampires he did not stick to the traditional long flowing hair. She felt a shiver of fear dancing up her spine, mingling with an odd urge to reach out and touch him, to see if he was real.
Connor took a step closer to her. “It is not smart to provoke a vampire,” he said a menacing edge to his voice. The corner of his mouth rose in a smile giving away the amusement he felt watching her tremble before him.

Do you see the ping pong match going on here? Who's head am in? You can't tell because I am constantly swapping back and forth. In my effort to give you a complete picture, I have you bouncing around too much. This is a prime example of head hopping.

To fix this, I have to decide, who's perspective is more important here? Is it Daphne, seeing a vampire for the first time? Or, Is it Connor, enjoying the ability to scare the living daylights out of this frightened woman? Once that's decided and I commit to a POV the story can move forward.



Now once you have decided what you are doing and who's head you are in, you need to mark the shifts. Each POV shift should be clearly marked with either a noticeable gap in paragraphs, or a symbol like this, # in between paragraphs. Not 100% clear on the rule maybe ### or *** are more acceptable. Many submission guidelines will tell you what format they expect. Always check your formatting before you submit your work.

Comments

This is great advice, Katie! POV is so important and it's easy to mix worlds without realizing it.

Have a great weekend!
Deb@RGRamblings said…
Great advice! I use three *'s to seperate scenes or POV shifts but like you said, it's always good to know the individual submissions guidelines.
Bad POV hopping drives me absolutely nuts. (A certain best seller does this, and imho, uses it to show all the wrong information - stuff that eases the tension rather than raises it, for instance.)

On the other hand, I've seen hard-boiled writers use a kind of detatched omniscient which roves freely in and out of the character's heads to great effect. Stuart Kaminsky in his police procedurals does a great job, especially in the Leiberman series. He tends to do it more in the introductory parts of the scene, though, than in the more developed scenes. In those introductory scenes, we feel like we're in the head of an all-knowing reporter - which is why it has that detatched feeling, I guess.

I wish I could do that well.
Susan R. Mills said…
Head hopping in books drives me crazy. You have some great tips here.
Jessica said…
Good post Katie! I never even noticed head hopping in my favorite authors until I became a writer. LOL This is excellent info and great examples! Thanks. :-)
L.T. Elliot said…
I won't lie, Head Hopping is one of the biggest reasons I put down a book. I hate not knowing which head I'm in or being overwhelmed by multiple feelings. Excellent post with great examples!
Secretia said…
Katie, it's obvious that you know your stuff.

Secretia
Cammie said…
I have yet to attempt a POV swap within a single chapter (currently, I rotate three different 3rd-pers.-ltd POVs between my chapters). But whenever I read fluidly changing POVs within a short segment, I am always so impressed ("Confederacy of Dunces" comes to mind.) Maybe I'll try this someday ... once I work through all the other literary challenges out there!