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Friday, October 12, 2007

Head Hopping Around The Story

Every character an author creates is someone important to the story; however, their thoughts should not be needed for the story to meet its final page. One of the most common mistakes authors make in writing is switching point of views too often.

The purpose of a point of view is to allow the reader to connect to the character. This cannot happen if every few paragraphs the reader is plunged into another character’s point of view. Rather than connection, the reader often times only receives confusion.

A good rule of thumb is to write the entire scene, if possible, from one point of view. If the point of view must change, then it should only be changed once in the scene. The character who is impacted most by the scene should be the point of view the author chooses.

Sometimes an author doesn’t even know she’s writing in another point of view. It kind of sneaks in on the author and positions itself secretly in the corner where only the publisher the author submits to can see it:

Sam stood in the doorway. His eyes darkened with lust as he watched Alice typing away at her computer. She was finishing her novel. He shouldn’t interrupt her. But tonight was the fifteenth night in a row she’d remained in her office, filled with determination to finish the book, rather than coming to bed. He wanted her.

Did you see it? You can bet the publisher did. Look again.

Sam stood in the doorway. His eyes darkened with lust as he watched Alice typing away at her computer. She was finishing her novel. He shouldn’t interrupt her. But tonight was the fifteenth night in a row she’d remained in her office, filled with determination to finish the book, rather than coming to bed. He wanted her.

There it is! Sneaky little bugger.

Now, some still might not recognize this as a point of view switch. The explanation makes it clear however. If we are in Sam’s point of view, we see the world as he sees it, think his thoughts, and do as he does. Sam can’t see the lust in his own eyes…not unless he’s looking in the mirror – which would be a bit weird I think to be looking at one’s self with lust.

Now the author wonders, okay, but how do I change it and still let the reader know what I’m trying to get across. Authors are wordsmiths, their jobs are to use words to convey. There is never just one phrase for an author to use. This point of view error can be corrected easily:

Sam stood in the doorway. Lust filled him as he watched Alice typing away at her computer. She was finishing her novel. He shouldn’t interrupt her. But tonight was the fifteenth night in a row she’d remained in her office, filled with determination to finish the book, rather than coming to bed. He wanted her.

Ha! Fixed that one! Now what about that other one. Yes, there’s another one hidden in there. Look at it again.

Sam stood in the doorway. Lust filled him as he watched Alice typing away at her computer. She was finishing her novel. He shouldn’t interrupt her. But tonight was the fifteenth night in a row she’d remained in her office, filled with determination to finish the book, rather than coming to bed. He wanted her.

But she IS filled with determination, right? I’m sure she is but there is no way for Sam to know what she’s filled with, without her telling him, unless he’s a psychic. He only knows his own thoughts, his own feelings, and his own actions. Okay, so let’s correct that one now.

Sam stood in the doorway. Lust filled him as he watched Alice typing away at her computer. She was finishing her novel. She’d told him earlier in the week that she was determined to get the manuscript completed so she could send it to an agent. He shouldn’t interrupt her. But tonight was the fifteenth night in a row she’d remained in her office rather than coming to bed. He wanted her.

Now here is the same paragraph in another point of view.

Alice heard Sam step into the doorway behind her but continued typing. She was determined to finish this novel so she could start submitting to agents by the end of the month. But determination gave way to guilt when Sam did not move on to the bedroom. She’d neglected him for over two weeks and they’d only been married four. When she looked back over her shoulder at him, she saw the pleading lust in his eyes.

The scene is stronger in Alice’s point of view. Her point of view is more emotion driven while Sam’s is physical. Another scene might be better told in Sam’s point of view but the reader will fall into this scene better if it’s told from Alice’s point of view. The author should continue in Alice’s point of view all the way through the sex scene unless the chapter ends and the author is inclined to offer the love scene in the hero’s point of view. Again, it should be determined which point of view better serves the purpose behind the love scene – which character benefits more in becoming more developed for the reader in this love scene? That’s how to choose.

Many authors don’t like the idea of no head hopping. Nora Roberts does it. Yes, but Nora has earned her right to head hop and when she does it, she does it seamlessly. Until an author HAS mastered the art of head hopping without breaking the flow of the read, they can’t very well use Nora Roberts as a reference for their own work.

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