Writing Rules #4 – POV & Head-Hopping

I’ve learned that a novel can be written in a number of Point of Views: 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.

First person is a popular form because it allows the author to write from a person’s perspective and revealing the character’s thoughts and feeling:

I’m happy that no one saw me stumble on the sidewalk like a dork.

Second person is not used very much in novels. But it is used quite a bit in video games, like when the gamer holds the gun or drives the car. The hands on screen are implied to be your hands. That last sentence was written in second person POV too, because I referred to “you.” This is also a popular POV for self-help books:

Set your alarm and get up a half-hour earlier everyday to get your emails done.

Third person is a very popular type of viewpoint for novels also. The writer is able to describe what each character in the novel is doing:

Bob stayed up late that night and wrote his novel.

The novel is written from the point of view of an passive third person who isn’t involved in the story; “a fly on the wall.”

Now, here’s the rule that I learned: Don’t switch POVs in scenes, and preferably not even in chapters.

A special type of POV switch is called ‘Head-Hopping’. That’s when a writer jumps from the viewpoint and thoughts of characters within a single scene:

I hope that pretty girl didn’t see me trip on the sidewalk, like a dork, thought Bob. The pretty girl looked him up and down and thought, “What a dork.”

That is a definite No-No.

But, what if a writer really feels the need to get into two character’s heads in a single chapter or scene? I’ve seen examples of this. The author puts a single blank space between two scenes to demonstrate a shift in perspective:

Bob was feeling great. The sun was hot, the sidewalk was smooth– Bob tripped on the sidewalk. He quickly looked around. Good no one saw it, he thought.

The pretty girl walked behind the bald man in the suit. She tried to suppress a laugh when the dork in front of her tripped. Hopefully he didn’t hear her mocking laughter.

Another point about this is that Third Person POV has two perspectives: Limited and Omniscient.
I’ll detail this in another post. But it is really important to understand it because the Third Person Limited is the POV that can get writers into trouble because it seems to be a cross between Third Person and First Person.

For a complete description of this and the head-hopping issue, I recommend that you check out this very helpful blog post at Indies Unlimited.

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