Evil twins: Point of View and Head Hopping

I will admit this in all sincerity: I am a head hopping addict. I should really join a treatment program to cure myself of this addiction. When I write in third person the thoughts of the hero and heroine flow on the page equally. I find I want the reader to know every single thing the characters are thinking while the scene is taking place. While this works really well in visual media, where your attention is diverted from one character to another through their dialogue, not so much in written fiction.

In the olden days, publishers of romantic fiction dictated  the story be told only in the heroine’s point of view (POV). Every emotion, thought, sensation and occurrence was from her vantage point. We never knew what the hero was thinking until the climax of the story when he divulged his never ending love for our girl. Flash forward to the not too distant past and this changed. Now readers WANT to know what the hero is thinking and feeling as he is falling in love with our girl and much of romance fiction today is written from these two POV’s. Some really fabulous authors even include the secondary character’s POV as well just to give you a full rounded storyline.

I usually write in the two person scenario, and this works for me. Where it starts to come apart and be disjointed is when  I shift from one person’s head to another within a scene. For instance, I am writing this from Dylan’s POV:

He wished she’d just go away and leave him be. He was more than content, wallowing in his grief, enjoying the bottle of whiskey he’d stolen from the bar. 

Daisy wished he turn around and tell her what was bothering him so much. She couldn’t stand not knowing what she had done to make him so miserable.

Two sentences – and truthfully, not very well written ones – and I’ve hopped from Dylan’s head into Daisy’s. If the next line is back into Dylan’s again, it gets very confusing for the reader. I know who is speaking, because I’m writing the words. But the reader is jarred from one POV to the other. In a film you can do this easily because you have a visual clue to who is talking. On the page, it is difficult to keep tabs on.

My first drafts are chock full of head hopping scenes. The next read through I try to correct as many as I can find, but some do bleed through, so on the third edit I will print out a hard copy of the work and then take a blue and a pink magic marker and in the margins I will color code what character the scene is supposed to be told in. Pink – you got it – for the heroine and blue for the hero. Trite and a little sexist, but it works for me. If I’ve shifted into the hero’s head when the scene is written primarily from the heroine’s, I rework the head hopping part and try to show it from her viewpoint if I can.

Even with these safeguards I still have POV shifts, so that’s why it’s good to have someone fresh read your work when you feel it is ready to be put out there. I can read a scene 5o times and love the way it sounds, never realizing that I have subtly shifted back and forth between POVs.

My new work is being told from a first person viewpoint – something I’ve never attempted before. I must say, so far it has been liberating because I only need to be in one head at any time and if I feel the need to sneak in someone else’s  thoughts, I know it immediately. It should be interesting to see how this pans out.

MM Pollard is an amazing editor/author/teacher who is known as The Queen of English. Visiting her site will help all writers craft their work better. I learned more from her in one on-line class that I did after four years of english in college.


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