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Shifting Gears: POV

Point of view usually isn’t a huge decision for me.  For 99% of my work, it’s third person with a rotating viewpoint per chapter or scene.  This serves my needs quite well most of the time.  I  wind up setting the scene in the head of the person it will impact the most.  But every once in a while, I come across a scene that’s BIG, one that has serious impact on both the hero and the heroine.  I’m there right now in my current WIP and facing the question of whether I want to do some exploration of third-person omniscient–aka head-hopping.

I’ve written about this before, talking about why I don’t do it and hitting some of the high points about why it’s often not a good idea.  Very often it’s seen as unprofessional or a sign that you don’t know the rules as a writer.  This would be because so many of the people who do it, do it very badly.  And then you have people like Nora or Marjorie M. Liu who do it quite well–generally to the point that I don’t notice that’s what they’re doing.  I am terrified of doing it very badly, which is why I’ve never deliberately chosen to use that POV.

I’m considering it now.

My current scene is the one where the hero and heroine meet and I am struggling with it because I want BOTH of their reactions and the way it’s currently written just isn’t working.  His point of view, which comes first, works fine.  I get all his reactions in, and I’m happy with it for a rough draft.  But hers–hers isn’t working at all.  When I mentioned to Pot that I was having trouble with this, she suggested (obviously enough) that I try writing it with both of them.  So I may.  I did not deliberately set out to head hop, but the story just may demand it.

I think that one of the reasons that so many people do it badly is that they try to incorporate too many perspectives and it just gets confusing.  Right now I just want 2.  Hero and heroine.  The only other viewpoint character in the book is the bad guy.  So maybe if I try the head hopping under those limited perspectives it might work.  It’s worth a try anyway, and hey, it’s a first draft.  If it doesn’t work, then I can always change it in revisions.

So what is your take on head-hopping?  Love it? Hate it?  Why?  Let us know in comments.

3 thoughts on “Shifting Gears: POV

  1. When head-hopping is done well, I don’t have a problem with it. If it’s not done well, it’s probably not the only problem.

    While it obviously works for some and doesn’t for others, I sort of have the bias that a good writer shouldn’t _need_ to head-hop. When you’re experiencing fiction on the screen, you’re rarely in anyone’s head. But you know what’s going on in the characters internally through the actors’ portrayals and what the director chooses to show and highlight of those performances. I think a good writer can use those same techniques to give more than one character’s experience in a scene without technically being in more than one head. (That’s complicated when you have a character who’s purposely hiding their reactions…)

    Sometimes getting into everyone’s head helps you get all those reactions and helps you see them better though your POV character’s eyes. If a scene is pushing you to write it with multiple POVs, why not write a draft that way? If you just can’t get a handle on how a character will react, why not spend some time writing the scene in their head, even if you have no intention of using their POV for the finished scene? I say just do it and see what you get, and then try to work that into the style with which you’re most comfortable.

  2. I think that you should write the scene twice – once for each character’s POV. Whether or not any of this makes the final draft, it is a good writing exercise and can provide unexpected insight and gains. Once you have both of their reactions down, it will be much easier to see how it can all fit together if you choose to combine. This will help you from stuttering over how to write the scene.

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