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Head Hopping
Bill Wetterman
Posted: Monday, January 2, 2012 2:51 PM
Joined: 11/20/2011
Posts: 4

Every writer's conference or seminar I attend teaches that you begin a scene and end it in a single POV. If you're going to change POV, you break # and continue in the head of someone else.

Yet, I've read some intriguing books by well-known authors who ignore this completely. My problem is they do it with skill and the reading is delightful. My question is: Are there any ironclad rules, or are the rules a guideline for beginners.
Alexandria Brim
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 1:33 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 350

I'm continually learning that there are no ironclad rules for writing, just people's preferences. I don't mind changing POVs within a chapter or a book as long as the story sticks to third person. I wasn't too fond of Gabaldon's opening chapters of "Dragonfly in Amber" because at one point we'd get one character's POV in third person and after the break, another's in first person. It was enough to make me put the book down and walk away for a bit.

But if it's how you think will tell the story best, go ahead and try it.
Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 1:05 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

any rule can be broken, if done WELL. It's really a matter of do it and see how it works out.

As for guidelines, I would say, do SOMETHING to make the change obvious. Dialogue tags, illuminated thoughts, something to make it clear you've changed pov, even if not a full break.

change the character, or the personage (first to third, for example), but not both at the same time.

Make the change last. If you change 3 times in one page, there better be a good reason, and you better only do it that fast a few times.

Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 2:10 PM
Joined: 12/1/2011
Posts: 35

I wanted to resurrect this topic because this is a chief complaint from the people who reviewed my work here in the past.  I experimented with "head hopping" mostly in one early chapter, mostly because 1) it fit well with what I was writing about and the events within each scene, and 2) I wanted the reader's perspective to shift within the different characters much the way a cinematographic scene can change PoV rapidly within a single conversation. 

I am old school in the sense that I was taught that a PoV shift meant a break in the action, whether it is a scene or chapter break.  However, as my writing has evolved I think that "head-hopping" (I really like that phrase) is perfectly acceptable within certain limitations. 

1) No matter the number of characters present, the PoV should only be split between 2 characters.  A half-dozen perspectives will get much too confusing. 

2) It should be a clear and explicit shift, fully moving the PoV from one to another.

3) It should not be rapid-fire shifting of PoVs.  If I go head-hopping, I try to limit it to once or twice within a single scene.  Too many shifts get way too complicated and it becomes easy to lose track of whose mind you are in.

4) Most importantly, it should serve a purpose.  Bouncing from perspective to perspective aimlessly will undoubtably discourage any reader and end to a lot of dust gathering on the tops of pages.

I would appreciate any feedback on this.  I think it is a valid point and something that a lot of people will find useful.
Rachel Russell
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 5:15 PM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 26

I actually can't provide any feedback on this because I'm interested to hear what others have to say on the subject as well, and was intending to necromance-mojo this topic as well to ask a question.

One of the reviews on my book (it was a helpful critique and I'm not complaining about it) suggested that in the first chapter of Elven Soul I split the scenes because of a shift in POV. The story is mostly told from my female protagonist's POV, but she left the room so to say, and I briefly shifted POV to the person she left behind to introduce a new character. Said new character ran after the female protag, and when he caught up to her it was back to her perspective.

My question is: Is a change of POV acceptable without a break in scene when you provide a clue-in as the one described?
GD Deckard
Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2012 9:22 PM

Bill Wetterman nailed it when he said some successful writers ignore conventional wisdom regarding POV. Perhaps good writing comes before the rules. Maybe rules are merely explanations, postmortems.

If I like what I have written more than I like a change suggested because of some rule, I will happily ignore the suggestion and the rule. I often have to apply the change first, and think about it, before I know. But I am writing a story, not painting by numbers.

Art must be different every time it is created. The rules will follow.

Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 1:46 PM
Joined: 12/1/2011
Posts: 35

Exactly GD.  I often find myself breaking rules, though often within the rules I set for myself to keep me from running wild throughout my prose.  Even the best artists must function within the limits they set for themselves, whether it is a color palatte, canvas size, medium, or a genre or style. 

And while I do listen to the suggestions of others, I do not always follow them.  If I send something to a publisher and they say to me that there is no choice but to change something, then I will make adjustments.  But I stand by my initial writing instincts until the end.  I want my stories to sound as I hear myself - occasionally rambling but coherent, reasonably intelligent, sometimes blunt and brash, but always with a hint of humor.  Making choices to bend the rules is a part of that.

@ Rachel - as you have likely noticed from this thread so far, I think it is up to you.  All I would say about it is to follow a guideline similar to what I posted above to keep things from getting away from you.  But feel confident in experimenting and adapting the PoV to give the impact you want. 

There is a similar, broader topic on this in the grammar & syntax area too, for any following along with this one.
Alexandria Brim
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 5:07 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 350

@Rachel: I still stand by my original statement that it's up to the author, but allow me to play Devil's Advocate for one moment. Is it possible that the brief POV change is unnecessary? Must you introduce the character at that point and not a little bit later when your female protagonist meets him?

Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 9:22 AM
Joined: 12/1/2011
Posts: 35

@Alexandria - that is the key issue with head-hopping, and should be included in my rule #4.  It should serve a purpose, and it should be the best way to accomplish something.  If there is another way to get the information across without "breaking the rules," then by all means do it.

I am not a fan of hearing the 2nd half of a conversation after the fact.  I like to know what both characters are thinking as the conversation happens "in real time."  Writers will often go back to a conversation later and have the other character (the one whose PoV we did not get in the original scene) ruminate on the conversation, and that is always with the filter of time and hindsight.  I want to know what they are thinking at the moment.  To me, that feels more genuine and gives better insight.  But in order to do that, you have to shift perspectives or have each line of dialogue be its own section, which would be brutal to read.

Really hoping some people pop in on this thread and give different perspectives on the issue (no pun intended).  There is such a wealth of intelligence, valid opinion, and wit here that I would love to hear some different voices chime in.

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