I wanted to take a moment to express my opinion about point of view (POV) in novel writing. I see many beginning authors make the mistake of head hopping way too much.
I prefer to limit POV to one, two, or three characters and to dedicate chapters from their perspective. Some writers like to write from an omniscient POV (the fly on the wall). Movies are often this way and for that medium it works well. In writing, it can be dangerous territory if you don’t do it right.
Stephen King, for example, is a master at using omniscient view and has also been known to have ten or twenty POVs. However, the cardinal rule—that even he adheres to—is to keep the POV consistent throughout the chapter or, at a minimum, separate POVs within them with section breaks (asterisks, for example). At the very, very least you could change POV with paragraphs, but it’s not recommended.
Head hopping too much makes your writing come across as amateurish. A colleague of mine, and former literary agent, said switching POVs was the number one reason he rejected manuscripts.
You see, ANY break in narration and view interrupts the reader. You want to keep your story as seamless as possible so that your book flows well and your reader is engaged.
Here’s an example of too much head hoping. Can you spot them?
John looked out the window. Jillian was mowing the lawn and she wondered if it was worth fertilizing. She hated having to mow every weekend and the grass grew like weeds. John loved that his wife enjoyed yardwork–or so he thought. It allowed him to stay indoors and stick to his writing.
Jillian swatted a mosquito. “Son of a bitch.”
The mower lobbed a chunk of grass from a rise in the lawn, spit it out the chute, and it landed by the mulberry.
The next-door neighbor Bill, a working classman who kept his yard impeccable, winced at the way Jilian mowed. Her lines were out of place. She’d missed a few spots and grass stuck up like mini mohawks in some areas, and that chunk she cut off the lawn meant she had her blades too low.
Here’s an alternative of the same story but keeps perspective consistent—John watching it all from the office window. John can’t “know” what his wife is thinking, regardless of how close they are. He can’t interpret the next-door neighbor’s thoughts, but we can say how John feels.
As John typed his new thriller, the hack of the lawnmower coming to life broke him from his story and he gazed out the window.
Outside, his wife Jillian threw a lever on the mower’s handle and drove the machine through a layer of thick grass. She slapped the back of her neck as if something had bitten her and fussed with her ponytail.
John strummed his fingers on the edge of his laptop. “We should get some bug killer. ” He went back to his document and located the spot where he’d left off. “God, it’s nice to have a wife that enjoys yardwork.”
The mower cackled. John looked over the top of his computer to see a chunk of grass had been removed from a part of the lawn near the mullbery. “Oops. No one’s perfect.”
Bill, the next-door neighbor with the impeccable yard, put a hand on his hips and shook his head.
“Bill probably thinks we’re amateurs,” John said. “But, I don’t care.”
See the difference? Sticking to a POV also forces you to show and not tell the story—another common reason agents reject scripts.
Do you write in omniscient voice? What’s your view?
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