I have a few favourite authors whose books I read regularly, and I recently bought the latest offering by one of them, excited to join the cast of characters once more and find out what they were up to as well as looking forward to having a break from all the writing I’ve been doing.
My book was delivered, I sat down with tea and biscuits and a sense of anticipation and started to read. Half a dozen pages later I put the book down, frustrated. There are quite a few characters who feature in these books, each with their own distinct personalities, but what I found frustrating was watching the point of view dance all over the page, to the point where I couldn’t read any further and had to put the book down. On one page alone I counted four POV changes within a single scene.
Despite my frustration, I found this interesting for several reasons:
- This is an author whose books I enjoy, who enjoys a fair degree of success, yet for the first time ever I had trouble reading their work
- I realised that the author’s style had influenced my own work, as several of my early Ambeth beta readers had called me out on the POV changing within a scene, rather than each character getting their own clear section (as it should be)
- I wonder if this means I’m improving as a writer, if I’m able to see this so clearly when I wasn’t before
So, I’m not going to try and explain the ins and outs of POV here – I’m no expert and Kristin Lamb, who knows far more about this than I do, wrote about it wonderfully well in her recent blog post:
I realise there is a POV called omnipotent, whereby the narrator can see into each character’s head, but the writing in this particular book felt to me like head hopping (I love that term), in that no one character remained in focus for long enough and the whole thing became very confusing. I am pressing on with it, as I love the characters, but I’m finding I can only read a short section at a time.
However, I’m wondering is there a wrong or a right way to approach POV in our writing? Surely the voice that comes to us is the one we have to write. Can we become so caught up in the rules that anyone who does something different is seen as being wrong? Is this sort of writing pushing the boundaries, some sort of anarchic statement, or is it just annoying because it’s difficult to read?
OK, so this blog post is shorter and possibly less legible than normal, but that, I believe, is because NaNo is eating my brain. I’m 36,000 words in plus am still blogging and a doing bit of work for clients, so it’s been a busy month, what with trying to keep the family clean and fed and to school on time as well. However, my NaNo novel is going really well, I love the character and, unusually for me, know exactly where the story is going and how to get there – I just have to write it.
Hi Helen, I agree with you, head hopping bugs me and I know I do it in my own work when I’m not careful. I’m not a big fan of an omniscient narrator. I like third person close where you can hear only one head but not in such alarming detail as first person. I think using omniscient and first person require such subtle skill. I think if you’re noticing these things you are definitely improving as a writer and overall master of language and form, after all writing and reading go hand in hand. Glad camp nano is going so well for you!
Hi Sophie, thanks for your comment – camp nano is going well, touch wood – are you doing it as well?
And yes, the head hopping! I didn’t even realise it was a thing when I started writing, so that’s one of the many benefits of beta readers, that they can pull you up on it before you send your work out. My NaNo book is all first person, thank goodness, though that has its own difficulties as I’m discovering 🙂 Hope your writing is going well xx
I liked your post…I had to write a lot of words before I fell onto the POV I’m most comfortable with. I envy people who can head hop between characters with ease. I wrote my entire first novel draft in close third POV and then I changed it tall to first person POV…no matter how I try to differ I always find I fall back into first person present – maybe it’s because I keep a journal and that’s the way I see the world unfolding.
I wanted to take the opportunity to say how much I enjoy your blog posts. Reading your words and thoughts is like slipping on comfy socks and sipping tea by the fire with a wise old friend.
Wow, that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about my writing – thank you so much 🙂
I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog – I really enjoy writing it and am finding it interesting the way topics seem to present themselves. I struggle with POV as well – my Ambeth Series is third person with several characters getting their turn to tell the story, and I really had to watch myself so I wasn’t head hopping. My NaNo novel, however, is all first person, so this time I have to watch that I’m only describing what she can see. Ha, this writing game is tough, isn’t it? Anyway, thank you so much again xx
Thanks for drawing attention to this subject. I also followed your link to Kristen Lamb which was both interesting and confusing. If you write in third person, does that mean that you are watching how a character proceeds or can you see his thoughts too?
Hi Barbara, thanks for your comment. I must say I do find the whole thing tricky, and, as I say, I’m certainly no expert. My Ambeth books are written in third person with several different characters getting to tell the story and, each time I switch character I do write about their thoughts, because it’s them telling this section of the story so it makes sense to me that the reader would know what they are thinking. However each one has a clear section break between them, no headhopping! I don’t know if that helps, would love to hear if anyone else has something to add. I personally can’t imagine telling a story without letting the reader into the character’s mind, I suppose it’s the choice of which character’s head you get into that is the key – who would tell the story best? That’s something I’ve been working out as I write the books.:-)