Who said that? POV and Head Hopping in fiction

My friends who are just beginning this writing journey must be very confused about some of the things we authors say.  “I think the POV is a little off in this scene.” “Oh no! Now I’m head hopping.” What????

Yes, we tend to get caught up in catch phrases at times. But the concepts are simple-and very important to how our stories will be received by our readers.

POV- Point of view- means the perspective from which the story is told. Each character in a good story has a different outlook about what is happening. Their own past experiences and expectations come into play. Besides, the way the story is unfolding has a lot to do with  what they know about what is happening, and how they learn those details. Each person involved sees, hears and experiences different parts of the event in different ways. Point of View varies according to who is telling the story.

In many old manuscripts, a real narrator is used. This is called “omniscient” Point of View.  You, as the reader, are privy to everything that is going on. You can see and hear and experience all of what is happening at once.

First Person  means that the narrator-the main character- is only telling us her side of the story. Most sentences begin with “I”,   because she can only tell us what she did, what she heard, what she felt about what was happening.

Third Person point of view takes the “I” out and refers to the main character as “she” or by name. We still get only one viewpoint, but it’s as if we are watching the story unfold. A popular variation on this Third Person point of view takes us deeper. We really get inside our heroine’s head, and she may have some internal thoughts that bleed over to First person. Most often, the writer uses italics to make this clear.  Many stories switch from one Third Person point of view to another, in order to fill in some blanks, and experience the “other side” of an event.

Head hopping? No, I am not talking about flying body parts here (another catch phrase, sorry). Head hopping is when we are safely hearing the story from inside one person’s head, and suddenly, another view point intrudes. It’s like hearing a voice coming from somewhere that we can’t identify. These “who said that?” moments take the reader out of the story, causing them to stop and re-read, or maybe just giving up all together. Not what we want as writers!

Okay- to illustrate this- to “Show and not Tell”- let’s have an example. Here’s the same short scene told with different types of point of view.

Example One:

“Inside a rustic pavilion in one of Arkansas’ premiere State Parks, four generations of a family gathered for their annual reunion. Happy chatter erupted and echoed from the log walls. As each group arrived with their hands full of covered dishes and ice chests, they were shown the best place to deposit those items.” – POV??? Omniscient

Example Two:

“I pushed up the window covering, bracing it to keep it from falling back down. There were lots of my husband’s relatives here. That was a good thing, they always had a good time together.”  POV??? First person

Example Three:

“Jenny stood next to the long serving bar, rearranging to make room for the third bowl of potato salad. She smiled at her husband, who was standing nearer the door, glancing out toward the parking lot.”  POV??? Third person

Example Four:

“It was a little hard for Jenny to keep her mind focused. She should feel happy at the turn-out for this reunion. But she couldn’t help noticing that their own branch of the family tree stopped abruptly. None of the next generation had been able to fit this gathering into their schedules. Heavenly Father, help me to enjoy this day without feeling sorry for myself. 

Chris noticed that his mom’s back was turned, and prompted little Austin forward.

‘Aaahh!!!’ Jenny took a side-step to keep from falling over the smiling munchkin standing so close by here side. They did make it! Thank you Lord.”   POV??? Deep Third Person with an intrusive bit of Head Hopping. Did you catch it?

So, POV is not so hard to understand after all. It is just a tool to help us get those stories told. Each genre- type of story- has varying norms for the point of view that is used. It’s all about what your reader expects, and what makes them want to keep reading. Because, as a writer- that is definitely what we want!!

2 thoughts on “Who said that? POV and Head Hopping in fiction”

  1. Great post, Jenny! You explained the differences in one post what others write entire BOOKS about – and, personally, I’d much rather have it in a concise form! Sometimes “head-hopping” is easy to fall into when you’re writing intensely, trying to get your story on paper – that’s where good editing comes in! Thanks!

  2. Jenny, POV is something I never even thought about until I wanted to be a writer. Most books I read growing up had omniscient narrators, so when I decided to write, I had to really think of what I wanted my voice to be. So far, I’ve written one novel in third person, and working on a second in first person. Not really sure which I prefer, because each seems to suite the story I was/am telling.

Comments are closed.