Friday, September 5, 2008

Point of View - Head Hopping By Morgan Mandel

Point of View - What is it?

It's the perspective from which a story is told. When writing a novel, an author must decide who is telling the story. Based on that decision, the author will write in either first, second or third person.

FIRST PERSON - Using "I" throughout the manuscript.
SECOND PERSON - Where "You" is the descriptive.
THIRD PERSON - When He or She is used to describe the main character.

Once you've decided which person you'd prefer to use, you'll need to clearly define what the person sees, feels and experiences. When that character takes the stage, everything should be from that character's point of view. He or she cannot see or hear or know about anything outside his or her realm.

Example: A character can't see what's happening in another room with some other character without actually being in that room.

The author should make it obvious to the reader whose point of view is being used in each instance or confusion and/or irritation will result. Switching back and forth is called Head Hopping and a sign of a novice writer.

Skillful writers can travel from one to another character's viewpoint in the same paragraph, but the general rule is to keep in one point of view for each scene or even an entire chapter. When a switch is made, it should blend in with transitions and not be abrupt.

The exception for employing various points of view is the choice of using omniscent point of view, where the author is almost like another character looking down at the main characters and describing everything that happens to each person. Very skilled or very popular writers can pull this off, but it's not the general path to follow.

Following the tried and true rules will show publishers and readers that you understand the basic concepts of writing, so remember to follow them when considering point of view in your manuscript.

Morgan Mandel


  1. I just read the Garden Trilogy by Nora Roberts, and she uses head-hopping as an applied technique. It was particularly effective in Red Lily. The main character is periodically "possessed" by a ghost. Roberts' character will be saying/thinking something in the present, and gradually segue into ghost thought and language. It was most uncomfortable for the reader, and of course, communicated very clearly the discomfort of the protagonist and other characters watching the character changes and the possession. It was truly weird!


  2. I've read works where within one paragraph the reader is transported from one head into another character's head. Very disconcerting. I prefer one point of view at a time. I don't mind being in two or more POVs over the course of a book, but want to know that I've switched viewpoints.

  3. And one of the greatest issues I face as a writer. I'm a first person narrative type of gal, but some of the stuff I'm having to write these days doesn't work with the first person POV... So...I'm gonna be reading ALL these posts on POV and taking the advice to heart!

  4. Morgan -

    Thanks for your insight! Writers can never hear this too much. I've found this a problem in several self-published novels sent to review recently. It is very distracting and does not contribute to the story. I will read the Garden Trilogy (Thanks to hotbutton press for that tidbit!) to see how Roberts handles it. Of course, I think she can get by with just about anything at this point. =0)

    Thanks again! I look forward to your next work.

    Angela Wilson

  5. I've been trained so well by my fabulous writers' group, that head hopping drives me crazy!

  6. I'm not a romance novel fan, but I have to begrudgingly admit that Nora Roberts weaves a pretty fine tale. I've read six of her novels... what's the count now - 150? She's good at mystery, which is my personal favorite.

  7. Thanks for all the comments. I love hearing people's reactions to my posts.

    After all I said today about POV, I have to confess once in a while I do fudge. When I can't find any other way to give a description, I may slip in a change in POV but it's only in desperation when I can't think of any other way of getting the info across.

    Otherwise, I'm extremely careful to stick to the tried and true.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. I think a good way to get out of a writing rut is to write in second person. It's such an odd perspective, sometimes you can really move the plot along looking at things from... well, another point of view. ;)

  9. I just came across this posting (searching for info and samples of POV for a 6th grade class where I do virtual classroom visits) today - February 24, 2010 - a little late I guess. I will use some of this in the presentation. Still looking for some samples of POV - and what not to do with POV (such as headhopping, et cetera) - lol - thanks for this, E :)


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