POV – Point of View – is a vital element of narrative fiction. The point of view character is the one who is telling the story. There are three basic points of view for narration – first person, second person, and third person. Each one has different pros and cons, and different degrees. For example, in third person (where he or she is telling the story), there can be a single narrator or multiple characters serving as narrators. The point of view can also be very surface-level, as if you were watching a movie, or much deeper and more similar to first person narration (where I tells the story).
What I’m going to cover, however, is a lot more basic, and is something that I often see new writers struggle with. Even more experienced writers might struggle with POV a bit during their first draft, as they’re figuring out what sort of narration they want for the story.
This is really the most important of all POV tips. As I just mentioned, both beginning and experienced writers might switch back and forth between first and third person throughout the course of a first draft. That’s fine for a first draft, because it’s a first draft. But in rewrites, in manuscripts submitted to an editor, and for heaven’s sake in manuscripts submitted for publication, the POV needs to be consistent. Nothing turns readers away like reading a supposedly finished book where the narrator, Sarah, starts the story with “I did this and that,” and then half way through it suddenly switches to “Sarah did this and that.”
This generally applies to third person writing. Head-hopping is when the reader gets to visit multiple character’s thoughts within the same scene, paragraph, or even sentence. Having multiple characters who are telling the story is fine (that’s usually the way I write), but let’s stick to one character at a time. It can be confusing when we’re in Jimmy’s head and he’s musing about Carol’s eyes, and then in the very next sentence we’re in Carol’s head and she’s musing about what to fix for dinner.
Head-hopping can work in some cases – in a comedic story, or in some romance genres – but it’s generally a good rule to stick to one POV character per scene. If you do chose to do some head-hopping, like in a romance, as I mentioned, then be consistent about it (as per point number one). If the book is told exclusively from Jimmy’s POV and Carol’s POV, and then in one scene – and one scene only – you hop into Rob’s head, the reader will wonder.
Do you have some POV pet peeves, or some narrative issues that you’re struggling with? Please share in the comments!