Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Where I Stand, or Head Hopping


One of the earliest lessons I learned in writing fiction is to pay careful attention to POV: that important position from which a story is told. Stick closely to the Point-Of-View you've chosen; don't switch nilly-willy from third to first and definitely do not jump from head to head. It confuses the reader, who wants to identify with the person who's telling the story.

It's true that head jumping is disorienting, and I get irritable when an author tells me things that the POV person shouldn't know, and it seems like a lazy thing to do.

But when can rules be broken? When did Picasso start deviating from drawing people as they looked to the rest of the world, and deciding that things seen from multiple perspectives are more interesting? Perhaps after he's mastered the basic "rules" of his art form?


Roxana Robinson has a masterful grasp of language (although it's pompous for me to pronouce that; like a violin student telling Joshua Bell he has a masterful grasp of his art form.) In her book, Cost, she shifts POV frequently. In chapter four, for example, we see the scene from the viewpoints of Edward; his wife, Katherine; their daughter, Julia; and Julia's grown son, Steven. The transitions were smooth; I never had any doubt whose head I was in; and no hint of irribility is detected anywhere within my reader/writer brain.

Rules are meant to be broken: when the rule breaker has mastered the rule and can break the rule without violating the idea/spirit behind said rule.

Agree? Not? Vehemently?

Tomorrow I'll ask some follow-up questions, such as:
What rules do you find you violate, but with justification?

10 comments:

Corey Schwartz said...

Head hopping can be done very effectively. The Help is told from three points of view, but it's easy to follow because it is broken down by chapter.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I LOVE your choice of the Picasso picture for POV. You got me smiling. I think distinctive voice is most important if you are in multiple POV.
Lady Glamis at the Literary Lab has an interesting post up today on POV, too. Must be on our minds. Ha!

MeganRebekah said...

Lucky for me, I'm writing in 1st POV, which helps with the head hopping. I just have to be careful not observe or mention things that she can't see.
Like - A dark red blush stained my cheeks.

No one she can see what color her blush is, unless she's staring in a mirror.

MG Higgins said...

I absolutely agree that POV shifting has to be done carefully and expertly. I remember reading an MG novel where the POV switched continually between three main characters. Not only was it confusing but just when I'd get into the "head" of the current speaker the voice would shift and I'd have this sense of loss. Come to think of it, I never did finish reading that novel.

Yat-Yee said...

Corey: The Help is the very next book I'm going to read. I did read parts of it at a book store and noticed that it is told from three different people. And you're right, the chapter delineation makes it easy. Quite a few other books do that very effectively: What The Moon Saw by Laura Resau, for example.

Tricia: have to mosey over to Lady Glamis to read her take on it.

Megan: I can totally see my cheeks stained dark red. :)

tanita davis said...

Hm. I guess because I divide my wop by person/by chapter, I don't feel I have to head hop. It IS a newbie mistake to confuse the reader while doing it, and a Master Writer (love the Josh Bell analogy!) trick to do it right.

I haven't learned to do it right yet; still a journeywoman apprentice...

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

i feel forced to agree. they can do what they want, i guess. doesn't mean i like reading it when i get to it in a spectacular book! it still throws me!

Yat-Yee said...

MG and Jeanne: I have stopped reading books when the head hopping gets to be too intrusive. A couple of them are well-received MG novels...

Tanita: love the term journeywoman apprentice. Fits so perfectly.

Suzanne Casamento said...

I think POV rules can only be broken if it's done really well. Like the other commentators, I think POV shifting can be very confusing. And unfortunately, some of the voices shine more than others, making the ones that aren't as strong almost seem weak.

Alternating POVs chapter by chapter is more palatable for me. But if's like a whole bunch of voices in the same room, they always seeem to drown each other out.

At least for me... ; )

Solvang Sherrie said...

I actually enjoy books with multiple POV. Eoin Colfer does this in the Artemis Fowl books and I love being able to see the situation from differing points of view. Not sure if I'm talented enough to do that in my writing...yet... =)

BTW, great Picasso image!