Saturday, September 16, 2006

POV and me -- I'm so confused.

Warning: the "Word of the Post" section is for mature readers only. It's not graphic sex, but it is for adults.

I'm fairly new to the world of professional writing. Scratch that. I'm very new. At times I may come across naïve, ignorant and, probably more times than I care to recognize, stupid.

I'm currently involved with several discussions about POV in fiction. As these discussions go on, I get more and more confused. I've recently learned that I am not alone.

Third-person omnipresent (aka unlimited) seems to be experiencing some rejection. I see people referring to what I would consider third person omni as "head hopping" and this is, apparently, a bad thing.

Why is it a bad thing?

Is it really that confusing for the reader? Does it really lack that much power and umph?

I can understand not wanting to write nor read the tedium of every characters' feelings. Unless it is pertinent to the story, I don't think the reader wants to know that the newspaper delivery guy thinks his car is going to break down if the guy who just got his paper is reading a front page story about his own death.

The power of that scene is obviously with the freaked out soon-to-be dead guy.

Sometimes a scene needs one POV to covey its full power. Sometimes one POV for a whole story serves best even if it is written in third person. POV is a powerful tool to build suspense and slowly reveal something to the reader.

Everyone has POV's they don't particularly like. I can't stand reading second person stories and I have a real hard time reading first person stories. I'm not sure why. Every time I read something in first person I keep asking myself, if you don't know how it ended why do you think it is important enough to start telling me? Is this some kind of blog or journal entry?

When I try to write this POV, I keep asking myself WHY is the character telling me this? Am I reading a diary? Is this some letter to Penthouse or something? Oddly enough, I don't have these hang-ups when it is first person present tense only first-person past tense. Yet, present tense third person leaves me with a headache.

Other people must be seeing something that I'm missing. Other people can't stand third person omni and love first person. The first thing I did was brush up on my understanding of POV. This site spells it out pretty clearly.

Here’s the key, I think, to third person omni.

"Used skillfully, it enables the author to achieve simultaneous breadth and depth."

Used skillfully.

Perhaps, that is where my confusion is. Perhaps, I'm not using it skillfully. Perhaps, the people who don't like this POV and label it "head hopping" are referring to other writers who didn't use it skillfully, but wouldn't mind it written otherwise.

Could this be a response to a lack of skill?

How can we, as writers, help each other foster this skill? Or should third person omni be tossed out like yesterday's newspaper once soon-to-be dead guy feels his fate?

In another site (Oh! This is a blogspot person. Cool!)

This is said about "head hopping".

"HEADHOPPING:Another common mistake in POV is incorrectly writing POV aka headhopping. Headhopping is switching POV several times per scene. Headhopping is not defined by line by line switching as the example below but can go on as long as several paragraphs. It becomes headhopping when you switch MORE than once in a scene."

In today's "Word of the Post" I shall attempt to use third person omni skillfully. Watch and laugh as I fall on my face. Mistakes made in front of world – for the win!

Today's word comes from Luciferous Logolepsy

naevus n. - small mark on skin; birthmark; tumour of small blood vessel. naevoid, n. like this.

(Your guess is a good as mine about what that last bit "like this" is supposed to tell us.)

Stock characters, James and Mark, you're on cue!


James fanned his fingers out against Mark's back. They had way too few moments like this. Moments where the world could fade away and it was just them. Life's little intimate moments were way too sparse. Touching a lover even in an innocent way was a very powerful thing.

There was a fine line between intimacy and sex. Both sides of the line had their purpose and power, but intimacy carried a softer beauty that sex could never understand.

As his thumb slid along Mark's flesh, James noticed a small pink naevus to the left of his lover's spine. Was it a birthmark or a scar of some kind? It was shaped like a melting crescent moon. James tilted his head to the side and studied the pink skin. A curved squash? Whatever it was shaped like, it was getting a kiss.

Mark's eyes popped open. His stomach flipped. Yes, yes, he had a scar. Did they have to acknowledge it? He silently pleaded for James to move and act like it's not there. The longer James kissed the more self-conscious and insecure Mark felt. Tears threatened his eyes as he remembered his mother's screeching and the pain. Oh God the pain. Please, no questions. He'd lie. He'd lie his ass off if only to preserve sweetness of this moment with James.


To me that's third person omni. I'm not sure if it was "skillfully done", "head hopping" or not, but if that scene were only told with what James knew and not what Mark knew something would be lost. On the flip side, IMHO, if we didn't have James's inner thoughts, we'd miss out on a lot of tenderness.

I suspect I'm going to be a lot more confused before I understand this.


Bernita said...

For what it's worth, the "head-hopping" didn't confuse or disturb me.
In the slightest.
I can't see the bloody problem.

MissWrite said...

LOL, the bloody problem my poor, sweet cupie is experience here is the confusion that there can really be a third person omniscient POV.

Omniscient is 'godlike' above it all... outside of everyone, watching down on the action.

What she has here is a lot better than most who try to 'cheat' in 3rd and write outside the action too, most of this little snippet was done in 3rd person (with head-hopping lol). The 'omni' part is the first two paragraphs, and they would be SO easily switched to 3rd.

A lot of writers get confused by this issue and end up writing what I like to call bastardized 3rd. (a combo of omni and 3rd)

One of the biggest pitfalls of incorporating any omniscient into 3rd person (besides that it's just wrong, lol) is that it lends to author intrusion very easily once you start walking in that direction.

ie: Mark's eyes popped open. And oh what beautiful eyes they were, if only they knew what that little mark really was.

That second sentence would be the author cheating and putting his own little twist into the action... ah ah ah, bad author. LOL

IM Cupnjava said...


On one hand, I don't think "head hopping" is as difficult for the reader to follow as some people like to say it is.

On the other hand, if the scene had been longer with a constant flipping, it may have become disruptive for reader.

I would write entire scenes like this each paragraph a new POV and looking back on it, that was way too much flipping.

I do agree with you. I don't see the problem with an occasional POV switch. Some things have to be initated by one character, but the power of the scene toward the end is in another character.

As long as the reader can follow it and it serves the scene properly -- should we tie our own hands?

IM Cupnjava said...


I'm going to be addressing your comment and what we talked about in another post.

Anonymous said...

Well, Cup...thank God Tami is your editor! She not only spots POV like a seagull fishing, but she guides you in the way to correct them! She can be a bit verbose some times, but it's all for the best. lol.
I speak from experience, my very first novel was edited by her and feel free to ask her all the rewrites I had to do on the prologue alone! I won't even go into the fact that the prologue was later switched to chapter one by little ole misswrite!
I had my own rant about POV's too on my chat a few entries ago...