Preference or Professionalism?

If only I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then!

When I wrote my first book I had no idea what I was doing. I figured that since I had spent a good portion of my life with my head in a book that I could write. As if somehow the skill of all those authors leaked out of the books directly into my brain.  (I hear you laughing)

I set my imagination down in words and self-published. (The process took quite a bit longer than that last sentence would lead you to believe.)

A few reviews mentioned a confusing profusion of points of view. Huh?

Reading posts here on WordPress from people who actually know what they are doing, especially Ryan over at A Writer’s Path and Ronovan at Lit World Interviews I very quickly became aware of all the stuff I wasn’t aware of.

First and foremost, Head-Hopping. Yes, your honour, guilty as charged. For months now, the sin of head-hopping has been quietly gnawing away at the back of my mind. Today, four chapters into my second book, the silent gnawing became a loud snapping noise that demanded attention. Hello, Google, show me head-hopping.

I found a veritable cesspool of snide remarks and lively debate. The upshot of which was a day spent re-writing my first chapter, determined to stick to only one point of view per scene.

Did tossing that second point of view into the trash can on my laptop improve my story? I haven’t decided yet. I can tell you that each time I hit the delete key, it hurt. It doesn’t make any sense to me. If there are two people in a scene, don’t you want to know what both of them are thinking? I know I do.

What do you think, preference or professionalism? What’s your point of view 🙂

Aimer at Amazon

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9 thoughts on “Preference or Professionalism?

  1. As a rule, yes, point-of-view shifting is a huge no-no. On top of it not being “technically” accurate (by which I mean something that your high school English teacher would complain about), a lot of non-critical readers find it jarring and confusing to read. As such, I vote that you remove the multi-POVs.

    However, at the end of the day, if you’re writing your books in order to please yourself, then do whatever makes you happy. Life’s too short to put out work that you wouldn’t want to read yourself. If you like POV-shifting, then do it.

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    1. You’re right, readers do find it confusing. I’m rewriting now, repeating my new mantra to myself as I type, “One scene, One POV”. Baby steps.
      Thanks for weighing in 🙂

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  2. Hi,
    This is an issue that can take some practice and really requires getting good critiques sometimes to overcome. More importantly, it isn’t carved in stone so before you throw anymore stuff out, look up some works that use multiple points of view well so you can get an idea how to make it work for you.

    As a reader, of course I want to know what the key characters in a scene are thinking (to a degree) but as a writer, I want to communicate that as clearly and as fluidly as possible. I don’t want the reader to struggle to figure out who is talking and I don’t want them to be taken out of the “vivid and continuous dream” (John Gardner).

    Just off the top of my head, here’s a sequence from Toni Morrison that shows “head hopping” beautifully executed.

    Paul D had only begun, what he was telling her was only the beginning when her fingers on his knee, soft and reassuring, stopped him. Just as well. Just as well. Saying more might push them both to a place they couldn’t get back from. He would keep the rest where it belonged: in that tobacco tin buried in his chest where a red heart used to be. Its lid rusted shut. He would not pry it loose now in front of this sweet sturdy woman, for if she got a whiff of the contents it would shame him. And it would hurt her to know that there was no red heart bright as Mister’s comb beating in him. Sethe rubbed and rubbed, pressing the work cloth and the stony curves that made up his knee. She hoped it calmed him as it did her. Like kneading bread in the half-light of the restaurant kitchen.

    Before the cook arrived when she stood in a space no wider than a bench is long, back behind and to the left of the milk cans. Working dough. Working, working dough. Nothing better than that to start the day’s serious work of beating back the past.

    Morrison, Toni (2007-07-24). Beloved (p. 73). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    That said, Morrison is who she is because she knows what she’s doing and I don’t trust myself to do that kind of POV switching midstream without it disrupting the reader. For me, the way to show what other characters are thinking and feeling while focusing on my main character is through their actions, expressions, and words and for a young/beginning/emerging writer, that should probably be where one starts. Don’t write off the kind of work Morrison does for yourself, just give it time to evolve.

    An example of what I do:

    [Their father] sat next to Jackie and put his arm around her shoulders. Brian sat opposite them, stretching his legs across the space that separated them.

    “I’m staying with you tonight, Dad. I’ve already sent Will and Ethan home.” Jackie snapped her blue eyes at her brother. “You can go home, though.”

    Brian winced at the edge in his sister’s voice. “Why thank you for your permission.”

    “I didn’t mean it that way.”

    Brian glanced at his father who had leaned his head against the wall behind him and shut his eyes. No, Jackie didn’t mean it that way. She meant is as an unadorned dismissal. A peremptory slap of a metaphorical hand. We’re done with you. Go. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a lighter. “That’s fine. I have to get up at 5:30 for work anyway. “Dad?”

    Rob raised his head.

    “Get something to eat and try to get some rest, maybe,” Brian said and reached a long arm out to pat his father’s knee. “Love you.”

    His father nodded. “I will, son.”

    “Jackie? A moment?” Brian tilted his head toward the exterior doors.

    His sister rolled her eyes. “We can’t talk here?”

    “I’d rather not.” Fatigue and frustration began to burn in his chest like a sour meal.

    Jackie huffed and followed him outside.

    You get directly inside Brian’s (MC) head but you see Jackie’s irritation and snideness only through her actions. Yet, you do see that. You aren’t left wondering what she thinks and feels. You know that Dad is exhausted even though you’re in media res and don’t know why.

    I’m sure there are much better examples out there, it’s just what I have easy access to at the moment. So there are ways to show those feelings without head hopping.

    I highly recommend finding a critique site that you like and letting folk give you pointers. I learn every day and each story is improved by each critique even if I don’t agree with what is said. Have I published a novel? No. But I have confidence in my work at this stage and more importantly, the writing I’m doing brings me great satisfaction as I work it. Much like slowly perfecting a sculpture.
    Scribophile is my site of choice, but I understand there are others. A real-world writing group can help, too. Scrib has some good discussions about head hopping and maybe that is where you have seen some of the debate of late. It’s a big topic just the last couple of days. Big thing, like I said, is to make sure your reader isn’t pulled out of the narrative. Good luck with the new book!

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    1. Those are great examples. Thank you, you’ve made the distinctions between the two styles very clear.
      I’ve never thought of a critique site, although, I have seen Scribophile mentioned here on WordPress.
      Thanks for the advice and good luck with your writing 🙂

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      1. Great article, thank you for passing it along.
        I sat down last night and went through a favourite novel, taking notes on POV switches, and Head Hopping in particular. Using this as a guideline, I’m hoping to get a handle on the issue. It will take some practice. I see a lot of rewriting in my future 🙂
        Thanks for your help.

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  3. Hmmm … my writing teacher definitely taught me to NOT switch points of view during scenes. You’d have to have a very, very good reason to break that rule. And, in general, I agree that it’s a good rule. For some reason, it seems sloppy to me when people shift viewpoints in a scene. It usually seems accidental rather than planned.

    There are exceptions, though. One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, often switches point of view within scenes. But, then again, I consider him a genius, so he didn’t really have to play by the rules, did he?

    I like the way you phrased the question, preference or professionalism. I’m not sure which it is to be honest!!

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