Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Head-hopping: the bane of the beginning writer

Stepping into the kitchen, Katherine caught the aroma of her mother’s pumpkin pie in the oven. Memories assailed her--happier times of Christmases long past. If only . . .

“Katherine. I thought I heard you arrive.” Phillip suppressed the rage boiling up inside. His prodigal daughter would choose today, of all days, to intrude upon their lives.

“Really, Dad, you thought I wouldn’t come?” Katherine kept her expression neutral. She wouldn’t let her father see how his cruel tone affected her.

Hearing voices in the kitchen, Joan hurried downstairs. At the sight of her sister Katherine standing by the window, she gasped, a thrill of happiness raising goose bumps on her arms. “Oh, Kat! I’ve missed you!”

If this were the opening scene of a novel, which character would you identify with--Katherine, Phillip, or Joan? They all seem to have something important at stake. Confusing, isn’t it?

Why? Because this is a classic example of what is termed “head-hopping.”

Head-hopping occurs when a writer jumps willy-nilly from one character’s point of view to another’s throughout the scene. In the scene above, just when we’re starting to identify with Katherine, suddenly we’re ripped out of her viewpoint and thrust into her father’s. Then we ping-pong back to Katherine, and before we can figure out what’s going on between the two of them, in pops Joan, and we’re yanked inside her mind.

It’s enough to give a reader whiplash!

For anyone who’s been writing for very long, especially if you’ve entered contests or joined a critique group, you’ve encountered the term SINGLE POV (point of view). Writing in single POV--and doing it well and consistently--is among the most important skills a writer must learn.

So what’s the big deal? Don’t readers want to know what’s going on inside each character’s head? Of course they do, at least for the central characters.

But if you feed your readers everyone’s viewpoint all at once, you deny them the one thing they want most from a good novel: deep and personal identification with a single--and singularly important--character.

The trick is to give them one main character they can relate to in this scene, and then, if the story calls for it, possibly a different but equally important character in the next scene. The scene-by-scene shift between the hero’s and heroine’s POV is typical of popular romance novels. If your plot dictates, you may even introduce one or more additional viewpoint characters (prominent supporting characters or possibly the antagonist) a little farther along in the book--and only after you have given your readers ample time to connect with the protagonist. 


Mastering single point of view takes practice, but it’s a skill any writer can learn. And the truth is, it isn’t as hard as you might think. The first step is understanding exactly what viewpoint is, and Dwight Swain, author of Techniques of the Selling Writer, sums it up best:

Viewpoint is the spot from which you see a story. It’s the position and perspective you occupy in order best to savor a fictional experience.

Swain goes on to say:

Ordinarily, that vantage point is inside somebody’s skin.

Keep this advice in mind as we examine the various types of viewpoints an author might use.

OMNISCIENT VIEWPOINT. Just as the name implies, narration in omniscient viewpoint hovers over all the story action. In many ways, it’s like the example given at the start of this post. But we could even take the scene a step further by adding a paragraph such as this:

What none of them realized, however, was that a killer snowstorm lurked just over the horizon. Any moment now, it would swoop in and destroy any hopes this family had of salvaging Christmas.

The problem with omniscient viewpoint is the distance it places between the reader and the characters. While we’re getting some interesting insight into each of them, we never get the chance to connect deeply with just one of them. And since the paragraph I just added to the scene steps all the way into the omniscient author’s point of view, revealing a plot twist none of the characters has any awareness of or control over, the separation between reader and character is stretched even farther.

FIRST PERSON VIEWPOINT. In first person, the narrator is either the main character or an involved observer, and only first-person pronouns (e.g., I, me, my) are used when the narrator refers to himself or herself. A good example of the “involved observer” is Nick, the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Though Nick is mainly reporting what he learns about his neighbor Jay Gatsby, Nick has a stake in the story because his relationship with Gatsby will change him profoundly.

To write in first person means to limit yourself to describing only what that character knows, thinks, feels, sees, experiences, or learns in the course of the story. The character can make judgments or assumptions about other characters, but the reader will experience the plot only through the narrator’s perceptions.

The challenge with writing first person is to keep the narration sounding natural, not stilted. In first person it’s also tempting to tell rather than show by fully dramatizing a scene. Too many sentences that are basically “I did this” or “I said that” get old very fast for your reader.

Certain skilled novelists such as Lisa Samson have successfully used multiple first-person narrators within the same novel, alternating narrators from chapter to chapter or changing narrators at crucial plot breaks. However, this is a technique best left to more experienced writers.

THIRD PERSON VIEWPOINT. Third person (he, she, him, her) is by far the most common writing style. It has some characteristics of omniscient viewpoint in that the author can access as many viewpoints as the story requires. Because third person by its very nature adds a layer of distancing between reader and character, it gives the author more flexibility than first person for providing natural-sounding description, inserting necessary background information, or interpreting events.

LIMITED THIRD PERSON, the viewpoint editors and modern readers find most comfortable and natural, requires staying tightly connected to a single viewpoint, and only one viewpoint per scene. It’s almost as close as first person, and the language and syntax will be similar, with the exception of the pronouns used, because the narration is strongly tied to the character’s natural expression. Limited third person also gives the author some freedom to elaborate on description and background without sounding stilted or forced, as it might come across if told in first person.

How, then, do you decide who your viewpoint character will be? And once you decide, how do you remain firmly locked in that viewpoint?

The answer to the first question is simple: Your viewpoint character should be the character who has the most to gain or lose in this particular scene. Know your scene goal and you’ll know whose viewpoint to focus on. (See these Seekerville posts by Winnie Griggs and Janet Dean for more on scenes and scene goals.)

Now, to ground yourself firmly in that character, you must mentally put yourself inside his or her head. See the scene unfold through this character’s eyes. Hear what the character hears. Feel what the character feels. If someone walks into the room, imagine how the viewpoint character perceives the arrival.


Bearing all this in mind, let’s rewrite my opening example, this time strictly in Katherine’s viewpoint:

Stepping into the kitchen, Katherine caught the aroma of her mother’s pumpkin pie in the oven. Memories assailed her--happier times of Christmases long past. If only . . .

“Katherine. I thought I heard you arrive.” Rage flashed in her father’s eyes, and her stomach lurched. Clearly, she wasn’t welcome. 

“Really, Dad, you thought I wouldn’t come?” Tamping down her emotions, Katherine kept her expression neutral. She wouldn’t let her father see how his cruel tone affected her.

Footsteps sounded on the staircase, and moments later, Katherine’s younger sister Joan burst into the kitchen, her sunny smile eclipsing their father’s scowl. “Oh, Kat! I’ve missed you!”

Can you see the difference? We still sense how upset Katherine’s father is that she came, and we still recognize how thrilled Joan is to see her sister again. But this time we’re experiencing the scene exclusively through Katherine’s perceptions. Doesn’t it make you care about her all the more? Doesn’t it fill you with curiosity about what she may have done (or not done) in the past to evoke these very different responses from her family?

Your assignment: Choose ONE character from the descriptions below and write a short scene exclusively in that character’s viewpoint. Pull out all the stops--sight, smell, sound, taste, touch. Include thoughts, feelings, and internal reactions. Share your scene in the comment section and we’ll see how you did with single POV!

LISA. College student arriving home for the holidays. She doesn’t want her parents to know she is failing a class.

TED. Lisa’s boyfriend. He wants to break up with her, but it’s Christmas.

KAREN. Lisa’s best friend. She has a crush on Ted but feels loyalty to Lisa.

JOE. Lisa’s father, a widower. He needs to tell Lisa he is planning to remarry, and he knows she won’t be happy about it.

For more help with point of view, check out these Seekerville posts:

Missy Tippens on "My View on Point of View"

Seekerville guest Lynne Marshall

Julie Lessman on "Confessions of a POV Queen"

Your host today, Myra Johnson

Myra Johnson's latest release is When the Clouds Roll By (Abingdon Press, book 1 in the Till We Meet Again series). Watch for book 2, Whisper Goodbye, next spring, followed by Every Tear a Memory in the fall.

Annemarie Kendall is overjoyed when the armistice is signed and the Great War comes to an end. Her fiancé, Lieutenant Gilbert Ballard, is coming home, and though he is wounded, she is excited to start their life together. But when he arrives, her dreams are dashed when she learns Gilbert is suffering from headaches, depression, and an addiction to pain killers. This is not the man she had planned to marry. After serving in the trenches, Army Chaplain Samuel Vickary is barely holding onto his faith. Putting up a brave front as he ministers to the injured soldiers at the hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he befriends Gilbert and eventually falls for Annemarie. While Annemarie tries to sort out her confused feelings about the two men in her life, she witnesses firsthand the bitterness and hurt they both hold within. Who will she choose? Will she have the courage to follow her heart and become the woman God intended her to be? As the world emerges from the shadow of war, Annemarie clings to her faith as she wonders if her future holds the hope, happiness, and love for which she so desperately longs.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Myra!!! You outdid yourself. Grammar Queen would be proud.

Well done!!

Will think on my paragraph and turn it in this am.

Mary Connealy said...

I still fondly remember a line I wrote that was omniscient POV and I did NOT want to let it go.

Clearly, because it is from an OLD and unpublished book, you can see that me remembering it,... well it made a strong impression.

I don't even remember the set up but whatever it was, she made some decision and that decision ended the scene and the last line of the scene was............


It was the beginning of a new life, though she didn't yet know it.
I'm still just ridiculously fond of that line. :)

I'm a dork.

Mary Connealy said...

Learning POV was a real struggle for me. a REAL struggle.

I just had a terrible time not lapsing into someone else's head. I still mess it up sometimes.

Mostly not anymore but when I first started and some contest critique said, "One POV per scene."

Well, I had NUTHIN'. This is where it might had done me some good to have read a nice helpful book on HOW TO WRITE.

"One POV per scene."

They might as well have typed out a critique comment in ancient LATIN. I was dead in the water and it took me a while to figure out what that meant. Years probably.

Mary Connealy said...

I listened to Nora Roberts talk at RWA and of course she head hops and of course no one's gonna tell Nora Roberts she can or can't do anything.

And someone asked in the Q & A section, "You know most books are written in 'One POV per scene'. How come you don't do that?"

And she said, "You can change POV if you do it well."

Just this utter confidence. This complete lack of concern that anyone was having trouble figuring out who's head she was in in her NYT Bestselling books.

And all I could think was, I'll bet until she stops making a rumored $25 Million a year, no one's going to convince her to change much of anything.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Yeah, I've read a NORA with a dog's POV.

In these cases I refer to my disclaimer.

For every ‘rule’ there will be an author who does a spectacular job of breaking every one. 'Spectacular rule breaker' should be on all of our To-Do lists.

Marianne Barkman said...

Mary, maybe that's why I don't read Nora's books...really I've tried, but they are not my type. So May books are now being written in first person POV but I still prefer third person...weird. I. The dork...just realized Myra and Mary..same letters

Jackie said...

Thanks for sharing Myra.

Now that I'm learning about POV, it kills me to read a best seller where the author head-hops.

Enjoyed your post today.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Morning, all!

You know, for those of us who cut our teeth on Nora Roberts, head hopping can be done very well and it adds speed and action to the scenes.

The more purist view is being embraced today, but I'll tell ya: Some of those fun back and forth repartees are still with me today, which means the author did a great job of scene planting.

Ah, I just saw Tina's reply, and laughing in agreement.

Some authors captivate on their own terms.

Nora is one of those!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, I love slipping into omniscient pov....

That's what spurred the popularity of shows like SCRUBS and a bunch of its copy-cats.

The external camera, documenting what's going on now and again.


And like you said, if you're Nora popular, you can engineer things seamlessly....

And folks love it.

I'm one of them!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Mary, I love slipping into omniscient pov....

That's what spurred the popularity of shows like SCRUBS and a bunch of its copy-cats.

The external camera, documenting what's going on now and again.


And like you said, if you're Nora popular, you can engineer things seamlessly....

And folks love it.

I'm one of them!

Terri said...

I remember my first book. Oh, did I ever head hop. And not the way Nors does it. LOL.

I'm reading a book right now where the author head hops. It confuses me.

Mary Hicks said...

As long as I can keep the characters straight in my head, I don't mind some head hopping—and I'm amazed at some of the books I find it in!

Thanks for a good post, Myra! But I struggle more with that tellin' thang'!!

MaryC, I like that line too... :-)

Sandra Leesmith said...

Oh MYRA you aren't really going to make me work this early are you? LOL

I have som many early contest judges commenting on the head hopping. I read a lot of Nora Roberts and thought it was the way it was done. Like MARY I had no clue what they were talking about. So funny.

Now I keep my characters pov by scene.

MARIANNE I'm so with you. I really don't like first person pov. For some reason I just can't relate.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Okay, if you're going to use Nora as an example, you've got to be fair about it. She was writing and hitting the NYT list back in the 80s and early 90s when omniscient was the main POV style. So yeah, she can get away with it because she was doing it way back when, and some of her newer tradepapers do the classic scene POV shift. I'm thinking her last series, the one about her bed and breakfast would have followed all the standard POV rules.

And Mary, I like your omniscient line. I use an occasional omniscient line every now and then, but only at the end of a chapter, and usually for a foreshadowing thing. I've been allowed to keep those lines in my novels the handful of times I've used them. So I'd say you can use sparingly and with good reason. :-)

Mary Connealy said...

Naomi, you're right about the timing. Books all used to head hop and though most authors from those days have changed if you got popular back then no one is surprised by your style.

But try getting a foot in the door NOW is you head hop.


Myra Johnson said...

Good morning, Seekerville! Nice to see a few of us up and at 'em already. (Have I mentioned I am SO not a morning person???)

TINA, yo win the early bird prize this time. ;-) Hope I didn't scare too many away with this rather pointed discussion of POV.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Myra! For some reason, I always "got" POV and didn't have much trouble with head hopping. If I ever head hop, it's because I forgot whose POV I was in! Or I did so much cutting and pasting I got mixed up! The things I've always struggled with is "Deep" POV and "Show Don't Tell." I think I will still need to improve in those areas if I write 100 books. Sigh.

Myra Johnson said...

MARY, I have a few of those favorite lines I never got to use, too. And they just sound so good in our heads and look so good on paper. Rats.

My intro to single POV was when I got my very first Institute of Children's Literature assignment back. I had written a story that shifted back and forth between the child's POV and her mother's. Once my instructor explained the problem, I could understand the rationale. I won't say I never slipped again, but I've always been very conscious about keeping to one POV.

Myra Johnson said...

It's true, books from many years ago used omniscient or shifting POV all the time. With experience, some authors can make the shift so smoothly that the reader easily goes along with it.

And there are a few authors today (RUTHY is one) who can make a subtle shift from hero to heroine (or heroine to hero) in the middle of a scene without the use of a scene break space and we don't even notice because it's done so well.

Myra Johnson said...

MARIANNE, isn't it just so clever how MARY and MYRA have the same letters??? Does that makes us twinkies or what???

The only time I really don't care for first person is if the narrator starts sounding too egocentric. As I mentioned in the post, it gets old when 95% of the sentences begin with "I."

Myra Johnson said...

JACKIE, I'm the same way. If I find head-hopping in a recently published novel (not the books with smoothly done transitions but the ones where you feel like a badly bouncing ping-pong ball), I blame both the author and the editor.

Myra Johnson said...

TERRI, you're right--head-hopping is needlessly confusing to the reader.

MARY HICKS, there's a fine line between blatant head-hopping and smoothly shifting POV. Getting on the good side of that line takes skill and practice. That's why it's so important for beginning writers to master single POV first, before they try breaking the rules!

Myra Johnson said...

SANDRA, you are excused from thinking too hard this early in the morning. I totally relate!

NAOMI, you make an important point. Anything we write for the sake of telling a good story can work--as long as we know what we're doing and why we're doing it, and also don't OVERdo it.

Myra Johnson said...

MELANIE, I know exactly what you mean! I'll be writing a scene and totally forget whose POV I started in because it just seems so natural to move into another character's. Or the same thing with editing, cutting, and pasting. That's one good reason why we need a little time between draft and revision stages, so we can read the ms. with a fresh eye.

Hallee Bridgeman said...

This is a great post.
I've switched POV, but with clear transition in the middle of the scene and never went back in that same scene. There was no way to effectively do the scene. I could have, I suppose, written it from her viewpoint, then made a new scene and repeated the same one from his. Every way I tried, the one I did worked best.


Myra Johnson said...

HALLEE, it sounds like you handled the shift just right. I don't usually like it when an author relates the same scene more than once but from a different character's POV each time.

I also don't like backtracking in the timeline. Once a scene ends in one character's POV, when I move to the next character's head, I want the story to pick up chronologically. The new character might think about something that happened earlier, but I like the action to move forward, not travel over old ground.

Connie Queen said...

My first book I head hopped...bad. It was so much easier to write.
Now, I can still slip into omniscient.

I don't mind a little head hopping, or any broken rule,as it's not confusing and it works. I try to obey them all though.

Jan Drexler said...

Good morning, Myra!

No one has taken you up on your challenge yet? Well, I will :)

Lisa swept into the room, her eyes shining.

“Oh, Ted, I hope you haven’t been waiting too long.” She leaned down, pecking his cold cheek with the scent of strawberry lip gloss before crossing to her father’s chair. She perched on the arm.

Ted glanced at Joe. The frown on the older man's face did nothing to encourage him. What would the man say when he learned the real reason Ted was here tonight?

“No, not long.” Ted let his eyes linger on Lisa’s perfect smile. Too perfect. What he had to tell her would shatter that smile, but Karen was right. He had to tell her the truth, no matter how much it hurt her.

“I’m so glad to be home!” Lisa popped up from the chair and started fussing with the Christmas tree. “Finals were the pits, and I’m sure old Krausch gave me a C in English Comp just because she hates my handwriting.”

She grabbed a plate of cookies and thrust them toward Ted. He took a gingerbread man, and then stopped. Her eyes were bright with tears.

“I know you’ve been busy,” she said. The plate shook in her hand. “I saw Karen at Wilson’s Market, and she told me you had been decorating the church together.”

Ted looked at the cookie in his hands. “Yeah. Yeah, a group of us got together….” He looked at her face again. She knew.

Jan Drexler said...

Tina, this quote is going on my bulletin board:

"For every ‘rule’ there will be an author who does a spectacular job of breaking every one. 'Spectacular rule breaker' should be on all of our To-Do lists."

Helen Gray said...

I read a book this week that frustrated me. It was a mystery, a very good story, but the head hopping drop me nuts. The author sells a lot of books, but I won't be buying any more of them.

And I'm another who doesn't like first person. Too restricting and too much telling rather than showing.

Here's fresh coffee to warm your systems in this snowy weather.

Debby Giusti said...

Great info, Myra!

I remember when I finally "GOT" POV!!!

For me, it was a light bulb moment. One second I didn't understand a thing. The next it was crystal clear.

If only clarity would strike more often. :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

I don't care for MOST first person. But there are authors who master first person and you forget that's what you're reading.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I agree with Hallee. At least once per book I switch POV in the middle of the scene. You can do it effectively and smoothly but it takes time to master this as well.

Myra Johnson said...

CONNIE, that's the thing--if you want to break a writing "rule," just do it well and don't confuse the reader!

And the really important point about those pesky rules is that it is okay to break them sometimes as long as you know what you're doing.

So . . . mastery first. Then skirt the rules.

Tina Radcliffe said...


LISA. College student arriving home for the holidays. She doesn’t want her parents to know she is failing a class.

Lisa Meadington turned the handle of the back door. She slipped into the kitchen and tiptoed to the mail tray.

There it was. An innocent enough white envelope. The return address of her Broadreach University, and its familiar blue and gold logo were stamped on the lower right corner. The envelope called out, fairly mocking Lisa.

That envelope stood between her and a trip to France. This wasn't any trip to France. No, it was the chance to work with the renowned nail artist Glossen Van Schmeer. The queen of French tips.

Lisa paused to listen to the sounds of the house. Silence. She grabbed the envelope and shoved the fine linen paper into her back pocket.

"Lisa? Is that you?" Mona Meadington swept into the room in a cloud of Chanel, and struck a pose next to the granite kitchen island.

"Mona. My favorite stepmother," Lisa said with a smile.

"I know you only say that because it's true," Mona said. Mona tried to smile but her face was sadly frozen from an over indulgence of Botox.

"Excuse me, Mona. I'd love to stay and chat but I just got in. I'm exhausted." Lisa turned toward the stairs. She was inches from reprieve.

"Dear Lisa," Mona cooed.

Lisa shivered. She swallowed hard but didn't turn around.

"The university called."

Myra Johnson said...

JAN! Thanks for playing along! This is a great scene, solidly in Ted's POV.

The one thing that would really help, though, is to get us into Ted's mind with the very first line, because typically, the first person named in a scene is the person the reader will latch onto. It could be as simple as:

Ted laid down the newspaper as Lisa swept into the room, her eyes shining.

But, oh my, I can see the tension building in this scene. Poor Lisa!

Myra Johnson said...

HELEN, thanks for the coffee. It's cloudy and getting colder today. I could use sometime to take the chill off!

And while we're at the buffet table, I brought some pumpkin spice cookies made with real butter! Enjoy!

Myra Johnson said...

DEBBY, I know what you mean. It was the same for me when I finally "got" single POV. Now I'm working on improving my deep POV. I grew up on those "omniscient narrator" books.

TINA, it really takes skill to seamlessly transition from one POV to another within the same scene. The goal is to avoid jarring the reader with a sudden shift. It's kind of like a fade out/fade in, and the reader doesn't realize consciously that anything changed.

Myra Johnson said...

Oooooh, TINA! Loved your scene! And the subtext--that Mona! I felt so bad that poor Lisa was not going to France to study French nail tips.

Janet Dean said...

Excellent post, Myra! I had issues with head hopping as a new writer, but now I like to stick to one point of view per scene.

The point of view error that I used to make a lot and now bugs me the most is when the POV character describes her action with details most of us would never think about ourselves. For example, she sweeps her long blond curly hair off her forehead. For me that's like scrapping a fingernail on a chalkboard.


Tina Radcliffe said...

Mirrors, people. Self adulation must be reserved for mirrors.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, JANET, I agree! That's probably one of the hardest aspects of single POV to grasp. If the character is not consciously and logically aware of something, you can't mention it to the reader.

Like, it doesn't work to write, Sally didn't notice the spider crawling up her leg. If she didn't notice it, you can't tell the reader!

Pam Hillman said...

May said: I just had a terrible time not lapsing into someone else's head.

Why does this make perfect sense to me?

Pam Hillman said...

Like Melanie, I get head-hopping and most of the time it's organic to stay in one character's head...

Hmmm, but maybe I need to dig some of those really, really earlier works out from under the bed to see if I REALLY knew the difference all those years ago.

My married kiddos are about to come over and help me shovel out a room that has boxes of old contests. I'll have to put some of those to the side and see how I did. :)

Missy Tippens said...

First off, I love your photo, Myra!! Very nice!

LOL, Tina! When I read your first comment, I read it as:
"Myra!! You've outdid yourself. Grammar Queen would be proud."

LOL!! I thought you were joking. Then realized I misread. hahaha

Great post, Myra! POV really fascinates me. In fact, i sent a workshop proposal to RWA this year for a workshop on basic POV. Wish I could copy and paste yours into my notes! :) Okay, my scene in the next message...

Myra Johnson said...

MISSY, this topic is one that sometimes requires a few different approaches before it finally sinks in. I hope you do get the chance to do your workshop at RWA.

Myra Johnson said...

PAM, I bet it would be so enlightening to look back through old contest critiques. I'm personally not brave enough to tackle my files. It might be too embarrassing.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Missy! Grammar Queen would have slapped me.

Missy Tippens said...

Okay, I'm going to have fun in Lisa's POV but use all the ideas other in this one as well. Let's see how it goes…

Lisa dreaded walking inside. The first thing her dad would ask would be how her finals had gone.

And one hadn't gone--at all. She'd stayed up the whole night cramming and had fallen asleep during the test. Made a big fat F.

Slowly, she opened the front door.

"You're home!" Karen called as she rushed Lisa to hug her. Nice and friendly, but way over the top for her normally laid back best friend.

"Wow, what a greeting. Thanks." Lisa returned the hug with a quick squeeze, anxious to get to her boyfriend.

Ted sat glued to the couch, didn't seem half as enthused as Karen. He gave a wave.

"Wow, a greeting party." Dodging Ted's cool welcome for the moment, Lisa crossed the room to hug her dad.

"Yep. I invited everyone for dinner," Dad said as he checked his watch. Distracted, he slipped his cell phone out of his pocket and flipped through messages. "So how did finals go?"

Her heart plunked to her toes. "Let's not ruin a perfectly good party with talk of school. I'm home and just want to enjoy myself."

Ted finally got off the couch. Something wasn't right with him, and not only that, but he also wouldn't look her in the eye.

"Hey, Lisa. Welcome home." His familiar scent wrapped around her as he kissed her...cheek. Didn't get ballpark close to her lips, even though she hadn't seen him in a month.

As the quick kiss ended, Lisa glanced at Karen, eyebrows raised. Her friend looked away, her face red.

Something was going on.

"I'm getting married," her dad blurted, his face beaded with sweat. "She'll be here in an hour to meet you."

Wrapping her arms around Ted's waist Lisa held tight, certain her world was about to change.

Missy Tippens said...

Now I get to read the other scenes. Didn't want to ready any before I did mine. :)

Mary Connealy said...

I remember one contest critique where the judge told me one paragraph was in the MULE'S POV.

You know what? IT WAS NOT! It was deep POV for the heroine. Yes, it said what the mule was thinking but only because the heroine knew her mule very, very well.

My only response to that was...I suppose it could be read in such as way as to be the mule's POV but GIVE ME A BREAK!!!!


Here to entertain you all I shall share both versions.

Elizabeth kicked Hector and yelled. Whatever unfortunate qualities Hector had, stupidity wasn't one of them. He headed for the top of that creek to save his own mangy mule hide and if he saved the lot of them along with himself, well, that had nothing to do with him.

Sophie's POV
Elizabeth kicked Hector and yelled. Sophie knew her mule well and whatever unfortunate qualities Hector had, stupidity wasn't one of them. She knew he headed for the top of that creek to save his own mangy mule hide and if he saved the lot of them along with himself, well, that had nothing to do with him.

FINE! Now I'm not inside the mule's head!

The Grammar Queen said...

Oh, my dear TINA, you are so right.

And, before the residents and visitors in this sleepy little village become too complacent, be forewarned that I fully intend to return for another lecture soon.

Myra Johnson said...

MISSY, great scene! Poor, poor Lisa is really in for it from all directions. You nailed her POV!

Mary Connealy said...

For a minute there, Myra I thought you were telling Helen her coffee was CLOUDY and that seemed kinda rude. I mean it's nice of her to make it and it is CYBER coffee. I think we can give her the benefit of a doubt and j8ust go ahead and say it turns out perfectly everyday.

But then I read on ... Helen's coffee is fine as always. You were launching into a weather report.

Myra Johnson said...

Yes, MARY, I'd have to agree that critique was a little too persnickety. Anybody who has ever spent much time with animals has at some point imagined what they must be thinking. If anything, I'd have suggested using only the first "Sophie knew" and leave off the second one. By then it's obvious she's interpreting Hector's motives.

Myra Johnson said...

Sorry, no offense intended for Helen's coffee--always deeee-licious! And never cloudy!

Good news is . . . our clouds are clearing up! Now we just have sunshine and COLD to look forward to.

Don't worry, Mary, I expect no sympathy from you.

DebH said...

Great post Myra. I tend to be a head hopper and have to make a conscious effort to stop myself.

Here's my feeble effort:

Karen searched the street beyond the living room window as she rearranged the Nativity figurines for the umpteenth time. Her heartbeat stuttered and then went into overdrive as Ted's classic blue pickup drove into view. She wasn't sure her racing pulse was over welcoming her BFF Lisa home for Christmas break, or getting to be in close proximity to Ted. Dear, sweet, helpful, uber handsome Ted. Lisa's boyfriend Ted.


How could she begrudge Lisa such a prize? If she couldn't have the man of her dreams, at least her bosom buddy could. The familiar claw of guilt strangled her gut even as she opened the door.

"Welcome home, Lisa," Karen hugged her friend, "Your dad is out getting a last minute surprise for you. He's sorry about not being home to greet you."

"You here is better," Lisa hugged back, relief evident on her face.

"The class from Hades?" Karen had been privy to Lisa's worry about one of her college courses.

"Epic failure," Lisa's shoulders sagged, "Dad's gonna be fit to be tied."

"Tough break," Ted said, dropping Lisa's luggage at the base of the stairs.

Karen wasn't sure if it was her traitorous heart imagining things or if Ted truly looked uncomfortable. He normally took Lisa's stuff to the top of the stairs. Where were the usual hugs and kisses he gave Lisa when she was discouraged or unhappy? That was part of what made him so, well -- lovable.

"At least I can be comforted by my two favorite people in the world," Lisa said. Karen caught the quick flinch of pain on Ted's face before he turned to his girlfriend.

Strange. How could her heart lurch with joy and sorrow at the same time?

Cara Lynn James said...

It took me a while to catch on to POV. Head hopping never bothered me -- maybe it was well done so I didn't notice it could be confusing. I think it was common when I was younger. I still see it in new books and it surprises me since it's something we're supposed to stay away from.

Missy Tippens said...

I'm laughing about the accidental head hopping. I do that too sometimes and catch it when I read it later. OR! LOL Sometimes I'm writing along and suddenly think: Whose head am I in???? I literally cannot remember. And am obviously not doing a good job writing. :) Usually that happens when I get on a dialogue roll and am pretty much just writing talking heads.

That's so fun. Why can't we just write dialogue, huh?? ;)

Missy Tippens said...

LOLOL, Mary!!! So funny about the mule's pov. In fact, I liked the FIRST example better! :)

Myra Johnson said...

DEB, great job! You really captured Karen's turmoil about her crush on Ted. I also like how you showed her noticing the coolness in Ted's attitude toward Lisa. Solid single POV!

Myra Johnson said...

CARA, I think the more writing technique we learn, the more we notice it in published books. I never paid attention to POV or head-hopping until I started writing, myself.

MISSY, I know what you mean about writing "talking heads" and losing track of POV. That's one thing I like about writing in Scrivener. In my sidebar table of contents, I label each scene with the POV character's name. So if I ever get confused, all I have to do is look at the label.

Piper Huguley said...

This is a great post Myra. I suspect a lot of people are intimidated by doing the "work" of writing the scene--I know I am! I just got a note on head hopping on a critique this morning. I try to stay in the one pov per scene, but just as Missy said, I may be reading the scene and then its "Who's head am I in?"

Wrong question!

Shows your post and Missy's class at RWA are both needed!

Julie Lessman said...

MYRA!!! Cannot believe I am getting over here so late given this is a POV post ... you KNOW just how much I love POVs!! ;)

EXCELLENT blog, my friend, and realllllly clear and insightful. I especially like the following statement:

"The trick is to give them one main character they can relate to in this scene, and then, if the story calls for it, possibly a different but equally important character in the next scene."

WOW, believe it or not, I never thought about that before, but it's SO very true. Readers HAVE to connect with the main character first before they can connect with the story the way an author wants, and that connection takes time in the character's POV.

FUN ASSIGNMENTS!!! Although mine will probably be late since everything I do lately is late ... :|



Debra E. Marvin said...

sometimes people go overboard and insist a POV slip has occurred because the other character 'knows' emotion...well, the point is, if the writer has done a good job with body language non POV characters should be able to judge an emotion.

Just like we can.

yes, I got called on this on a contest and apparently am still stewing!

Myra, I really want to read your new book!

Jenny Blake said...

I will need to read this later when I can concentrate. Not having a good couple of days partly cos I am not feeling well. I will check it out later as I know constantly changing POV drives me mad especially if I have to read back to see who is talking.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Agree, Debra, and unless a POV violation is really huge, I don't even think it's a contest judges job to point it out.

They aren't an editor. They are judging the overall merit.

On the other hand, when you are sitting on the edge of waiting to sell land, your writing is so good that judges feel obligated to find something. Their insecurity no doubt.

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Tina (judge insecurity). :)

Jenny, I hope you feel better!

Missy Tippens said...

DebH, I just now got a chance to read yours. EXCELLENT!! I loved it. Nice pov, too.

CatMom said...

Wow Myra - - GREAT post!!
Head-hopping bothers me as a reader, so I've really, really tried NOT to do that as a writer.
If I may please be "excused" from the class assignment.... ;) Had a full day and am heading to bed super early.
Must add---that photo of you at the bottom of your post is BEAUTIFUL!! Really...you look glamorous! (and I'm not just saying this since I didn't do the assignment--honest!).
Sleepy hugs, Patti Jo zzzzz

Myra Johnson said...

Sorry for being AWOL this evening. Internet has been down since 5:30 p. m. EST and it's a pain doing this on my phone! Will check back tomorrow -- hopefully !!!

Chill N said...

Myra, sorry about your Internet problems ... it's not enough that the weather's cold, right? :-)

I'll beg off on the assignment, especially after reading those wonderful scenes in the comments. Lots of talent around here.

I'm saving your post to my "helpful contest tips" to share with contestants who are having trouble with POV in a major way.

As an aside, I usually don't like first person POV, but read a book this summer that was in first person and loved every moment. I need to go back and figure out why ...

Oh, and your book is on my iPad ready for the reading. LOVE that cover!

Nancy C

Myra Johnson said...

Being without Internet is the pits! Not sure when it finally came back on last night. At least we had a Netflix DVD we could watch since cable TV was out, too.

PIPER, welcome to the club! Losing track of which POV we're writing in is a common writing hazard.

JULIE, zeroing in on the main character first was drilled into me in my earliest writing lessons. Readers really need to know which character they are supposed to be cheering for.

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, DEBRA! You're right--sometimes what looks like a POV slip really is just insight from an intuitive POV character. It pays to double-check our wording, though, just to be sure.

JENNY, so sorry you've been having some rough days. Hope things get better soon!

TINA, I've noticed that, too. A contest judge just sometimes feels compelled to point something out even in a really good manuscript.

Myra Johnson said...

PATTI JO, you are excused! Especially after that sweet compliment!

NANCY, thanks! I really hope this POV lesson will prove helpful to newbie writers struggling with the concept. And I'd be curious, too, about what was different about the first-person story that you found so enjoyable. If you figure it out, let us know!