Wednesday, April 23, 2008

POV (headhopping vs. multiple)

wryttenwyrd asks:
My question to you is about headhopping, commonly found in romances. Switching from one character's head to the other's can be done fairly well sometimes, but I personally find that device loathsome. As an editor, do you find this pov treatment (that's my nice word for it) viable in any other type of writing?

Actually, in my experience, romance has tended far more lately towards single POV (single per scene-- with two protagonists, most romance novels have to use both in the book). I see very little headhopping except in new authors and the bestselling authors who can get away with that.

But if you're reading bestsellers, you could well be getting more headhopping than you like! They can rely on their facility at storytelling more than their craft. But most romance writers are single-POV advocates, in my experience, as are most romance editors.

And I would probably reject any manuscript that came to me with headhopping, as to me that signifies a lack of control of the narrative and a lack of understanding of the reader's experience. If it was a great story, I'd probably ask the writer to learn about POV and resubmit. (You do sometimes get great stories with headhopping, because often that's a result of a particularly creative writer who is so great with character, she can't settle on any one.) Headhopping is often the sign of a new writer or a young writer, and usually a good new writer just has to have that pointed out and explained, and once she gets it, she can transform her work. But it's very much a transformation of mindset. It's hard, I think, for those who are innate single-POVers to understand that, because it's so natural for us to park in one POV and see everything from inside that character. But it's pretty amazing how quickly former headhoppers change when they understand what POV is, and what shifting means.

By the way, I distinguish between headhopping (uncontrolled shifting of POV) and multiple POV, which is shifting for a purpose, and the POV always in some character's head. That, I suspect, is truly the POV of the 21st Century, as it is more cinematic. (Omniscient was the dominant POV mode of the 19th C, and single-POV of the 20th C, I'd say.) Multiple POV and omniscient are closely related, and single-third and first-person are closely related; that is, each pair use much the same narration techniques and focus.

For a good example of how to do multiple POV in romance (and it makes very good sense in romance, as there are two protagonists, and both are present in most scenes, and both have journeys), read Susan Elizabeth Phillips's novels. Ain't She Sweet is great for that, and so is Nobody's Baby but Mine. She usually has four POV characters (has two romances in most books), and POV is carefully controlled. But she uses multiple POV to show how differently the characters interpret events, and that's a great reason to use multiple POV.


writtenwyrdd said...

Thanks for the clarification! Now I have to ask, does the multiple pov mean shifting pov during or between scenes? I've always thought any shift within a single scene was headhopping.

Genella deGrey said...

Once again, your post has come at a very timely moment. So please accept my gratitude. :)

I have a few scenes where three people are in a room, and one of them is invisible. I feel the need to get into the invisible man's head every so often, as different actions take place to show “the audience” how he is interpreting things, so it may seem as if I'm headhopping.

I think it works well for the story, and the handful of readers (as opposed to writers) who have read it like the way I’ve done it, but an editor has asked me to go over my POV's before resubmitting. (She didn't specifically say this particular scene, but I'm over-sensitive to all POV's at the moment because of the editor's request.)

I always make sure as one begins reading the sentence they know whose head they’re in. I’m pretty sure I'm doing it so that it makes sense - I hope the editor thinks so, too!

Thanks for letting me know it is possible to do it correctly!

Edittorrent said...

How do you signify the invisible guy's POV?

It jumped into my head to do it in italics (or a different color font, if it's for epublishing, which allows more typographical funness). Now I'm not suggesting that... but it did occur to me. Often telepathic characters' thoughts are rendered in italics.

I generally don't like italics except for emphasis, but I'm tying to stay open.

I should ask that! :)

Genella deGrey said...

Alicia - When I write, I usually use TNR and underline internal thoughts and emphasis on single words - but that's only for submissions. How ever the editors decide to do it from there is good for me.

I hadn't thought of doing anything different for my invisible guy's POV - I suppose the editors will let me know if they want me to do colors, italics, or whatever.

Interesting idea, though - I open to any of it.


Anonymous said...

What would you use to distinguish omni (where you want to move from head to head, even within a scene) from unwanted headhopping?

I have a story that I want to tell from a very limited omni viewpoint - a brother and sister pairing - without getting into the heads of anyone else. I can rewrite it so that every scene is either from his PoV or hers; but I wonder whether there was a way of making this kind of viewpoint work...

(It felt entirely natural when I wrote it. I haven't comitted even a single headhopped line for YEARS. Go figure.)

Edittorrent said...

Omniscient has some overall narrative sense. That is, it's got more info and "thinks" things that no character is thinking... even if there isn't any actual narrator. So starting a scene with "Petersboro was the sort of town where residents watched out for each other-- and watched each other too," that's omniscient.

The modern omniscient is still very popular and works with many types of books, especially, I think, sff and historical fiction, stories where setting is very important.

Anonymous said...

Omniscient has some overall narrative sense.

Thanks, Alicia. I'll ponder that when I get back to the story, see what focus will suit it better. I think I'll probably wnat to play my cards closer to my chest.