Tag Archives: head-hopping

Working with Point-Of-View

When you decide to write a story, you must determine who is going to tell it. At this point, you start thinking about point-of-view (POV). What would be more interesting for the reader? Generally speaking, there are two possibilities, telling the story in the first person or telling it in the third person.

After that decision, it’s time to get to the details. If you go with the first-person option, who would be the one telling the story? Why?

Even if you choose to have an external narrator to the story (third-person), you must decide if he would be omnipresent or follow a specific character or group of characters. Perhaps, your narrator is trapped in one place and can only observe what’s happening there.

First-person

This is, usually, what I prefer for my novels. You choose one character, and he or she is the one telling the story.

The benefits are in the emotion and the connection with the reader. The reader accesses the interior monologue and emotions directly by your character’s voice. This way, you make your reader build a very close relationship with one specific character and see the whole story through its eyes.

On the disadvantage side, you only access to his own thoughts and emotions. You see what he sees; you listen to what he listens… and nothing else. You have no clue about who the other characters are or what they are thinking, except through the interpretation of your narrator’s character.

Third-Person

In the third person, you have a completely different narrator and options. The narrator is someone outside the story, telling what is going on.

With the third-person point of view, you may also have interior monologue and emotion, but its told by a different person from the one having the feelings. This gives you the possibility of summarizing some thoughts, which might be the best course of action at some points.

A fascinating advantage of this POV is the fact that you can use your own voice to tell the story instead of using your character’s voice. When you’re using someone else’s voice, you have to focus on what he or she would think, how would that specific person tell this or feel that.

More important, your narrator can see and know everything about everybody. The omniscient narrator knows things that none of the characters know yet, and that can be a very interesting way to explore the story in some genres.

“Head-hopping”

Head-hopping is a technique inside the first person category, and it’s surrounded by controversy. This technique is about switching POV characters within a single scene.

Many writers defend that this will be a less powerful emotional experience for the reader. This group claims that first-person POV is about seeing the scene through the eyes of a single character, see what he sees, smell what he smells… In short, the reader interprets the world through his eyes.

However, other authors believe head-hopping can make the emotional experience even more powerful. You have access to the most profound thoughts and feelings of a character, but you are not limited to one single character.

I, personally, don’t have a definitive opinion about it. I tried it before, and honestly, it didn’t work. Nonetheless, I like the idea of being able to give voice to multiple characters about a specific event, while it’s happening. So, I believe that, if well-done, it can work perfectly for some stories.

Which one is the best for me?

Choosing the right POV is vital when you’re writing a novel or short story. Yet, it’s not an easy thing to do. You must have a good knowledge of each option and train with each one of them. It’s essential to be comfortable writing in both first and third person. Otherwise, you’ll be limiting yourself.

Other than that, it will depend mostly on the story itself and on how do you think it should reach your readers.

My advice is, if you are not sure about which POV is better for your story, then write a few scenes from each POV and see what feels right for you.

Who should tell the story?

When you’re writing a novel, one of the first decisions you must make is about the narrator. Who will be the one telling the story? How will they do it? Why?

You’ll face many options, such as: should my narrator be someone external to the story, narrating it in the third person? Should they be the main character, talking in the first person? Or another character completely? Should I have more than one narrator throughout?

Point of View

The most common choice is for you to have just one narrator, despite the fact that many successful books, even some classics, had more than one, having a single narrator is still true for the majority of stories out there.

You can have an external narrator talking in the third person while he’s explaining everything that takes place. He might be like a god, knowing everything that is happening everywhere, or he might be just like a follower of one of two characters, being as surprised as you are for some of the events or how they unfolded.

Another way of telling your story is to give a voice to a character. This is called point-of-view character and with this option, your reader will see, hear, and possibly think, what your character is seeing, hearing and thinking.

The choice of this character can be another headache for the writer and sometimes, writers take the option of switching who’s telling the story along the book. This is called “head-hopping” and it can be dangerous for the flow of your story, so it’s probably not a good idea for a novice writer.

As you can see from this little summary, there are plenty of possibilities and you can explore them all. Nothing is forbidden, as long as it works for your unique story.

Some advice

Above all else, readers want emotion. They will seek out different emotions in different genres, but in the end, that’s all they want, even crave. So when you’re writing you must think of what kind of emotion you want to give them and base your choice (each of the ones you’ll have to make throughout the process of writing) on it.

Make sure that your book gives them what it is they’re seeking in that style of book.

Advantages and Disadvantages of each Point of View

When you choose the first person point of view, your reader will feel close to that character, providing a bigger intimacy which can be very productive. However, your character has to be interesting and have an appealing voice. For example, if your character is an old man with Alzheimer’s it probably will be too confusing for the reader, making it harder to develop empathy, or you might get strong empathy but lack clarity and focus (from the said character) to provide a decent flow for the rest of the story.

With a third person point of view, or an external narrator, you’ll have more flexibility writing your novel, making it easier for you to switch scenes (your narrator will not be stuck in the same room as one character, he can know exactly what is happening outside and that might be useful too).

How to choose?

In order to make a good decision is important that you understand the implications of each point of view and if that will fit your story.

There are a couple questions you can ask yourself that might help you to choose:

Do I want my readers to be able to know what goes on in a variety of different places and the circumstances of various different characters?

Do I want my readers to have access to the characters deepest thoughts?

Do I want my readers to feel what the character feels, or to know what they’re feeling?

In the end, if you still have doubts: experiment! Write the same scenes from both points of view and see what works better for you.