A Post For New Writers: Point of View

A Post For New Writers

A Post For New Writers

The point of view concept is another hard one when you’re starting out.  There’s an urge to give multiple character points of view in the same scene because you’re afraid that there’s something important the reader might miss.  But this isn’t true if you give actions to hint at what other characters are thinking.  Nonverbal cues are very important in conveying emotions and thoughts in a scene.

The use of multiple character points of view in one scene is called head hopping, and this technique will confuse your reader.

The reader might have to stop reading, go back and reread a passage to figure out who is thinking what, and that will disrupt the flow of your story.

Let me give you an example to show you what I mean.  Remember the idea I’ve been using with the father who is separated from his wife and was picking up his daughter?  Let’s say the house he went to was completely empty, so he couldn’t find the girl.  Now he has to tell his estranged wife.

“What do you mean the house was empty?” Clara asked, not believing her ears.  “Didn’t you go to the right address?”

“Of course, I did.” He pulled out his smartphone and dug up the email she’d sent him.  He showed her the screen.  “That’s the address I went to, but I’m telling you, no one was there.  No one’s lived there for years.”

She shook her head.  Just typical.  He was running late from another meeting.  He probably turned down the wrong street without realizing it.

Once again, she refused to believe him.  She was assuming the worst.  And he didn’t know how he could rectify it.  “Let’s call their number and see if the address is wrong.”

With a sigh, she went to the kitchen to retrieve the number her daughter’s friend had given her.  He was going to feel foolish when the girl’s mother verified she had the correct address.  She never made mistakes.  Ever.

When the phone picked up on the other end, she said, “This is Clara.  I’m sorry my husband is late in picking our daughter up, Mandy, but my husband had trouble finding your place.  May I verify your address?”

He listened as she talked into the phone, and though she didn’t sound irritated, he knew that was exactly how she felt.  It seemed like he couldn’t do anything right lately.  But he had made sure the address was the one she’d given him.  He was more sure of it than anything else.

She waited for a response on the other end of the line, but she only heard dead air.  “Hello?  Mandy?”

Still, no answer.

He turned when Clara returned.  Clara stared at the phone in her hand, a creepy sensation coming over her.  Something was wrong.  Terribly wrong.

Did any of that confuse you?  I hope so because it was given with lots of head hopping.  Now, let’s switch this example to using only one character’s point of view.

A good rule of thumb is to use the character who has the most to gain or lose in the scene.  

In this case, it’s the father because he is losing his wife’s trust, something he’s desperately trying to keep because he’s the one who wants to save the marriage.

“What do you mean the house was empty?” Clara asked.  “Didn’t you go to the right address?”

“Of course, I did.” He pulled out his smartphone and dug up the email she’d sent him.  He showed her the screen.  “That’s the address I went to, but I’m telling you, no one was there.  No one’s lived there for years.”

With a shake of her head, she narrowed her eyes at him.  His gut tightened in dread.  She was assuming the worst.  And he didn’t know how he could rectify it.

“Let’s call their number and see if the address is wrong,” he suggested.

He wasn’t sure if she’d do it.  She had gotten used to ignoring any of his suggestions, but after a long sigh, she went to the kitchen.

A long, tense moment passed before he heard her say, “This is Clara. I’m sorry my husband is late in picking our daughter up, Mandy, but my husband had trouble finding your place. May I verify your address?”

Though Clara didn’t sound irritated, he knew that was exactly how she felt. It seemed like he couldn’t do anything right lately. But he had made sure the address was the one she’d given him. He was more sure of it than anything else.

“Hello? Mandy?”

Eyebrows furrowed, he turned toward the kitchen, ready to head in there to find out what was going on, but he refrained.  This was no longer his house.  He forced himself to look back out the window, hoping their daughter would be showing up, that the friend’s mother had taken it upon herself to take her home.

Footsteps brought his attention back toward the kitchen, and he turned in time to see Clara entering the room, staring at the phone in her hand, her face white. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.

In the second scene, I did add more to his point of view because not head hopping freed me up to be more in tune with his thoughts and feelings.

The key to good writing is to make reading as easy as possible for the reader.

When you stay in one character’s point of view during the entire scene, you are helping to keep the flow of your story steady.

To best understand point of view, it’s important to practice by writing it.  So, take one scene from your work in progress.  If you head hopped, then convert that scene to only one character’s point of view like I did above.  Then, to better understand the concept even better, take the same scene and now switch it to the other character’s point of view to see how things changed.

Another way to best understand point of view is to write first person point of view.  This is the “I” point of view.

Remember, when you’re in one point of view (be it first or third person), you can only give the thoughts and feelings of the character whose point of view you’re in.  All you can do is report what other characters are saying and doing.

This can be tricky, and only writing can help you get this one down.  To be honest, I didn’t truly understand this until last year when I wrote a novella from the point of view of a villain in a book I’d written back in 2007.  So don’t get discouraged if this takes a while to learn.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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6 Responses to A Post For New Writers: Point of View

  1. Such a difference Ruth Ann.

    • Thanks for commenting, Debbie. 🙂 I didn’t fully grasp this concept until I wrote Kent Ashton’s Backstory and had to explain what happened during Falling In Love With Her Husband from his point of view. I wish I had done an exercise where I took one scene and put it in another character’s point of view when I was starting out.

  2. I read a book recently, a GOOD book, and there was head hopping all through it. There were times when there was at least three POVs in the same scene. Now, I will say, it didn’t really draw me out of the story like I thought it would. And I always knew whose POV it was. But it still felt very strange to me. I was really surprised, because this author has published multiple books. This book had great reviews. But I think this is the exception to the rule. Most of the time, head hopping is VERY confusing. I would tell new authors…don’t do it! (Okay, I did it once or twice in my last book, but that’s only because I forgot to put the space between the scenes. LOL.)

    • I think I know the author you’re talking about. I have no interest in reading her books because they aren’t my genre of choice, but I have heard many good things about her. I’m actually reading a book right know with minor head hopping, but it’s not a lot and it flows surprisingly well with the story. It can be done, but I agree new authors are better off sticking with one point of view in a scene. Then when they are comfortable with writing and the art of storytelling, they can branch out if they want, but with the experience behind them, they’ll have a better idea of why they are doing it and choosing when it best fits the plot.

      I figured you just needed a space because you were so clean when it came to staying in the other character’s point of view. 🙂 I’m looking forward to having the paperback of Fire Wizard! That was such a great book.

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