Yesterday, I talked about “headhopping.” That’s jumping from one character’s POV into another’s head in the scene. If you write this way, you’re in good company, but it’s jarring to the reader. In Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, they open Chapter 3, Point of View, with a short passage from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. It’s an example of headhopping.
“Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is a powerfully written book, yet some readers find it hard to get involved in the story, in part because of passages like the above. The characters are clear, the dialogue has an authentic feel, but in the second paragraph we’re seeing the scene as Joe sees it, in the third we’ve switched to Elmira, and in the last paragraph we’ve switched again, to July. We never settle in to a single point of view.” (Page 41) The passage is page 40. We’ll see it below.
This chapter explains the differences between first person, omniscient, and third person. My favorite way is third person, because if you write only from first person POV, you’re only going to get one person’s POV. It can be a very powerful vehicle, but keep in mind, it’s only one person’s perspective.
One of my favorite first person books is Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I don’t think we lost anything in the story from just knowing Pip’s POV. Dickens’ use of much dialogue helped. Pip could also reported how he felt, and how he thought others felt. That’s not headhopping, that’s observation.
On page 60 of Self-Editing, the authors state “When you make the point of view clear at the beginning of a scene, you get your readers involved right away and let them get used to inhabiting your viewpoint character’s head.
Here’s that passage from McMurtry.
“Want some buttermilk? July asked, going to the crock.
“No, sir,” Joe said. He hated buttermilk, but July loved it so he always asked anyway.
“You ask him that every night,” Elmira said from the edge of the loft. It irritated her that July came home and did exactly the same things day after day.
“Stop asking him,” she said sharply. “Let him get his own buttermilk if he wants any. I’ts been four months now and he ain’t drunk a drop – looks like you’d let it go.”
She spoke with a heat that surprised July. Elmira could get angry about almost anything, it seemed. Why would it matter if he invited the boy to have a drink of buttermilk? All he had to do was say no, which he had.
See the hopping around the authors talked about?
There is also a “second” person where everything is told like this:
“Sometime after midnight, you awaken with a distinct sense of unease. You listen carefully, but hear nothing. You slip out of bed and stand with heart beating too quick at your bedroom doorway. Then you realize there’s an usually strong movement of fresh, cool night air down the hallway. You rush to the entryway; the front door stands open. You turn toward Rodney’s bedroom – is he still there?”
I took the preceding paragraph from my Apprentice unit on Point of View from Christian Writer’s Guild. We had the same paragraph in eight different POVs – from 1st person singular and plural (I and we), to second person (You), which I put here, to 3rd person single or multiple narrators, from subjective to objective, then omniscient.
My favorite way is third person subjective. That means I get into the character’s head and tell what they see, hear, using all the senses, and also how they feel.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about multiple viewpoints in a novel, and how many or not a story should have. What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.