My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.
B: Bouncing Points of View
Mordekai tried to recapture the mood from some of his favorite medieval tales by picturing a black knight attempting to invade the tower. He could hear the crunch of footsteps on the stone courtyard, the clang of metal. The heavy, snorting breaths of the horse his enemy rode and the sounds of fighting as the wall was breached.
And here I stand, guarding the tower. A stalwart defender who… He paused. Defender of what? There was usually a treasure or a lady-fair involved, and he had neither. He made a living, but he wasn’t rich, and these days, the only woman who wanted to be near him was his sister. Which means I’m more likely to be defending this place from a bulldozer looking to renovate than anything else.
“Sword out. Come on!” his sister said. “Slash, jab, thrust…and then hold it.”
He complied but his heart wasn’t in it. Monique could tell, and it worried her. He dated Annette for far too long. Might’ve even been thinking of marriage, who knows? And then the woman had the gall to ditch him because she felt “stifled” and needed to explore her “self-expression without the entanglement of a relationship.” Monique growled a few choice, less-than-medieval expressions under her breath as she continued to click photos of her brother. His helmet hid his expression, much as he tried to hide his heart, but she knew he was hurting and lonely.
What she didn’t know was that everything would soon change forever.
What’s wrong with the above paragraphs? The narration. We go from third person close narration (Mordekai) to third person close narration (Monique), and end with third person omniscient, having the benefit of a narrator who can see into the future because neither Mordekai nor Monique knows what lies ahead.
This is officially known as head-hopping, and it jolts the reader as they go from one head to the next. It can be hard to spot, as an author, though, because we know all our characters. We are the ultimate of Omniscient narrators, so flowing from one character’s thoughts to another rarely bothers us. It can seem like little more than what you find it true third person omniscient narration, where the narrator gives us the feelings of Mordekai and then Monique, but with a narrator, you never truly get inside their head. You don’t get direct thoughts with a narrator.
If this was third person omniscient narration, it’d read more like this: “Mordekai tried to recapture the mood from some of his favorite medieval tales by picturing a black knight attempting to invade the tower. He’d grown up reading the tales of King Arthur and then all the modern renditions, with fantasy and dragons, elves and goblins, trolls and trouble, and he’d always wanted to be the knight in shining armor. But a knight needed a fair lady, and recently, Mordekai had lost his with no chance of gaining her back.” You’ll notice that all the information is such that an outside observer (i.e., the narrator) could’ve gained if he’d been around Mordekai 24/7. It never gets into his head to where we see what he sees and tastes what he tastes.
Thus, the next paragraph could read “Though he considered this a loss, his sister was of a different mind. Annette had frequently shown herself to be self-absorbed and considerably less warm and loving than Monique thought her brother deserved, and she couldn’t help but feel a touch of relief to know she was gone. What worried her, though, was how hard her brother was taking the break-up. Mordekai had always been a bit sensitive, and he wasn’t the kind who moved on easily. When his six-year-old “girlfriend” had dumped him after parental intervention had deemed her “too young to be dating,” he’d been forlorn and glum for months. Even offers to read his books with him had been met with a shrug of the shoulders, his eyes never leaving his doodled drawings of dying knights on the field of battle.”
Because neither paragraph takes us into the heart of the characters, going from one to another ins’t as big a jolt. We aren’t leaving one point-of-view to become immersed in another when the narrator goes from Mordekai to Monique. We just stay with the narrator the whole time, and he or she tells us the story, giving us information from past, present, and future as needed–but never truly giving us the depth of third person limited narration.
With third person limited narration, you basically have to treat each chapter or section as though you’re writing first person narration. The only difference is you use character names instead of “I” or “me,” but you are just as close and the narration is just as intimate…which is why it’s frustrating when you snap out of it and move on without a section break or new chapter heading to warn readers of what’s coming.
Until the next letter,
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren
Photo courtesy of gratisography
10 thoughts on “A to Z 2017: Bouncing Points-of-View”
I’ve read a couple of books that do this and it’s really confusing. You read so far with one person in mind, then they’re they’re talking about someone different. It’s even kind of jarring when it happens in separate chapters.
Cait @ Click’s Clan
Interesting. I don’t mind it as much in separate chapters, provided the sections makes it clear who is doing the talking. It can be very jolting when you go from one first person viewpoint to another, because it then becomes hard to determine who “I” has become. But that’s my reading take. 🙂
Agreed. The head bounce is so tough to follow and hard to get right!
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I just might be guilty of this one…maybe? You’ll have to keep me on the straight and narrow as I write book 3. 🙂
I don’t recall any examples of it in your books, but I’ll definitely keep my eyes open. 🙂
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That was so informative! Great post, Andrea!
Thanks! I was actually worrying I was getting a little long-winded. 🙂
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Nope, no need to worry 🙂
Great post! Point-of-View is probably the trickiest part of storytelling, especially because there is no fast rule, and every choise is always very nuanced.
Head hoping is very jarrying, I still read it in books sometimes.
But it can also be very effective when you know what’s your doing. I read a book one (The Heartsong of Charging Elk) where the author intentionally used head hopping for a purpose. We starte the story in Charging Elk POV. He’s a Lakota man stranded alone in Paris. We spend the first three chapters in a very deep third limited and we come to the point to be very famialiar with Chargin Elk. To see the world thorugh his eyes.
As he look around for his compenions in a city that is completely alien to him, he stumbles upon a problem (I don’t remember what) and he gets arrested. He doesn’t knwo the language, he dosn’t know French customes, he doesn’t knwo anything about the Western ways of life and his POV reflects this very deeply.
Then a French journalist learns of his story and goes to the jail to bail him out. And there, in the middle of the chapter, without any worning or marking, the POV suddenly switches from Charging Elk to the journalist.
I know may people would think this is absolutely wrong, but I think the author did this intentionally to show (rather than tell) the revelation that accured to Charging Elk: he was in a foraign country and everything was different. People expect him to be a different person.
It was really shocking… for the reader as well as the character, I woudl say 😉
The Old Shelter – 1940s Film Noir
Oh how neat!! That would make for a fascinating jolt, when used intentionally. Thanks for sharing!