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These are my writing posts from my former blog, spanning 2009-2012. To see new writing posts, click on the blog tab above. To see these archived post organized by topic, click "For Writers" above.

Entries in third person omniscient (2)

Thursday
Feb042010

Head-hopping: How to Make Your Reader Dizzy

 

The world is spinning!

Photo by jetsandzeppelins (click pic for link)

Have you ever read a book that jumped from one person's thoughts to the others so quickly it made your head spin?


Most of us are writing in one of two kinds of POV.  Many of you, especially you YA writers, are taking on first person.  And then the rest of us, most likely, are using deep or limited third person POV.  Omniscient 3rd person (where the narrator knows all things and everyone's thoughts)  has gone out of fashion for the most part--except maybe in some epic fantasy stories.  This means that if you are using 1st or deep 3rd POV, the writing should be in one person's head in a scene.  


In 1st person, this is a little easier to achieve because, well, you only have one head to work with.  (Although, you're still at risk for Author Intrusion, which I'll talk about tomorrow).  But if you're using 3rd person and have multiple characters offering POV (which is the joy of writing in 3rd), then you have to be careful.  Take this example:

Jane narrowed her eyes and glared at him as he took a bite of the massive hunk of chocolate cake.  How could he be such a jerk?  He knew she was on a diet and couldn't have any.  Joe smiled and licked a glob of icing off his fork.  He could tell Jane wanted to kill him, but he didn't care.  He was determined to get her off this ridiculous diet of hers.

Okay, so my writing is stellar, I know, but hopefully the example gets the point across.  In the same paragraph we hear both characters thoughts and motivations.  This is disorienting to the reader.  If we're in deep POV, the reader is seeing things through one person's eyes.  If you keep hopping into different heads, the story becomes hard to follow.  It also will screw with establishing the voice of your characters because they'll all be intertwined.  Here is the example with no head-hopping.

Jane narrowed her eyes and glared at him as he took a bite of the massive hunk of chocolate cake.  How could he be such a jerk?  He knew she was on a diet and couldn't have any.  Joe smiled and licked a glob of icing off his fork, as if taunting her.  Her knuckles turned white as she gripped her coffee mug tighter.

When I'm critting other's work, I see this head-hopping pop up most in kissing or love scenes.  We're so excited to tell our reader what each of our characters is thinking, but that totally ruins the moment.  Tension is built out of the mystery of not knowing all things and thoughts of all people at all times.  It's okay to switch POVs, but you have to do it with thought and planning.  


Some tips:


1. Aim to keep one POV per scene for most scenes.  This will keep things clear and easy to follow for your reader.
2.  If you do need to switch in a scene, do it only once per scene and do a double return (extra spacing) in your document to show that the POV has changed.  This is common in romance, and readers know that when they see that break in lines, that we've switched to the other person's POV.
3. Be in the POV of the character that has the most at stake in that scene.
4. Pretend that when you're in a character's head, you have to put on their outfit.  So if you switch heads, you have to change clothes.  This can't be done at breakneck speed and and on a constant basis.  You have to plan a break so that you can slip into the new costume.


Alright, hope that helps, tomorrow...author intrusion.


Have you read books that head hopped all over the place?  Have you found yourself wanting to tell the reader everything?


 
 
 

**Today's Theme Song**
"Headspin" - Lukas Rossi
(player in sidebar--go ahead, take a listen)

 

 

Monday
Nov092009

POV Advantages and Pitfalls

 

When I started my first novel, I didn't give POV much thought. I was going to write in first person. Why? I dunno...seemed obvious. I wanted my readers to feel close to my character. And that's the best way to do it, right?
Well, maybe, but not necessarily. First person came with a lot of restrictions and forced me to tell the story from one character's perspective. So making sure she "saw" everything that needed to be seen was a challenge. At the time, I didn't even realize I had another option at my disposal.
But then when I started to research my romance, I realized that the common romance structure is third person limited or deep third person POV. I had read hundreds of books using that POV, but had never realized exactly what I was reading. I just lumped third person into all one category. And once I started writing in deep POV, I found that this style POV came much easier to me and allowed me the flexibility I wanted.
So I thought I would give a brief overview of POVs so that you can know what options are out there:
First person
Told from the inner perspective ("I") of one character.
Ex.) a LOT of YA novels, the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series (although after seeing the show, which deviates from only Sookie's perspective, we've gotten a number of new interesting story lines with secondary characters that would have never been possible in the books because Sookie wouldn't have been privy to "see" them.)
Exception: in rare instances, using more than one "I" perspective can work. New Moon did this with Bella and Jacob (kind of drove me crazy though), Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles alternated chapters with the heroine and hero from first person POV.
Advantages:
--If written well, your reader will feel like they are part of the character and will get to know them fully through their inner thoughts and storytelling voice.
--Intimate and emotionally intense
--When writing it may be easier to become the character
--Makes the story feel "true"
--This often feels most natural when you first start writing because, well, we think in first person.

Disadvantages:
--First person can sounds monotonous for an entire book
--If the reader doesn't like the main character of his/her voice, you're toast
(I've heard people say this about PC Cast's House of Night novels. I enjoy the MC's voice, but some people find her annoying and therefore don't like reading the books despite a good story.)
--It's easy to get a little too wrapped up in introspection and not enough dialogue
--Sometimes when writing "I" you let too much of yourself enter the character. Have to remember to react as the character not as you.
Third Person Limited/Deep POV
Very similar to first person. You write from inside one character's head at a time--but it doesn't have to be the same character for the whole book (although it can be).
Ex.) Wicked Lovely (Melissa Marr), Uglies (Scott Westerfeld). Almost any romance you pick up.
Advantages:
--You can write from more than one character's POV. In romance, that means you get the hero's perspective as well as the heroine's which adds to the tension. In suspense, you can have a few chapters from the villain's POV.
--Your MC doesn't have to be everywhere and with everyone to make sure the reader gets all important facts of the story.
--Readers are used to this POV and it becomes invisible
--Less likely to become monotonous because you're getting different perspectives
Disadvantages
--Not as immediate and intimate as first person
--You can be tempted to head hop
--You have to get to know every POV character intimately and develop distinct voices, which can involve more work. Your villain's POV can't sound like your MC's. And your hero needs to think like a guy, not a woman--there's a big difference.
Third Person Omniscient
Narrator is all-knowing and separate from the story--playing God. He/She knows what each character is thinking and can see it all. "Little did Bob know that today was the last day he'd see the sun."
Ex.) This is seen mostly in classics and epic fantasies/sci-fi. Lord of the Rings.
--I won't do a detailed breakdown of this one since it is not commonly used in modern fiction. But the main advantage is being able to tell the reader anything you need them to know. Disadvantage is it distances the reader from the characters.
WARNING: What to watch out for in first and deep third person POV...
  • Cut out these words from your MC's voice: decided, thought, knew, remembered, noticed, saw, smelled, realized, heard, felt, understood, etc. These take us out of deep POV and "tell".
Wrong: She saw him smile at her and felt warmth course through her. She realized with dismay that she still loved him.
Better: He smiled and warmth coursed through her. Crap. I still love this idiot.
Wrong: I saw the empty living room and remembered how my grandmother used to braid my hair in front of the fireplace and tell me stories about her childhood.
Better: I stared at the empty living room and tears stung my eyes. Grandma used to braid my hair in front of the...
  • Don't report things that the MC can't see/know for herself or wouldn't notice under normal circumstances. Stay in her head and see through her eyes.
Wrong: Her face turned beet red. (She can't see her own face.) The girls in the corner laughed at her reaction. (She can't know exactly why they are laughing, only guess.)
Better: Her face grew hot, and the girls in the corner pointed and laughed.

Alright, that turned out longer than expected.
So what about you? What's your favorite POV to write in or read? Do you find yourself falling out of POV with those last two things (I do!)? Have you ever read a first person book that you couldn't finish because you didn't like the MC?
**Today's Theme Song**
"Lost in Your Eyes"-- Debbie Gibson
(player in sidebar, take a listen to do it old school)