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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

‘At the drop of a thought.’

Consistent character Point of view in modern books is supposed to be a prime requirement, yet so many writers stray. Maybe they don’t see the switch. Maybe they’re influenced by too many movies and TV dramas, which effectively shows the audience the director’s POV, not a character’s.

I’m always going on about POV when I edit someone’s book – some more than others, let it be said. And I say as much in a chapter on POV in Write a Western in 30 Days: ‘…character POV is a very important subject for writers of any genre fiction. I’m specifying genre fiction here: literary fiction gets away with switching POV at the drop of a thought.’ (p56)

Many bestselling novelists abide by the rule, maintaining a single POV within any scene, thus avoiding the often confusing ‘head hopping’. Two notable practitioners are Ken Follett and George R.R. Martin.

There’s an interesting blog here, offering 20 quotations from Martin on writing:

While George R.R. Martin refers to his primary genre, fantasy, most of the 20 quotes are applicable to all fiction writing, genre or mainstream. Item 13 says:

“I’m a strong believer in telling stories through a limited but very tight third person point of view. I have used other techniques during my career, like the first person or the omniscient view point, but I actually hate the omniscient viewpoint. None of us have an omniscient viewpoint; we are alone in the universe. We hear what we can hear… we are very limited. If a plane crashes behind you I would see it but you wouldn’t. That’s the way we perceive the world and I want to put my readers in the head of my characters.”


Ron Scheer said...

This is a complex subject. Head hopping, as you say, is a mark of amateur or lazy writing, though one could argue that it's cinematic. In time it could become the norm, just as classic scene editing has become a thing of the past. Narrators of fiction written 100+ years ago played with POV in ways we don't see today.

Nik said...

Thanks for commenting, Ron. Yes, I'm reading EM Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread and it's omniscient POV and it works, but I don't get as close to the characters because of that. His humour and phrasing save the book, I suspect... Head hopping has its place perhaps, so long as it's controlled.