Lately, I’ve noticed some writers having problems writing POV. POV stands for point of view. It can seem challenging, but it’s actually easy. Once you get the hang of it, it can even help you sink deeper into your character’s skin.
There are three types of POV. First person, second person, and third person.
First person: I love cats.
Second person: You love cats.
Third person: He loves cats.
Easy, right? Most fiction is written in either first person or third person. First person is pretty easy, since we all use it every day. It is definitely useful for getting immediately into a character.
Third person is either omniscient or limited. Third person omniscient is sort of like god mode. This POV sees the characters in the scene like a camera. Sometimes you might dip inside a character’s head, but the POV isn’t confined to one character in a scene and is often above or outside of the characters. This POV was very popular in the 1970’s. In contrast, third person limited is limited to one character per scene. It feels similar to first person, but uses he or she. it allows a deep connection to the POV character by going inside his head. Most modern third person fiction is written in this POV.
Head-hopping is when POV shifts rapidly from one character to another in the same scene. This is bad. Don’t head hop. It confuses readers and breaks up scenes. Here’s an example:
She sat in the café and wondered when Ben would show up. She sighed. Maybe he wouldn’t like the little red slip dress she wore. Maybe he would think she was desperate. Tim thought she looked great. He was so attracted to Rosemary. Every time she ordered a mocha, he always turned the ‘o’ into a cat face. He wondered if she ever noticed his shy way of flirting.
Even if we split the two character POV’s into separate paragraphs, it’s pretty choppy. It looks amateurish and basically screams that you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t head hop.
Don’t confuse head-hopping with third person omniscient. Head-hopping is schizophrenic and confusing; third person omniscient can be cinematic, as it’s like viewing the action in a movie. In this example, notice how the POV shifts between the two characters in the scene. There’s a transition.
In the aromatic café, a woman in a skimpy red dress glanced, yet again, through the plate glass window. She traced the name, hastily penned in black, on the paper cup. Rosemary. She sighed. Red lipstick clung to the cup’s white plastic lid.
Shouts on the street outside made her spine stiffen. Rosemary stared out the window in horror. She recognized Ben’s wild blue hair instantly, but she didn’t know the four guys circled around him.
On the street outside the café, five men squared off. One was smaller than the others, lean and sinewy, with sapphire blue dreds. Facing him was the largest of the group. He wore a faded jean jacket with the arms cut off. “I said ‘git,’ fruit loop .”
Ben grinned. He was going to love taking this jerk apart.
Third person limited confines the reader within the body of one character at a time. We experience the world through that character’s eyes. Pretend you are wearing a costume and peeping through the eye-holes of a mask. It’s sort of like that. You can shift from character to character, but you need to have scene breaks or chapter breaks to do so. This keeps everything neat and tidy.
Rosemary sat near the window so she would be able to see Ben coming. She pulled down the hem of her red dress, wondering if it was too much. Sure, she and Ben had been in the same art class for three months, but she didn’t really know him. Did she look desperate?
She traced her name on the paper coffee cup. Tim always added cat ears, dash-eyes, a dot nose, and whiskers to the ‘o.’ She knew he liked her. She always attracted guys like Tim. Safe guys. She wanted something else. Something exciting. Something like—
Shouts outside sent a chill down her spine. She stared out the window and recognized that blue hair immediately. Ben!
Her breath caught in her throat. He was surrounded by four men. One of them was big and burly. He stood tensed and bull-like, menacing the smaller Ben. She clenched her fists as she watched the men. She wanted to do something—wanted to help. She fished the little can of mace from her purse. As she started up, steeling herself, she looked once more out the window. The grin on Ben’s face surprised her.
Ben’s heart raced, but his mind remained calm. He would take Jean Jacket out first, then he would kick the crap out of the Winchester-wannabes backing him up. This was going to be fun.
See how easy that is? I wrote Because Faerygodmonster in first person and will continue to use it in the Chainmail and Velvet series, but I love working in third person limited. Both of these points of view enable the writer (and the reader!) to go deep inside the emotional landscape of a character.
Whichever POV you decide is right for you story, remember to stay consistent and avoid head-hopping.