Thursday, September 18, 2014

POV Shifts, Head Hopping and the Rules - Question from a writer

I watched your educational video on character introspection and now I have a question. Can more than one character in a scene (meaning the main characters ? hero and heroine) have their thoughts revealed as they speak and interact? Or is it acceptable only to have the thoughts of one character revealed? On some of the writing blogs I follow, the consensus seems to be that the reader can only know what one character is thinking at a time and that the scene or chapter must change before another character's thoughts can be revealed. To do otherwise is called head-hopping and confusing to the reader. However, in looking through a pile of romance paperbacks I've stockpiled, I've found examples of both. I sort of liked knowing what both the hero and heroine were thinking at the same time. But I also don't want to break the rules because rules are for a reason. Your thoughts, please. Thanks, and this video was most helpful.

This is a great question and you are not the first person to ask it.

I want to sort of answer this one backwards and deal with the second part of your question. Do we see authors out there doing this head hopping thing? The answer is yes. But here is the easy answer for this. Because they have already proven they can write and they probably have a following, there is a bit more flexibility with what they can do and what they can get away with. I would also add that because they have had the time to understand the craft, they can find ways to do what is normally not correct and still make it work well. In many ways, it is like learning to drive. When we first learn, the rules are the rules and there are no exceptions. And yet, after we learn to drive and we understand why we do things, there are more "gray areas" and we do things that technically, the rule book might say are not right.

I would also add that there are also many authors out there who do head-hop and do it poorly. In my humble opinion, this is a bit disappointing when we see this happening and the editors didn't call them on it. 

Now to the first part of your question. 

Yes, you are correct that the "consensus seems to be that the reader can only know what one character is thinking at a time and that the scene or chapter must change before another character's thoughts can be revealed." Whether or not you are writing in first or third person, the story is generally scene from one person's point of view and this is done to make things easier for the reader to keep track of. When you start to lose the reader with an overly complicated structure, the real plot line can be lost. 

Let's take a sample story idea:

The heroine has just found out that the hero has not been going to the work every morning like he should have, but instead has been off on a remote island being a super hero, (are you with me on this?). During the confrontation, we would hear the dialogue from both characters, but we would hear the inner thoughts of the heroine as she listens to the reasons the hero throws out there. We would also see the external reactions of the hero, such as the shifting of the feet, the unwillingness to look her in the eye, the distractions and so forth. The heroine can "guess" what he is thinking. She can "guess" she knows how he feels, but that is as far as we can go.

Now, the easy solution for this is to split the chapter into sections. At a natural break in the scene, you would simply shift over and complete the rest of the scene from the hero's POV. Again, using the story as an example.

After the heroine has confronted him about this and is giving up because he is clearly hiding something, she storms off slamming the door. At this point, think of a movie and a camera angle. The camera can either follow her out the door and continue with her thoughts, or, it can remain with him. If it stays in the room, we would now shift to him staring at the door. "What have I done?" he thinks to himself. Now we can get all of his inner feelings. 

I will say, head-hopping can be an easy mistake to make. We get on a role with our writing and we quit thinking about what we do. The key is focus.

Does this make sense?

1 comment:

  1. Thank-you so much for this answer.

    Yes, it makes perfect sense. The "camera angle" did it! I just love that example. Because, like all the other writers, I see my stories playing out in my head like a movie. What a helpful tool. I can't wait to use it. Writing as if I were the camera. Too easy. (And now that you've explained it, I feel kinda silly for not figuring this out on my own.)

    I appreciate you taking your valuable time to answer my questions. I have learned so much. I think I should pay you tuition. Kate M.