Beware the Point of View Police!
WARNING! This post is for writers, and it’s not for the faint of heart. If you think your writing can’t be improved, go stick a crown on your head. Gloat. See if I care.
Call me anal. I’ll readily admit to being dragged kicking and screaming into ending sentences with a preposition. I may be one of the last holdouts, but I was finally convinced that the 21st Century literary Nazis wouldn’t draw and quarter me for being more conversational in my writing. I still, however, resist ending phrases with “at.” Just can’t do it.
Likewise, I occasionally write sentences that aren’t sentences. For emphasis. (Note: not a sentence.) But on pain of the point of view police (otherwise known as my critique group, the Pink Fire Writers), I will not head hop in a scene.
Some very good writers do it, but aspiring writers (at least those who want to get published) will get deep-sixed faster than a school of mullet in a barracuda’s gullet should they turn in a head-hopping manuscript. To break the rules effectively, you have to know the rules, backward and forward. Take Picasso. (Yes, he was a painter, but read on and you’ll get my drift.) He first gained a significant reputation painting realistic portraits. Not until he was renowned as a portrait artist was he able to paint people who looked more like milk pitchers…and get away with it.
Early in my writing career, I took a class in “fiction process.” Sure, I knew what point of view was. That’s my opinion on something, correct? I didn’t have a clue. And even after I’d taken several classes, the notion of point of view didn’t click until I segued into character development. At that juncture, I realized that if I wanted my readers to truly care about my characters, I was going to need to be in one head per scene. Now, I understand this is evolving in erotica. Readers want to know how both characters involved in the sex act are feeling, but let’s not concern ourselves with correctness-while-panting.
Let’s talk about our run-of-the-mill hero and heroine, perhaps at their first meeting. Let’s say we’re Jane in this scene, having just run into Jack on Madison Avenue. Jane’s heart is racing (we’re clearly in her head) and she’s just caught her heel in a manhole cover, causing her to careen into Jack. At this point, Jack’s muscles tense as he reaches out to break her fall. STOP! If we’re in Jane’s head, we can’t know his muscles tense unless Jane can SEE them (highly unlikely through his Brooks Brothers suit). We could say that Jane saw his shoulders scrunch under his ears as he lifted her, but we can’t know whether his armpits are wet or his swelling manhood is making his pants tight (unless, of course, he’s strategically pressing against Jane, in which case she can observe and internally comment).
Point of view snafus are easier to catch when your characters aren’t in close proximity. I’m sure you’ve read a telephone conversation between characters where you know what each character is doing. Jane’s sipping her coffee, and Jack’s scratching his nose. If we’re in Jack’s point of view, he may be able to hear Jane slurping, but if we’re in Jane’s head, she could be imagining him scratching his nose, but she can’t know for sure.
One trick a former critique partner of mine uses is to note at the beginning of a scene (usually in a margin notation) whose head she’s in. That way, she’s less tempted to add those pesky adjectives and adverbs to her non-p.o.v. character’s actions.
Over Christmas, I sipped coffee with a multi-published (and super talented) Harlequin/Silhouette writer. With more than 30 books to her credit, the woman knows the writing process, and she’s a stickler for point of view. We lamented what we both consider point of view violations in the romance genre, and I reminded her that when I’d begun my writing journey some 10 years ago, she’d told me, “you have to be better than romance to write romance,” MEANING, don’t assume romance writing is easy. As I learned, it’s not.
Anyhow, that’s my assessment of point of view. I’d be interested in what you think. Most particularly, I’d love to hear examples of what you’ve found jarring…or effective…in your writing and reading.
Susan Blexrud’s first print book, Love Fang, is currently available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Love Fang is a compilation of Ms. Blexrud’s four fang novellas. She is currently working on the fifth story, Black Fang, as well as a novel for young readers entitled Minerva Greensleeves.
She welcomes visitors at: www.susanblexrud.com