Hi and welcome to The Conversation. This is the third one and this time we’re tackling an author conundrum – Perspective.
Perspective is mostly seen as point of view, but it can also stand for how the characters see the world. Then again, that goes back to how point of view is handled as without the POV right, the perspective is going to get skewed.
Nothing can get a reader or author more up in arms than the topic of Point of view. The two main variables that get the hackles up are 1st vs 3rd and head hopping.
Many people do not understand what head hopping is. And quite honestly, if you look at a lot of NYT bestsellers, I can see why. So many books on the New York Times Bestseller list head hop like it’s nobody’s business, hopping in and out of characters’ heads at will without considering the fact it leaves readers with a headache and with the horrible sense of “Who is speaking now?” And yes, just by sheer sales numbers, those books do sell. WHY? I figure its because many of those authors are well known and their stuff just sells. And sometimes the stories make it so you can forget when someone head hops – if they do it really well.
Of course, the best books for an author who wants to headhop is to go omniscient, but the fact is 99.99% of authors – including me – do omniscient horribly. How do you do omniscient horribly? By not keeping the narrator’s voice consistent. An omniscient narrator needs to keep depth in mind – what that means is how deep they understand and know the characters. They can’t know everything about one or three characters and be able to plumb the depths of their minds and know only the surface capabilities of the rest of the cast. They are either all omniscient or limited omniscient, meaning they know what the characters might think or say in an average event, but not their every thought.
Head hopping is two different things – the horrible, inexcusable side is having two characters speak in the same paragraph – that isn’t just head hopping…. it’s someone who doesn’t understand the basics of fiction writing. But the most used version of head hopping is changing the point of view just by going to a new paragraph. Points of view should be separated into sections, not paragraphs. Though I do wonder if this is something ‘new’ that editors have come up with or if it is focused on the ePub side. Because if you look at Julie Garwood’s The Bride (published in 1989), it’s a head hopping extravaganza. Again, a NYT bestselling book. And I love the story, but the headhopping does drive me nuts.
1st vs 3rd can become an argument among some. This is my take on it (totally my belief and nobody has to subscribe to it). With only 1 notable exception, no book should be written in 1st person POV unless it’s young adult. Why? Because I, I, I is a very selfish point of view and the only group that level of selfishness truly fits are young adults. Now, that one notable exception was the Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk, but unfortunately, starting in books 5 or 6, she did what I consider the worst thing you can do in 1st person narrative. She put TWO narrators.
There should only be one “I” in a story if it is first person. I kept having to go back to the beginning of chapters to remind myself – was this in Whyborne or Griffin’s POV? And that kept jolting me out of the storyline until I got frustrated. Which is horribly frustrating because Hawk is an amazing author. I can only assume she narrowed herself down with having only Whyborne’s POV for the first few books and wanted to widen it to include Griffin’s POV – but she’d boxed herself in already with 1st POV narrative. And any author knows changing narrative part way through a series annoys the hell out of your readers. And I’m not sure of another way she could have done it – it was wonderful hearing things from Griffin’s POV. I just wish it had been done in a way that didn’t keep kicking me out of the story.
I’ve suffered something similar in my Men of Falcon Pointe series. The first four books were 3rd person limited POV told through the voice of one character. Now, though, when I start penciling out new ideas for new MFP books, I’m finding the second hero wants input as well. So I may make an offshoot series called Falcon Pointe just so I can have two 3rd person POVs.
And then you’ve got the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Most settle on it being 3rd person Omniscient POV. The narrator knows everything the characters are thinking though it only gives us the thoughts it wants us to hear. I think an argument could be made that at least in book 1 (which I re-listened to recently), that there is a distinct feel in places of a 3rd person limited POV with a few chapters of omniscient or head hopping going on. Does it matter? I doubt it. No matter how you look at it, Rowling did a fantastic job with the narrator’s voice and POV.
So which is right and which is wrong? (Do you hear the buzzer going off?) I don’t think there is one all over Right or Wrong. For every author who writes a certain way, there are readers who read it. The thing is, I suppose, to keep learning and stay true to your voice. Just because I despise 1st person narrative in adult (18+character) novels, that means nothing. There are tons of people who want 1st person narrative. (Ugh and don’t get me started on present tense POV -I’ll go screaming into the night. I absolutely abhor “I say… he says….” Gah!)
Who knows…maybe those of us who have been groomed by the ePublishers are doing it wrong and the NYT bestsellers are doing it right? Or it’s about who you know… Either way, there’s no definitive answer, except that done by the publishers you go through who put their editorial stamp on your book.
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