Self-Editing #8: You’re Not Nora

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

Big surprise, huh? All right, let me explain.

You love your characters. You love them so much that you get deep into a scene, are writing a particularly emotional moment, and your heroine is aching from the rejection of the man she loves. We’re seeing things through her eyes, feeling her pain, when the hero says something devastating, and then… we read this line:

“Clutching the locket, Julie bit the inside of her lip and turned away from Bryce. He frowned, confused by her reaction.”

I’ve already told you that we’re in Julie’s POV. So, what’s wrong with this scene?

“Clutching the locket, Julie bit the inside of her lip and turned away from Bryce. He frowned, confused by her reaction.”

The words highlighted in red show where the scene slips—if briefly—into the hero’s point-of-view. That’s where the problem lies: Julie can’t see certain things or know certain things in her POV, so we shouldn’t either.

This is commonly known as head-hopping. Sounds painful, right?

And it can be, especially for your reader. Imagine trying to keep track of knowing everything about multiple characters and seeing everything through multiple pairs of eyes throughout an entire novel, without changing scenes!

Oh, wait…

I hear you. You’re shouting things like “Tolstoy!” and “Binchy!” and “Roberts!” and even “Tolkien!” at me.

The fact of the matter is… you’re not them. In fact, 20+ years ago, omniscient POV was the common, nay, preferred POV. It was typical for books to give POV moments to characters such as the dog or a horse, and yes, it could get confusing (though it adds an interesting dimension to the storytelling).

Today’s authors who use omniscient POV are established writers who’ve practiced and perfected this in their craft. It’s very difficult to do, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a publisher (let alone an agent) willing to take a chance to an omniscient POV novel.

Once you’re published and have proven you’re capable of it, omniscient POV may be within your grasp. However, readers these days prefer deep third person (or first person), and until the trend comes around again, it’s your best bet to stick with this.

To change POVs the right way, wait for a scene break, then switch. But only then!

So, get out that red pen, and remember: You’re not Nora. But someday, you could be! So for now, make sure your reader isn’t seeing or knowing anything that isn’t apparent to your main character.

Do you head-hop like a bunny on speed? Sometimes I do it without even noticing, but I find it only happens with novels. This is one of those things I tend to be hyper-aware of… how about you?

This entry was posted on Friday, September 10th, 2010 at 7:08 pm and is filed under Rye Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 comments so far


I prefer writing in 1st Person because of this reason. It makes it more difficult to accidently head hop. In 3rd person it’s easier to slip into another POV because the book is written from different POV’s. Don’t get me wrong, I still occassionally slip up. I hope that if I don’t catch it, my beta readers will.

September 10th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I proudly say that my head-hopping is contained in actual scene breaks, so the reader is never confused.

September 10th, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Eek! This has come at the worst time. I’m a head hopper myself and am revising a manuscript that was requested. I keep coming across headhop scenes and wonder how I should handle them. Ack!
Great breakdown though, Faith. :-) Thanks!

September 11th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

This is actually one of my pet peeves when reading or proofreading. Love the post!

September 16th, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Can I mention an exception? Romance definitely still makes use of head hopping, usually from heroine to hero and vice versa.

BUT there are of course ways to carry it off without confusing the reader:
Signal the change in POV by taking a new paragraph.
Make the change clearly by starting the new POV section with that character’s name.
Don’t do it too often. I’ve seen good romance authors switch once mid-way through a scene, but then they’ll usually stay with the new POV character until the scene ends. Try and ‘head hop’ too often and it will get confusing…

October 1st, 2010 at 11:11 am

Adina, as far as I’m aware, only well-established romance authors are allowed to head-hop within the same scene. It’s not something that a publisher will traditionally ‘okay’, and definitely not for a new author. I don’t consider switching POV when you start a new scene head-hopping — there, the switch is clearly marked and the reader understands the POV has changed.

The ‘POV shift in a new paragraph, in a new scene’ only happens for established authors whose books already sell very well.

So as I said… for us newbies, it’s not a great habit to get into right now. But down the road, it’s a definite possibility! :)

October 1st, 2010 at 12:19 pm

2 Trackbacks/Pings

  1. Literary Coldcuts on Toasty Buns » Blog Archive » Self-Editing #10: Got Clones?    Sep 30 2010 / 12pm:

    [...] Self-Editing #8: You’re Not Nora [...]

  2. BlogJungle    Sep 30 2010 / 2pm:

    Get Your Writing Fighting Fit: Secrets of Self-Editing Revealed…

    I found your entry interesting and I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)

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