Head Hoppin’ Headaches


I believe I have proven to myself that there are no rules in publishing. Books are published in any ol’ fashion the publisher’s editor wishes to publish it. The publisher can allow the author to reuse words over and over and over and over again in a short amount of space (if you didn’t see the inside joke up above, I am sorry). Can format the page in any way they want. Can be picky about the punctuation and grammar (or not). And can permit any other rule, written or unwritten, to be ignored.

I have a book on my Goodreads list that I have gotten stuck on. I am not going to name it because I am going to give it another chance when I get the time. The reason I got stuck was “head hopping”. There are POV issues with it. When the reader gets sucked out of the story because the Point of View changes between characters in the same scene, and the change is not handled very cleanly (in other words, the reader has to go back and re-read a few paragraphs so they can figure out who is thinking/talking/acting), then the POV shift is a problem.

Now, you may think that I know what I am talking about here. Perhaps I do, just a little bit. I started reading this un-named book right about the time that I finished an UGLY edit on my own manuscript. I had been fixing POV problems. Danyelle Ferguson, Tristi Pinkston, and Matthew Buckley, each of whom had read either all or some of my story, were the ones who pointed out the specific examples to me. I thank them for their help!

Anyway, they pointed the problems out, and I read a lot about POV Shifts, and I practiced, and I listened to their suggestions, and then all of a sudden the light went off. Rather on. The lightbulb over my head is usually off, and when it goes on, it really gets my attention. I digress . . .

*sigh*

Yep. I had a pretty good idea as to what a POV Shift was. And this un-named book had one. And then another. And then possibly another. I WAS STUCK. I couldn’t finish the book. I started to think, “Hey, this isn’t fair. This book has POV issues. And yet it is published. WHY did I just spend about 80 hours fixing all of the issues in my book? Some of my chapters required an entire re-write because of them.”

Yep. That is what I thought. So I put the un-named book down.

On Monday I finished a well known book, a New York Times Bestseller. “The Alchemyst – The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel” by Michael Scott. Guess what: It has POV shifts, mid-scene, MANY times. It freaked me out. Last week I had started another book, “One Last Chance” by Jerry Borrowman, and found IT has POV shifts. There is a courtroom scene near the beginning of the story where we go back and forth between several characters participating. It is almost dizzying. To the authors’ credits, in both books the POV changes are done in such a way that there is no mistake as to which character is in charge at that moment. I am not done with “One Last Chance”, but I presume the writing will continue to keep me on track.

So what is the deal? I thought POV shifts were a no-no. I did read that epic fantasy used to do it all the time. But then I read that editors wanted writers to get away from doing it. There are a couple of places I remember reading about the LDS publishing market and how POV shifts are particularly annoying to these editors. Doing so can get your manuscript rejected.

These were the reasons, in addition to the recommendations of three authors I respect a great deal, that I went to all the trouble to fix those shifts in my own work. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I did. It made the book much stronger. In fact, I hope I didn’t miss any.

Maybe I just don’t understand the rules?

Let me know what you think.

A side note: The picture for this post was done by a very good friend of the family (one of my adopted daughters), Stephanie Haven. Check out her blog if you get a chance: http://stephaniehaven.blogspot.com/
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Head Hoppin’ Headaches — 3 Comments

  1. The number one problem I had my alpha readers tell me when they read the initial drafts of "Heroes of the Fallen" was the POV shifts.
    (Which I fixed before submitting and getting accepted)

    I think the problem comes from you as the author, being so familiar with your story and characters that its easy for you to go with the flow of shifts. You have to step outside yourself and see it again as a first time reader does, remembering they don't know the shifts.

    I try extra-hard now in everything I have been working on since to make sure there is no shift in the same scene. I make it a new scene or chapter.

    And my editor still caught a couple tiny ones I missed. Just a line here or there from a secondary characters perspective, when you should be with the protaganist.

  2. Yes, head hopping is a no-no. Usually. Like any rule in this biz you can get away with breaking the rules if 1)you're really good at it, and/or 2) if you're an author with a solid track record and they can count on sales from you.

    For example, if Stephen King wants to have POV shifts in the middle of mid-sentence I bet he could get away with it. Author Julie Garwood, a favorite of mine, head hops in mid-scene. *But* she's extremely good at it and it actually helps the scene. Granted, it's romance so we like seeing what the two are thinking at the same time once in a while.

    As a newish author though, it's best not to try it. And try not to rip your hair out when you read it in other published books. 🙂

  3. Head hopping is risky business. So many times writers believe they can get away with it, but unless they really know what they're doing it's confusing. I'm glad you brought this up.

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