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Table of Contents
By Catrin Pitt
Point of View, Narrators, Intimacy, and Head-hopping
By Catrin Pitt
Copyright © 2010, Catrin Pitt, All Rights Reserved
As with all things about story telling, multiple writing techniques are woven together. You can learn about the terms and what they mean, but when put into practice it is difficult to separate one technique from all others. Good story telling is more about using a combination of writing techniques and weaving them around and through a story idea, than about putting words on a page that tell that idea.
Examples of second person POV are;
Examples of third person POV are;
Examples of Omni POV are;
Modified first POV is where the 'I' or 'we' is implied, but usually the pronouns are not included at all. Used in report writing.
Examples of this are:
Examples of this are:
To go through what a narrator is and how it applies to writing a story I'm going to restrict my comments and examples to first or third POV. Omniscient is a special case, as is second POV and, since most stories are told in either first or third or a combination, I'll leave the other two out.
The narrator of the story, or sections of it, is the character who is relating that part of the story. The way I interpret this is that everything; action, description, thoughts; relates to that character and that character alone.
This means that if the narrator has never seen a teapot and there is one sitting on the table in front of him then he would look at it in wonder, describe it, touch it and discover it hot. He would wonder if it was hollow and be amazed when someone opens it and pours in water and an amount of tiny flakes and then five minutes later out comes brown liquid. He might even taste it and find the tea bitter, or to his liking. What he won't do is call it a 'teapot', or know that the liquid is tea or even that it is drinkable and not poisonous.
This applies whether I am writing in first POV or third POV. At the most simplistic the main difference between the two is that the pronouns used are different.
In a story told in third POV there can be many narrators, a few, or one. There are terms for that too. Multiple third is where there are many narrators. Limited third is where there are only a few, or one.
For me, intimacy is how deep inside the head of the narrator you take your readers. This particularly applies to third POV, but also to first POV.
I liken the level of intimacy to how close the 'reader' hovers above the narrator.
Head-hopping is a change of narrator that detracts from the story.
Change of narrator is a head-hop that enhances the story.
Both techniques are valid, although writers tend to get upset about head-hopping. Note I said 'writers'. A lot of readers don't notice, they don't even know that a term exists to describe the technique.
But it isn't the ordinary readers we are out to impress. The only group of readers we as writers need to impress are editors, agents, publishers and their staff. And they certainly do know about head-hopping.
If you look up the internet you'll find two different definitions for head-hopping, both valid.
One definition is a change of narrator that takes place too often, too suddenly, too briefly. A head-hop moves from one narrator to another with no warning, and makes no improvement on the story.
The other definition of a head-hop is when the narrator describes something they cannot possibly know about, or is inappropriate to think.
Here are some examples.
A head-hop in first POV (yes, it is possible);
In the stillness and half-light I almost didn’t see his move. He tried to get to fancy, feigning right, then left, before bringing the blade around from his right. It was easy to avoid, and a quick turn gave me an opportunity to cuff the back of his head with my hilt. I didn't want to kill him or even hurt him bad, just make sure he knew who was boss.
That made Hal angrier, his head was pounding.
Good. He turned quickly and too far. This time he just charged forward, roaring like a bull. I sidestepped and tripped him.
How does the narrator know Hal is angrier? Maybe by some facial expression or some articulation, but the narrator hasn't mentioned those things. How does the narrator know Hal's head was pounding. ?
A head-hop in third POV;
Susie ran her finger through her tight curls, trying to smooth out the knots from her bright red hair. Her green eyes sparkled in the sunshine.
Susie might think about her 'tight curls' because her actions are to remove the knots from her hair, but a normal person does not think about the fact their hair is bright red, not unless they have just changed the colour of their hair. Nor does a person normally think about the fact their eyes are green. There has to be a reason for the narrator to think about the colour of their hair, eyes, skin, etc. And the last point; there is no way Susie knows that her eyes are sparkling unless she is looking into a mirror or has some exotic disease that causes them to sparkle.
Another head-hop in third POV;
Jonathan Smyth looked at the phone. He knew he should phone his mother, but some times it was such a chore. She always found some way of criticising him, even when he did something good. Like last time he made the cross country team. All she could go on about was the time training took away from his studies.
He left the phone sitting on the table and walked out the door.
Cynthia was holding her phone, knowing she should call Jonathan for once. She pressed the numbers, but never pressed the send.
Jonathan's jog started slow, but his legs got faster as he let go of the tensions. He smiled. This was why training was so important. He thought better after a run. Maybe one day he should explain that to his mother.
Whilst the little bit about Jonathan's mother is interesting and might be important, it is not knowledge Jonathan has and as such is head-hopping.
There are many more ways these writing techniques can be used or misused. I've covered only a brief personal view. You might have your own view, based on your own experiences and readings. Remember there are no bad techniques when employing the craft of writing, no magic formula, only techniques that enhance your story or detract from it.
And that's the way the POV crumbles.
The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.