Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Big, Bad Editor's List Of Pet Peeves - Act II

In the second installment of The Big, Bad Editor’s Pet Peeves I bring you yet another bane of my existence...


There are editors who don’t mind head-hopping. There are authors who write head-hopping characters seamlessly. And then there’s me.

But first, here are the main POV’s used in fiction so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Objective Point of View - In objective point of view, the writer tells what happens without any bias towards character or plot. The writer doesn’t tell the reader how the characters feel or what they think. The writer is simply an observer telling a story. A lot of children’s stories are told in objective point of view. Journalism used to be told this way, too. (Don’t ask my opinion on what is called journalism nowadays).

Third Person Point of View - The writer is not a participant in the story, but allows the reader to know and understand the point-of-view of one or more characters. The reader knows how the characters feel about events and what they think, too. The writer is the third person - “the fly on the wall”- hearing and seeing all in the chosen POVs. Most fiction is written in third person narrative.

First Person Point of View - The writer is the narrator of the story. The writer’s opinion is not always objective and they may infuse their opinions, thoughts and actions on the reader. This style of writing may not always be trustworthy, because the reader is depending on the writer to tell the truth. Biographies are usually written in the first person. (What, you think some of them are the whole truth??)

Omniscient - The writer knows everything about everyone, how they fell, how they think, what their motivations are. Some police thrillers are written with this style because the POV of the criminal and what the motivation may be is just as important as the POVs of the police. Think of this POV as an army general. The general is looking over a map of the land and moving his armies where he thinks they’ll do the most good. The armies have no say, they do not understand or care why they are being moved, they are simply minions of the general and do as he dictates. All action and characterization if any is from the viewpoint of the “all-knowing” general.

Author Intrusion - When an author infuses a preaching tone or opinion that has not been stated as the character’s thoughts/feelings anywhere else in the book.

Now, back to my peeving. A point of view head-hop breaks my train of thought.

It is disconcerting to be identifying with the hero and to suddenly be thrown out of his perspective by an invasive newcomer who is a stranger with thoughts, actions and a perspective of her own! When reading, the reader starts to understand the character, starts feeling his/her depth of emotion, starts thinking "wow, that's almost exactly how I feel!" and then BAM! they're kicked out of his/her POV and into another character's thoughts. Even if the second character also feels as they do, the reader is left with a sense of incompleteness. The reader isn’t even finished with the first person when they have to deal with the thoughts of the second person.

Wait? What? See how confusing it is?

Think about the classic books you read as a child - rarely are there even two POVs - part of the reason they're classics is because the characterization is so strong with one POV.

I know you feel that you can convey more when you show both sides of the story. I know it is easier to keep them in the same scene while they go back and forth like a tennis match. However, its not strong writing unless you are one of the few experienced authors who’ve mastered the technique.

Inexperienced head-hopping keeps the reader off balance. And worse, it gives the impression of a play. Each person and their story is produced like the characters in a play - "here is your part, tell your background, move off the stage for the next person." It comes across as very cut-and-dried. I have noticed that many authors who do this are avoiding something.

That avoidance is very telling. What is it telling this editor? In almost every instance, the author is avoiding emotive content. You read that right. Most authors are trying to “wow me with words” so they don’t have to delve into their psyche and pull out emotions that may bare the soul of their character. Why? Because every character the writer invents carries a little piece of that writer in it. Most people don’t let all their thoughts/feelings hang out. Even overly dramatic people may sometimes be hiding behind an opinionated façade. When a writer puts words to paper, they open up they way they themselves may think. It’s a little scary to show that vulnerability to an audience of readers.

Part of writing is that ability to share what we feel. Constantly head-hopping can convey the story you want to tell without having to get emotional about it.

But this is romance, baby. It is all about emotion! It is all about that vulnerable state when you open your heart and bleed until a hero rides to the rescue, wraps a tourniquet of love around that heart and helps it heal.

Open that vein. Strengthen the story by wearing your heart on your sleeve. Don’t hide behind pretty words or keep the reader head-hopping so much they can’t get a real grasp on how that character feels. Emote! Give me a point of view from one character that strengthens the romance and makes it grow. Give me a point of view that shares its pain, its angst and its passion. And I’ll give you a contract for a well-written book that readers will want to read.

Any questions? Ask in the comments section.

Next Pet Peeve Post: Scene breaks, name dropping, body parts, swearing and it.


Kathy Otten said...

Thanks for the advice. POV is my nemisis. Everytime I think I've got it, someone will inevitably say, "You just switched POV in the middle of a paragraph." The editors I've had at TWRP have been very patient with my mistakes. I appreciate all you've taught me. Hopefully in my next book, I'll have it nailed.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Excellent post. Very informative and helpful.

Mary Ricksen said...

Some of the best advise I have ever received.