Welcome to the Fifth Deadly Sin: Indecision. You’re probably wondering what that applies to. Deciding on a publisher? Going ePub? Multiple Submissions? Not being decisive on those things could slow you down, yes, but believe it or not, not having made a decision about Point Of View is what could kill you. Figuratively speaking.
Now, if you’re a beginner, you might not even have a clue that there’s a huge conflict between writers as to which school of POV they attend--Vista Puro or Head Hopper U. Think of it like the gangs in West Side Story. Not that we break into wild dance fights or anything, but as long as we don’t start strolling in each other’s territory, telling the other how wrong we are, the Community gets by with it’s two different factions. Of course, there are the independents, those home-schooled souls known as the One-hops. (Please note, these are not the ACTUAL names of the groups, but for my purposes, names were needed and I enjoy having fun with that.) So, lets go over what each school is teaching.
Vista Puro are the POV purists. These are the authors that believe you should have only one point of view per scene. If something important happens in another characters head you a) show some sort of indication to the current point of view, be it physical action, dialogue or a blend of the two or b) wait until you go into the other person’s pov (if you have it in your book) to go into detail. Attendees of Vista Puro are excellent at first person stories, like Janet Evanovich.
Head Hopper U is where an author learns to have multiple points of view in a scene. This is both a sign of a beginner and also, in rare cases, the sign of a very advanced author. Imagine Mariah Carey singing an extremely complicated song, say “Vision Of Love”. It’s a thing of beauty with various notes that showcase her entire scale. Now picture a ten year old girl that is tone deaf, attempting to sing the same song at the top of her lungs. Now that just ain’t pretty.
Head Hopping is when, to illustrate the reaction and actions of multiple people in a scene, you simply switch to their point of view. And the next person’s. Then the next. Or back to the first. While the thinking is that you get a more complete story this way, reading from a truly omniscient view, it also puts the onus on the reader to keep it all straight. It might not be so terribly difficult to follow if there’s two people in a conversation. Make it a roomful and you have a splitting head ache. There is an art to switching, it needs to be blended, natural, skilled. The most famous head-hopper is Nora Roberts. (But trust me, there’s a reason the saying exists, “If you ain’t Nora, you can’t do it.”)
Finally, there’s the One-hops, those wily independant souls who feel there is a middle ground between the two extremes--switching POV once in a scene. At most. A switch is merely going from one head to another. Switching back is considered a completely other switch and One-hops will beat you silly for it. One-hops also do not do this switch in each and every scene. It’s an exception behavior, used primarily for love scenes and important scenes where a turning point of some kind has occurred.
There are problems with all types of POVs, depending on your weaknesses as a writer.
POV purists steel-wall themselves into a box, scene by scene by scene. It requires serious dedication and discipline not to slip into another POV--those switches can sneak in on you--and it also probably adds quite a bit of word count to get important issues across. If you’re a writer who tends to write long and uses revision time to delete like a maniac, Vista Puro is probably not for you. You’ll need to learn to get more across in more concise space.
Head Hoppers run the risk of alienating their readers. Too many hops per scene and they’ll throw your book away. At the very least, it limits your ability to surprise your reader and it also completely removes your ability to deliver deflection. If they know what everyone is thinking...how on earth can you purposely hide any truths from them? This might not be the choice you want to make as a mystery writer.
One-hops are continually at war with themselves, deciding if a scene is important enough to warrant a hop. They do have certain freedoms that Purists do not and of course, they also have to develop discipline that Head-hoppers do not. But a One-hop must also have the skills of both. Dedication to keeping the POV tight, but the ability to blend and lead the reader to a smooth POV transition. It does require training, so don’t think it’s the easy choice.
Ultimately, the one decision every writer must make is which school to attend. If you do not make it, you will discover that your career will stagnate, and here’s why. Consistency is the name of the game. Editors expect you to develop over time, even as an unpub. However, once you reach a certain level or they see your work several times, they also expect you to maintain certain strengths--such as understanding POV as a tool and using it to tell your story well.
POV is a foundation, if yours is unstable from book to book to book, you show no consistency to the reading editor and that makes you risky to try to develop. Why waste time on someone who can’t make a firm decision on how they want their writing to progress? Changing your mind often, particularly as an unpub, makes you look as if you’re trying to follow a trend, not your voice.
Editors do not have time to make those choices for you and more importantly, it’s not their job to. Their job is to find people ready to publish, or at least showing they have the fortitude to be developed without losing the thing that makes their writing special. Editors don’t get paid well enough to be our mothers.
POV is only the first decision we need to make. There are more coming, many of them harder--Which line do I target? Do I get an agent? Do I write for muliple lines? Muliple publishers? Do I attempt the jump to Single Title?--. Make POV your foundation. Build your career like a house on top of it. No matter which kind of POV you make your own, you need to learn the strengths of it and stand by your decisions. After all, you’ll be living on them, won’t you?
Next Week: The 4th Deadly Sin: Inaccuracy