Lesson Twenty-Eight from a Manuscript Red Line: Very Discreet Point of View Switches

I’ve talked about this before, but the second time might be a charm.  I think a lot of people are having trouble with discreet POV switches.  The big ones… where we pop heads for half a chapter are easy to find.  The one-liners may be harder to spot.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

Let’s go back to my little flash fiction scene.  Remember Jason and Eric fighting?  Let’s add a line to that.  (In bold)

Jason grunted as his fist swung toward Eric’s face.  Eric tried to dodge, but instead felt the sting of the older boy’s ring cutting into his jaw.  He fell to the floor with a muffled thump, and groaned as he rolled over. 

Jason wiped his chin and laughed.  “I told you to stay down.”

Eric pushed up onto his knees.  “Why, so you can just pummel me?”  He popped up and swung at Jason, but missed.

Jason ducked and swung at the same time.  There was no time for Eric to react.  His head creaked back, and his jaw rattled as he crumpled to the floor.

Jason breathed heavily, mopping the sweat from his brow.  He grunted and chose his words carefully.  “I told you to stay down, idiot.”  He snickered at the pitiful scene before him, and walked away.

There you have a short-one paragraph POV switch.  The scene is in Eric’s POV.  How would Eric know Jason was choosing his words carefully?  How would Eric know he was snickering at how pitiful he looked?  (Remember Peanut butter and Jelly Syndrome?)  Jason could have just remembered a funny joke.  Eric has no idea what he is really thinking.

The reason I used “Chose his words carefully” which might be a little odd in the example above, was because those were the words used in the POV switch in the Gold Mine Manuscript.  We were in character #1’s POV, and then another character “chose his words carefully”.  They flagged it as a POV switch.

Honestly, before reading their comments, I would have read right over this… I have also seen it in published works, but it is a switch in POV.  Do your best to keep an eye out for little things like this.  It will set your novel apart.

Hope this helps!


18 responses to “Lesson Twenty-Eight from a Manuscript Red Line: Very Discreet Point of View Switches

  1. I know realize I do this all the time too, I see more edits in my future.

  2. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  3. Great post! No matter how carefully I read through my novel, I always find a few places where I’ve switched POV. Good grief, you’d think I’d have kicked this habit by now!

  4. Wow! Excellent. Glad you came by so I could find your site. All joy in writing. HF

  5. Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to read through mine again and watch for that. It’s so subtle sometimes.

  6. As I head into my heavy-duty editing for a second draft of one novel, it’s great to see posts like this! I’ve been working to make sure each scene has only one POV character. I haven’t gone so far as limiting each chapter to one POV, but I don’t think limiting scenes to one is a bad idea at all.

    Great advice!

    • It is important to get someone else to read it as well. I know not to do this, and a beta cought one the other day. Subtle ones are easy to read right past.

      • That’s coming after I finish this round 🙂 And when I get those comments incorporated and revise again, there will be additional reads. I want to do the story justice and do it well. Hopefully, an agent will say I succeeded….

  7. I didn’t really think twice about head popping in my first few drafts because I thought it worked for my particualr situation. Then a beta reader suggested I read this romance novel that did it a lot (I can’t remember the name, but it had a guy named “Rain” in it that could turn into a flying cat.

    Anyway… this novel was a best-seller, and had tons of POV swithching. The funny thing is that I was reading it to learn how to do it “right” but I found all the POV switching to be so stinking annoying (drawing me out of the stroy) that I decided to go back and take it all out of my novel. Each chapter is in only one POV.

    It is much stronger this way.

  8. Thanks, Jennifer, for a great post.

    Head-hopping and subtle POV incongruities are one of my editing strong points, pet peeves, red pen activatorsY–whatever you want to call it.

    I don’t know why my brain zeroes in on this particular thing when I’ve been known to have a character time travel from point A to point B in non-paranormal WIPs.

    Um. The second in the series Eric critiqued? Head-hopping so often at the beginning it made my eyes cross. But, DO NOT tell him. I don’t need a mark against me from my male beta. Maybe the author had a bad day.

    Just in case I don’t get a chance to hop over to your I AM AN IDIOT post? 1. I Laughed out loud at your wording. 2. You are SO not an idiot. 3. At least you found that hide-and-seeker. I swallowed my VERY first post when I published my second. That sucker is gone. Forever.

  9. Quite frankly, if it’s subtle, my brain skips right over it. I think writers sometimes lend their characters to ‘assume’ what the other person in the scene is thinking. After all, there are looks that are calculating. There are sneers that are given. There are diabolical chuckles that can only lead the main character to believe one thing…this is what other person must be thinking given the scenario and the events at the moment. It’s human nature for people to assume. While the publisher was correct in their edit, and yes, we should all look out for things like this, I think most readers would have skipped over this. It’s so hard to pick up on all of these tiny things, especially since it’s a ‘no no’ to use words like ‘seemed’, ‘appeared’, (though I see it all the time in published works, even among newbies).

    • Yes, I see all these rules broken in recently published works. I suppose it depends onhow anal the publisher is, and if the novel is so stinking good that it can be overlooked.

  10. I never even knew about the head hop thing until 2 yrs ago & now I find it all the time in fiction, even new releases. I’m like, who edited this? LOL. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t learned so much about the craft b/c it makes it harder to enjoy a book . . . I’m constantly analyzing. GOOd tip thOUGH!

  11. I has Joan Barfoot (Author of Exit Line and other novels) as a mentor on my first draft of Fracture Line. She taught me the same thing about POV and I try very hard to stick with it. Having said that, I’m reading The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny right now and she switches POV during a scene. I am enjoying the novel and find it is enhancing it. I think if the talent is there, maybe some writers can get away with it.