Multiple POVs Versus Head Hopping

I've been told writers should separate point of views by a space, a symbol or just a couple of clear sentences denoting the shift. Also, I've been informed that two point of views per chapter is more than enough.

The rules are ingrained now.

So... I read a current novel in which there were several POV characters. I didn't get lost. Each POV was appropriately marked.

Then I picked up a romance author I haven't read in a long time, but she used to be my favorite when I was a teenager. There was head-hopping all over the place. I was so completely distracted but I persevered with the read because I hoped that, based on my past experiences with her stories, I'd glean some emotional satisfaction from her book.

Guess which book made my eyes prick with tears? Boy, was I surprised. The head-hopping author. Somehow I managed to connect to the heroine of the story and when the black moment came, I felt it.

In the book that followed the rules, I didn't know who to connect to because there were so many strong POVs. Whereas the head-hopping book peeked into characters' brains and liberally abused omniscient pov, yet the main characters were stronger than anyone else.

What do you prefer? Do you use more than two point of views in your novel? How do you give the reader someone to root for? And ... do you head-hop?


I stick to two POV's because I personally can't handle reading head-hopping. It literally drives me crazy to the point of pitching the book into the garbage. But I could certainly see some getting really good, I just can't get my head wrapped around the bobble-head thing, mine likes to stay statutory for the most part.

As for "How do you give the reader someone to root for?", well, when I figure that out, I suspect I'll finally be ready to sell. Looking forward to hearing how people do this!
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Eileen! I rooted for your characters, def. wanted your heroine to take a chance with the hero. :-)
Head hopping didn't used to bother me but now it does, which is why I was shocked that I actually connected to the heroine. It sounds silly, but I was surprised by the feeling. I think two POVs is enough. Three if there's a villain.
Jody Hedlund said…
I'm with Eileen. I think two POV's are plenty, especially for romances. I like to know what the hero and heroine are feeling. Beyond that, I can use my imagination. But, boy is that interesting that you were more emotionally drawn to the head-hopping story! Makes us think, doesn't it?
I write from one POV...the main character...always in first person unless it's non-fiction. Love your "head hopping" term! LOL! I am not fond of "head hopping" books, though one of my favorite authors is Jodi Picoult. I think she does a great job of separating each "head" but melding them all together.
Jennifer Shirk said…
I like two POVs and I don't head-pop. I think it's just a preference. I don't like ANY author who head-pops, except Nora Roberts. But I haven't read her books in years.

PS. I just read a contest entry that had 6 POVs and one of them was omniscient!! And that was all in one chapter. I had a headache by the end.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Jody,
I thought it was weird too. Completely unexpected but I guess that's why that author used to be one of my faves.
Yeah, in romances there really doesn't need to be more than two. The one I read was more of a thriller.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Donna,
I haven't read her but you're probably right about her having good craft.
I didn't know you write in first person! :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Jennifer! Hilarious about the entry. :-) Whew.
Nora Roberts does headhop but I like her writing so much that it doesn't usually bother me. :-)
Stephanie Faris said…
To be honest, whether or not I enjoy a book has nothing to do with head-hopping. I just make it a practice not to do it. I attended so many workshops in the beginning of my 'career' and it was drilled into me so many times, I just can't bring myself to do it. But if YOU do it and I love your writing, more power to you! As long as it's not confusing.
Angie Ledbetter said…
As long as the hopping isn't confusing, I can handle being in more than one head. :)
Faith said…
I try really, really hard not to head hop. Unfortunately, sometimes that results in a bit of a stagnant story, especially when I'm trying so hard to be consistent that I don't include a second POV and we're stuck with the MC for the entire thing! But... learn and grow, learn and grow... When it comes to reading, I'm not entirely sure. I don't think I've paid deliberate attention before... you can be sure I will now! :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Stephanie,
I think you hit it right there. If it's not confusing, the average reader won't even notice. Just us writers. LOL!
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Angie! You and Stephanie are right. It distracted me, but didn't confuse, so that's good.
Jessica Nelson said…
It's almost better when I didn't pay attention! :-)
I head hopped like crazy too. Now I try to not use more than two povs per scene. If you're writing feels stagnant, go ahead and head hop. If the story is great I have a feeling no one will care. :-) Go with your gut, not the "rules".
jdsanc said…
I do both. No rules. It depends on the book and what needs telling for me. But I have to say, love the Poisonwood Bible, how we get in everyone's heads with a subtle laying over of story. So good.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Jdcoughlin,
I've actually never read that book. I like your philosophy! LOL
Genny said…
I've always written from one POV, the main character. And I prefer reading books that are written that way too. :)
Katie Ganshert said…
When I wrote my first novel and knew nothing about the craft of writing, I head hopped all over the place. Then I learned my lesson. I don't head hope anymore.

Every book I've written has three POV characters... I just realized that. I don't do it intentionally. But there ya go. Three seems to be my number. :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Do you write in first person, Genny?
Jessica Nelson said…
Katie, three? That's interesting. :-) And you don't write suspense, right? I head hopped too. LOL
Elana Johnson said…
For the three novels I've written that I would show to someone, I have one point of view character--the MC, the one with the most to lose. I have tried the every-other-chapter route, but those ideas didn't pan out, or something.

I don't enjoy head-hopping. It jars me too much. Although I don't might POV changes if done well--meaning the author sticks with that character long enough to give me insight into them.
Jill Kemerer said…
One of my favorite authors is a head-hopper and I've read her books over and over! She's amazing! I think it's less about the head-hopping (which drives me insane) and more about the character development. She truly gives me characters to sympathize with and that's what makes her a great writer.
Stephanie said…
My current WIP does switch POV's, but mostly it's the MC's POV...just once in a while does it shift to the one of the two men in her life. Maybe once per chapter for maybe a page or two. That's it.

I read a book once that head hopped, but each time it was an entire chapter in that person's POV. Then the next chapter switched. Each chapter even backed up a bit from the last. When one scene ended, the next chapter began a little before the last scene ended, but now from a different characters perspective. I liked it and someday plan on writing a book like that!
Terri Tiffany said…
My current WIP is with two POV. That's about I can handle to write right now but I think my next one I will try for more. Each one can have a level of strength I think. MY MC is the female but I needed to get into the guy's head too to develop her.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Elana,
Thanks for commenting. So do you write in first person too? Or just third all the way through? If there are multiple pov's I don't mind the shift during a chapter.
Jessica Nelson said…
That sounds intriguing. I don't think I've ever read a book like that, that I know of. Interesting.
Jessica Nelson said…
Great point that sometimes we need a pov character to deepen the characterization of the mc.
Deb Shucka said…
A nice thing about being a memoirist is that I get one POV. As a reader, I don't mind multiple POV as long as I can connect to the characters and it's what the story demands.
Karen Hossink said…
What is head hopping? It sounds painful!
Dara said…
My one novel has three POVs (possibly four, haven't decided) and I generally devote a chapter or a segment of a chapter to on POV. Also, my MC has the majority of POV chapters with the other characters having only a handful.

I'm trying my hand at first person POV in my new novel and I know it's gonna be a challenge. I'm so used to having multiple POVs that I'm sure I'll commit many mistakes lethal to first person because of it :P
My current WIP is first person - which makes head-hopping pretty much impossible. However, my first novel was written in the third person and I alternated between giving the hero and heroine their own POVs, but in their own separate sections or chapters.

I really don't find that many books with head-hopping, the only one was an old Jude Deveraeux(SP) I picked up. I used to love her when I was younger, and I wanted to see if I still enjoyed her books. There was TONS of head-hopping in it, and even though I did finish it - I do think the story suffered from it.
I used 2 POV's (hero and heroine) but a couple of times I went into the villain's head to go deeper into her motivation. I didn't know about head hopping until I starting blogging and reading craft books, so now it bothers me! lol
Gilbert Morris is one of my fav. novelists, and someone recently pointed out his head hopping method to me. I love his stories and characters so much that i hadn't even noticed. If a tale is compelling enough, you are drawn in. The rules go bye-bye!
Hi Jess -

I write suspense, and work with a number of POV's - no head-hopping here. The main characters, the husband and wife, get the most page time. They're the ones in danger, and deal with day-to-day traumas.

One of you has critiqued my first chapter and said I established a rapport with the wife and child. Hubby appears in Chapter 2.

Susan :)
Danyelle L. said…
I love reading books that are omniscient. :) Depending on the story, I can have up to 4 POVs, but each has a distinct voice and purpose. And they're separated by chapter. I think some genres tend to have more POVs than others. :D
Victoria Dixon said…
I want a book with clearly define, emotive characters. If the head hopping is done with good reason and not because it's simpler to go into Josie's pov even though it's page 409 out of 450 and I won't go back, then I don't mind the hopping. I hate it when there's no definition, no emotional attachment or no (plot-driven) reason. Just mpo.
Jessie Oliveros said…
You remember those babysitter club mega-novels from long ago, where every character got her chapter...and at the end of each chapter you were left hanging. So I would just read all of Kristy, then all of Stacy, then all of Claudia...(was that her name?) Anyway, no, I am not a big fan of multiple POV. It disrupts the story for me. But maybe I haven't read/recognized a really well done novel with multiple POV's. Oh wait, I just thought of one. Pride and Prejudice. You get into Mr. Darcy's head a few times. Okay, I take it back, multiple POV's can work really well if done right.
Tabitha Bird said…
Hey, I just found your blog and really enjoyed your post. I will be coming back. I have to say that I love multiple POV's where the writer has decided that readers do indeed have brains and, if they write well enough, will be able to follow the thread of a story even when told from many perspectives. Intentional head hoping that adds to the story creates always hold much more power for me than a more linear book. I think life is multi faceted and sometimes our writing is served better by more than one POV. But that's just me :)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Deb,
Lucky you. :-) I hope you sell your memoir. You're a beautiful writer.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Karen!
Head hopping is different point of views. Like when you're reading a book and Karen thinks something in one paragraph, and then the next paragraph Jessie thinks Karen's overthinking, and then the next sentence Karen tells Jessie to quit frowning at her and thinks Jessie is being silly. LOL!
Lots of thoughts and feelings from different characters in a short amount of space.
Jessica Nelson said…
Dara, I think you're smart to give one or two characters the bulk of chapters. Good luck with first person! It's a fun way to write, imo.
Jessica Nelson said…
The story probably did suffer. Funny, I don't remember head hopping in any of her books. Now I want to check. LOL
It could be the older books. The one I read is, I think, almost ten years old.
Jessica Nelson said…
Oooh, Sherrinda! I didn't realize you had a villain. :-) Fun stuff! I think I want to write one of those... LOL!
Jessica Nelson said…
"The rules go bye-bye"

Haahaa! Well-said. I used to read Morris too. Very true. When it's good, we don't notice (unless we've become an analytical reader, snort!)
Jessica Nelson said…
Your book sounds great. I love suspense! Maybe someday I can peak at your pages??? :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
I totally agree. Omniscient isn't always bad, I just get unused to it with newer romances. It's def. in the old ones and maybe in some literary writing? I've never heard someone say they love it though. LOL!
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Victoria,
Great points! There should be a reason for changing povs, and I think it goes into deepening characterization and ramping up tension.
Emotive characters... something I need to learn about. :-)
Thanks for stopping by!
Jessica Nelson said…
Haahaa! Jessie, you're funny. :-) I read almost all of the babysitter's club and LOVED them. I skipped too, just a tad. I never read the diary entries either, because they were in cursive and I was too lazy to decipher it (back in second grade here).
Good point about Austen's work. Guess that's why she's a classic. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Tabitha!
Love your opinion here. :-) I don't mind multiple pov's either, if I have someone to connect to.

Thank you for stopping by!
anita said…
Great post, Jessie! Well, I usually try to use two POVs in my books. It seems to be expected when it's romance, having insights from both the hero and heroine.

In fact, I only learned that expectation recently. My agent and I are having trouble selling my historical romance that is written in first person. Unfortunately, that's something I can't change for that particular story, so we're just going to have to keep trying and hope I can break the mold.

Some stories dictate to the author how the POV will be handled. It's as simple as that. Personally, I think that any POV should work in any genre, as long as it's handled well. Now, if I could just get the editors to see it that way. Harumph.
denise petrovich said…
If head hopping is done correctly I am fine with it. I think I know which author you are speaking about. Funny, huh? I don't always just like books that stick to all the rules as they become predictable and who wants predictable when you want to escape reality? Love reading everyones comments. Mom
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Anita,
You know, I would've never guessed that first person pov would be an issue in a historical romance. I hope you break the mold too because WLW needs to see the light of day! And make it to the bestseller list. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi mom,
Thanks for commenting. :-) I agree completely about predictability! LOL
Pen Pen said…
Mastering the POV was the hardest thing for me to overcome as a writer. I've written since I was young-and had a hard time hearing that I couldn't just change POV in the middle of nowhere- or cut it short when I wanted. I think the power in a character CAN be conveyed no matter what screw ups the author makes in their writing style, but I also think we can make it a million times easier for the reader. EXAMPLE- I love to read Stephen King, but he DOES put in these "internal dislogue" parts that he just puts in italics with no set up. He does the SAME thing ghosts speak..or in 'The Shining' when they telepathically talk to each other. There's no real way to know if it's internal or who is supposed to be saying things...or if it's like a crazy voice the main character is hearing--that bothers me. I end up having to guess who the italics stuff is coming from. I do that too sometimes tho--I'm pretty sure it's cuz I've read so much of his stuff and his style sticks in my head. I have to go back into my writing and label things. Too much labeling is bad-if it distracts and chops the work, I say take it out. BUT- If ur readers have no way to follow what's happening-that's even MORE distracting!

AND- I'm glad I wasn't the only one who cried with that fire fighter-kids in car video! I had my hands over my mouth the whole time and was so scared they weren't gonna get the little boy-tho I already knew they were successful. I still feel overwhelmed with that video--It would have been terrible to have that video if they had not gotten them out--It reminded me of the 9/11 planes crashing-Seeing it made me feel helpless and angry that I-personally- could not be there to help.
Said it so many times people know how I feel for sure *laugh* but I hate head hopping and I hate multiple POV's that are in the same chapter..which isn't exactly head-hopping, but a form of it.

I NEVER accept changing POV in the same chapter and never accept head hopping all over the place - it bugs me....just well, I'd probably feel too jittered to read a novel with too many POV's and I can't tell you what Too Many is --more than 4?

There is also an example of a book I recently read that had only two POV's but the author would write one chapter in one character's POV, then the next was in the other character's POV, and so on they went first one, then the other, switching every other chapter - drove me crazy! while there were only 2 POV's -I couldn't get into one character long enough to care before the author switched.

Even if head hopping is done really well, I still can't quite adjust myself to that style of writing. I like it when an author picks a POV and stays in that ONE POV for that chapter and only switches POV when the chapter changes . . . and I'd wonder at a book that has many POV's - 3 or 4 seems like plenty.

I'd love to write a multiple POV book one day, but I'd never head hop - I just can't - won't won't won't *laughing*
Jessica Nelson said…
Hey Pen Pen,
I never, ever use italics. Okay, maybe once or twice in the whole story, but that's it. Interesting about King. I've never read him so I didn't know that.

Yeah, I feeling a little freaked out when I watched that video. I was watching the mom pace around, just knowing how crazy she must've felt with her little boy trapped in there.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Kathryn!
Yes, I can see you feel strongly about this. Well, I have a tendency of switching pov in the middle of a chapter, and I like to do it, so I'm just warning you in advance, assuming you read one of my books when I'm pubbed. LOL

Thanks for stopping by! You've been so busy. I appreciate your comment. :-) Now, rest up girl!
Karen Hossink said…
Ah! My head is spinning. But I think I get it. *grin*

Popular posts from this blog

Advancing Your Plot

Oblique Dialogue