Skip to content

Tag: third person

Head Hopping and POV Slips

I’d like to discuss a problem that I see a lot when I’m wearing my editorial hat and that I try to avoid when I’m wearing my writer hat. It’s actually two problems—head hopping and slips in point of view (POV)—but they stem from the same cause. Let’s start with head hopping.

What Is Head Hopping?

In fiction, head hopping is a POV problem.

To clarify, I’ll start with a little explanation of third-person POV. Third person uses pronouns like he and she to describe the main characters instead of I (first person) or you (second person). (I cover these in more detail in my series on point of view.)

To break it down further, third-person omniscient allows the author to hover above the story, dipping in and out of the minds of all the characters and showing all the action and thoughts as if she is an all-knowing goddess.

Jackie approached the alien craft, sweat beading on her forehead and dripping down into her eyes. From his craft, Jo Ahl watched her approach, double-checking that the doors were sealed tight. They were terrified of each other, but they did not know that their meeting was ordained. Without it, the future of the very universe was at stake.

In contrast, third-person limited shows the story through the eyes and experiences of one or more characters and does this one character at a time. This is a very popular POV today. It gives the author the flexibility of moving between characters if he wishes while maintaining the intimacy of first-person POV.

Jackie stepped up to the ship and laid a hand on the cool metal. Her heart pounded as she added the other hand and searched for a crack or a button, anything that would show her where the door was. This was the first sign of life she had found since her pod had crash-landed on this rock. Nothing. It was like a giant metal egg, except she could see the little window ten feet above her head and the landing gear that held it steady on the uneven ground.

To use third-person limited POV effectively, the author must set limits on how often she will change POVs. In my experience, the smallest POV division should be the scene. The most common divisions are either scenes or chapters (that is, sticking to one POV per scene or per chapter).

Some authors use the paragraph as this minimum division, but it’s harder to pull off and can often be confusing for the reader. At worst, it can feel like the author can’t make up her mind about which type of POV she wants to use and keeps slipping into omniscient.

Head hopping, or moving inappropriately between one character’s head and another, comes into play when the author either doesn’t know how to use different gradations of POV or does it inconsistently. The reader is happily following the adventures of Jackie when suddenly he is tossed into the head of Jo Ahl without any warning, such as a scene or chapter break.

Jackie began pounding on the metal with her polymer-covered fists. “Who’s in there? Come out, please! Maybe we can help each other,” she yelled.

Whoever was in the ship must be stranded, too. She had seen nothing for miles on this barren planet. There were no spaceports or anything. She made her way around the pod, pounding her fists like drums against the hull. It was giving Jo Ahl a headache, but she kept going.

To prevent head hopping, have a plan. Decide on your point of view before you begin to write. As you plan each scene or chapter, decide who will be your POV character.

What Are POV Slips?

Head hopping is a POV slip, but some slips are more subtle. They often involve sensory transfers, a lack of thought about a character’s presence within a particular setting, or big assumptions on the part of your POV character.

The temperature was mild, and a light breeze blew, but Jo Ahl refused to leave his ship.

In this example, no evidence is given to the reader that Jo Ahl has ever been outside. As far as we know, he’s been locked up tight since he landed. How does he know what the temperature is? Fix this by adding a little information.

The console still worked and told Jo Ahl that the temperature was mild and there was a light breeze blowing. He still refused to leave his ship.

Alternatively, just cut the offending phrase or make it clear that the character is making assumptions.

The few leaves on the spindly trees in the distance fluttered fitfully, and the ship had remained an even temperature since he had powered it down. Still, despite this evidence of a possibly friendly atmosphere, Jo Ahl refused to leave his ship.

The Bottom Line

The basic rule in limited POV—first person or third person—is this:

If the POV character cannot see it, taste it, touch it, smell it, feel it, or think it, throw it out.

head hopping, pov, point of view, third person, third-person limitedRemember that unless he is a mind reader, your character cannot know what other characters are thinking, feeling, or sensing. So, when you are writing from his POV, stay out of other characters’ minds and bodies.

What tools or reminders do you use to maintain consistency in POV?


The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

“How to Choose the Right POV (What I Learned Writing Storming),” K. M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors

“Deep POV—What’s So Deep About It,” Beth Hill, The Editor’s Blog


The Importance of Point of View: Part IV: Third Person

Welcome back! In this final installment in my series on point of view (POV), I will be discussing the most popular point of view used in fiction: third person. The different points of view and the use of first-person and second-person POVs were covered earlier in this series.

Third person is popular for a reason. It is very flexible. You can choose to show your fictional world from many viewpoints and intimacy levels within one POV.

Third-Person Omniscient: You can show the reader your world from completely outside the characters and setting yet be able to relate—or refuse to relate—the thoughts and actions of each at your own whim or for your own devious intentions (e.g., to drive your reader crazy with suspense).

Third-Person Objective: Again, you can show your reader your world from the outside but, in this case, refrain from getting inside the characters’ heads. Only actions, narrative, and description are used to tell your story. All thoughts and feelings must be learned or inferred by the reader from these elements.

Third-Person Limited: With this POV, you can take a more intimate approach and get up close and personal with one of your characters. This can be a single character in a novel (also referred to as third-person single POV) or multiple characters (also referred to as third-person multiple POV). The latter can be distinguished from third-person objective in that at any one time in the story, only the viewpoint of one character is shown. In this case, any shifts from one character to another must be done carefully, such as through a natural break in the story with a scene shift or new chapter.

As with the previous weeks, I will demonstrate third-person POV (limited in this case) with a short scene from The Magician’s Wife. This same scene was covered in the first-person and second-person POVs in my previous posts.

Excerpt, The Magician’s Wife by Janell E. Robisch

“Sarin, you must be careful.”

“Lew, do not speak that way. There is nothing to worry about. It is just another spell. As soon as Kaleo arrives with the herb, everything will be fine.” Her voice was shaking terribly despite all her efforts to remain calm. After wringing a warm cloth between her trembling hands, she applied the compress to her husband’s cheeks and forehead.

“Sarin, look at me, at my face!” he said, pulling her wrist and the cloth down.

Reluctantly, she brought her eyes to his, blinking back tears. His green eyes were bright, but the flesh around them was pale and drawn. Moving his hand to hers, he squeezed gently. “Sarin, this is the last time. The Guardians are calling me. It’s time to go.”

“No.” She shook her head hard and felt her hair brush the sides of her face. It usually annoyed her, but now it seemed unimportant.

Lew’s eyes focused on her once more. “Listen to me Sarin, you have to be careful with the magic. Do not trust anyone. Do not tell anyone. If I had known . . . . I never should have taught you anything.” She heard no malice in his voice, only fear and regret. “You must promise me to be careful.”

His lips faded to a lighter shade of pink as if all his blood were rushing down to his ailing heart, but Sarin knew the truth. She could feel its beat slowing as surely as if it were her own. Soon, it would stop.

“I promise,” she nodded. “I promise.” The truth of his departure was becoming clear to her as the emerald sparkle of his eyes finally began to fade.

As a warm tear slid down her nose, Sarin made the four-pointed sign of the Guardians over her husband’s chest. “I love you,” she whispered, burying her face in his shoulder, inhaling his scent as if she could hold on to it. She felt his cool, weak hand rest on her neck. “Don’t forget me.”

“Never, my little star. Never.”

The hand slipped ever-so-slowly from her neck, and Sarin broke into sobs, her fists buried in Lew’s tunic, knowing she would never hear his sweet voice again.

Now that you have read all three, which do you prefer for this scene?


Deep POV—What’s So Deep About It by Beth Hill, The Editor’s Blog

The Power of Point of View: Make Your Story Come To Life by Alicia Rasley

Using Third Person Multiple POV by Mac Hopkins, Scribophile Writing Academy

What Point of View Should You Use in Your Novel? (First Person? Third Person?) by James V. Smith, Jr., Writer’s Digest