Writing Basics

Stop the head-hopping: Picking the right POV for your story

The cover of the children's book, "Eulalie and the Hopping Head."
For some reason, the topic of head-hopping always makes me think of this book!

How do you know what point of view is right for your story? Honestly, the degree of intimacy your story requires is completely up to you. It comes down to artistic choice. Whatever POV you choose, the important thing is to keep it consistent to avoid confusing your readers.

Head-hopping is one of the many distractive elements of writing that can remind your reader that she is reading, thus pulling her out of the story. To avoid head-hopping, if you need to switch POVs, you should include some sort of visual indicator to tip readers off to the fact that a POV switch is about to take place. This could be as simple as providing a new header that includes the name of the POV character to let the reader know a POV switch is coming.

For example, when I wrote F-ing Freddy Fisher, I wanted to show how Freddy – a boy who is a bully to some and disliked by many – is viewed from the perspective of several different characters. I chose six different characters and used each of their points of view throughout the story to show what Freddy’s behavior looks like from the outside and how who he is can be colored by the perspective of the people who are viewing him. Only twice does the reader get to see inside Freddy’s head and learn what is really happening to him that makes him behave the way he does.

F-ing Freddy Fisher is written in first person, present tense. A reader could easily be confused and lose focus if I were to switch from one POV to another without some sort of visual marker to aid in the transition. Each time I switch to a different character’s POV in this story, I added a subheader with the POV character’s name to quickly transition the reader from one character’s head to the next.

Now that you know the basics of point of view in fiction writing, you’re ready to examine your current work in progress and decide what’s right for your story. If you’ve already started writing, what POV are you using and why? Is it consistent, or do you do a lot of head-hopping?

cover of F-ing Freddy Fisher
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