Multiple Points of View

by Dana Michaels

Question: I've been told I'm "head-hopping" in my contemporary romance manuscript. How do you convey different characters' thoughts, feelings, or reactions to others (or events) without changing POV?

For example, two people getting to know each other often notice each other's mannerisms and characteristics at the same time (i.e., over dinner). Is it really bad writing to express his thoughts in one paragraph followed by her thoughts in the next? What is the proper way to let a reader know what both characters are thinking or feeling?

Even worse, if she is meeting his family over dinner, where three or four people - whose future actions will affect the relationship - are sizing her up, what is the correct way to let readers know their thoughts?

Thank you.

Answer: The simple answer is that if you are using limited narration -- which means you are writing from one character's POV -- you cannot write about another character's thoughts and feelings. The reason is obvious: your POV character has no idea what other people are thinking or feeling. And in limited narration, you only narrate what the POV character perceives, thinks, and feels.

What you should do is have your POV character observe other characters actions and reactions. Have her note their actions, statements, facial expressions, tone of voice, etc. Then she might infer or guess what they may be thinking and feeling. However, just as in real life, your main character may easily be wrong about what's
going on in other people's heads.

Bear in mind that if you provide your POV character's observations about what other characters do, say, etc., the reader will also infer what is going on in everyone else's head. The reader can be just as wrong, but that's part of the game.

Of course, there are exceptions...

One approach often used in romance is to use multiple POV characters. However, you should not change points of view or mix points of view within a scene. Readers like to know whose POV they are occupying in each scene and it is confusing when they think they are in one person's head and suddenly find themselves hearing another character's thoughts.

Head hopping destroys the reader's illusion that she is inside the POV character's head, which is where the intimate connection between reader and character comes from. The illusion is what helps the reader imagine she is the main character.

So write the scene from one POV. But later, in a chapter told from a different character's POV, you can have the second character remember that scene differently. You can convey their thoughts after the fact.

Another approach is to use omniscient narration, but this comes at a cost of a lot of intimacy since it gives the reader the feeling of looking at all the characters from a distance instead of being the main character.

Standard practice in romance is to use two POV characters: the two romantic leads.

Best of luck.

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