The #1 POV Mistake and How to Fix It

POV Mistake

Have you ever read a book, completely immersed in the world and characters, when the author suddenly writes something that destroys your suspended belief? It’s a terrible feeling. No reader likes returning to reality before they’re ready, and no author wants to do that to their readers.

Switching point of views (POVs) abruptly when you shouldn’t is one way that you can guarantee ruining a reader’s experience. I like to call it “head hopping.” It is the #1 POV mistake I see in novels written from the first person or third person limited omniscient POV. (Click here to better understand the different POVs.)

The first person and third person limited require that only one character be the POV character. As soon as a scene or chapter changes, you can change POV characters, but you must again stick with that one character until there is another scene or chapter change.

Identifying Head Hopping

Take a look at this example from my WIP and see if you can identify the POV character and spot the POV change.

Drake’s muscles tightened as he resisted the overwhelming urge to take that swing he imagined. “I have responsibilities that require my attention. Not that I owe any explanation to you any more than I do a housemaid.”

“Then why are you neglecting your ‘responsibilities’ for a few hours ride on your horse?” Fredrick asked.

“You know nothing about being a prince,” Drake said through clenched teeth.

Fredrick leaned forward and gave a half grin. “Your father taught me everything.”

Drake lunged toward Fredrick and took a swing. Fredrick side stepped the attack, sending Drake fumbling into the stone wall behind him. Drake spun around to find Fredrick laughing. He couldn’t believe that Drake was idiotic enough to try that move again. While Fredrick reveled in his victory, Drake lunged again, and this time his fist met Fredrick’s stomach. Fredrick involuntarily doubled over, and Drake brought his arm back for another blow.

Did you see it? If not, read it one more time and ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What POV is this written in?
  • Who is the main character?
  • Are there any sentences that come from another character’s POV (or thoughts or emotions)?

In order to fix head hopping, you have to be able to identify it first. The simplest way to do that is to start by identifying the main character (MC), and in this example, the MC is Drake. We can also tell that this is written in third person limited.

Once we know those details, we can filter everything we read through Drake. Every single word that is written must come from what Drake sees, hears, smells, feels, and thinks, and it can only come from Drake.

With that in mind, when we come to a sentence like “He couldn’t believe that Drake was idiotic enough to try that move again,” we should be able to pick it out as head hopping. Since I’m writing strictly from Drake’s POV in this scene, I cannot share Fredrick’s thoughts about Drake. I can only write through Drake’s mind and eyes.

Editing Head Hoping

After finding head hopping in your writing, you have three options: delete the sentence, rewrite it, or change POVs.

Delete the Sentence

In my example, I can easily delete the sentence without losing anything that the reader should know.

Drake lunged toward Fredrick and took a swing. Fredrick side stepped the attack, sending Drake fumbling into the stone wall behind him. Drake spun around to find Fredrick laughing. While Fredrick reveled in his victory, Drake lunged again, and this time his fist met Fredrick’s stomach. Fredrick involuntarily doubled over, and Drake brought his arm back for another blow.

In your own writing, if the story can progress without that head hopping information, delete it. Don’t force the information if it doesn’t belong, and don’t try to hold on to it just because you like the way you wrote it. More than likely, your readers will be just fine without it.

Rewrite It

If the information is crucial for your readers to know currently or at a later time, revise the sentence so that it comes from your POV character instead of someone else.

Drake lunged toward Fredrick and took a swing. Fredrick side stepped the attack, sending Drake fumbling into the stone wall behind him. Drake spun around to find Fredrick laughing at him, and Drake admonished himself for being idiotic enough to try that move again. While Fredrick reveled in his victory, Drake lunged again, and this time his fist met Fredrick’s stomach. Fredrick involuntarily doubled over, and Drake brought his arm back for another blow.

Now, Drake scolds himself for his idiotic move. This keeps the same idea that it wasn’t the first time Drake tried to swing at Fredrick, but it comes from Drake’s mind so that I don’t stray from my POV.

Change POV

Sometimes revising the head hopping sentence or paragraph just isn’t enough to get the information across. When that happens, you can bring your current scene or chapter to a conclusion and start the next scene from a different POV character. That will allow you a lot more freedom in expressing the information or thoughts of that character than you would have if you tried to stick with your original POV.

This technique is used a lot in fiction writing. In one of my battle scenes in my WIP, I start the battle from Drake’s POV, and then I end the scene and switch to another character’s POV so that I can reveal events during the battle that Drake isn’t privy to.

No matter what measures you put in place to avoid head hopping, you will inevitably slip into it at some point during the drafting stage, and that’s okay. We all do it. Finding and editing head hopping is just one of the many things that you should be looking for during your revision stage. It’s a simple fix once you get used to identifying it.

If you find head hopping in your own writing, share with us in the comments below and show us how you’d revise it. One of the best ways to learn is through studying lots of examples.

Keep writing and editing!

Meagan Nicole