Marshall Payne (marshallpayne1) wrote,
Marshall Payne

Head-hopping in the Land of Whose POV Is It, Anyway?

I've long since gone past the point where I finish every novel I begin. In fact, I start a lot of novels I never finish, deciding a hundred or so pages in that I'm not finding the story engaging enough to continue or going to learn much more about this thing called fiction. Yesterday I was in search of something different to sniff out.

On the bookshelf I found a novel I'd bought used a few years back and had overlooked: Hazard's Price by Robert S. Stone. It came out in 2001 as an Ace mass market paperback original. So I cracked it open and settled down with an open mind.

Right off I was moderately impressed. The author's description was good, placing me in this steampunk fantasy world. The Prologue opened at an evening party at a rich gentleman's home that the protag was crashing. The dialogue was crisp, the description vivid, the tension real, but when the protag, a man named Madh, confronted the rich gentleman, the POV switched to his viewpoint and referred to Madh as "the stranger." This was not omniscient POV in the normal sense, but a shift in third-person limited without the benefit of a scene break. Still, rather liking the set up, I continued.

Then I got to Chapter One. The scene was two weeks later behind the walls of another estate Madh was entering without invitation. At his side was a young assassin named Haim whom Madh found distasteful. Or at least the author told me Madh found him distasteful by entering the protag's thoughts in narrative. Then in paragraph four we are told: "Hain had always thought it ironic when his employers found him repulsive...yet they returned to him unfailingly when they needed his particular brand of help." This is rendered in third-person narrative not dialogue.

I'm sure you've seen this sort of thing before. Frankly, it drives me crazy. A fictional narrative is not like a film where the camera switches back and forth between various characters interacting with one another. Fiction derives much of its power from a consistent POV. I like multi-POV novels, but only (usually) when the viewpoint switch is facilitated by a scene break or a new chapter. There are exceptions, of course. Mostly in short fiction that adopts an omniscient POV, though this takes much skill to pull off. In a novel that sets itself up as third-person limited and then switches POV abruptly...I find this jarring.

As I put Hazard's Price back on the shelf (having given up on page 15), I wondered why an author who seemed to get everything else right could write so clumsily when it came to POV.

Head-hopping? Does this drive you crazy, too? Don't really care? Hate head-hopping because it gives you whiplash?
Tags: fiction writing
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