As a reader I prefer close third person viewpoint or first person viewpoint. This helps me be invested in the character. Since I know his thoughts, experience what he is experiencing, I identify with him. I can salivate for what she is eating, feel cold because she is, be anxious about what she’s worried about. I get “lost” in the world of the book.
This translates to my own writing. I can only know, hear, see, feel, taste, touch, what my main character knows. I can’t know what someone else in the story is thinking. My main character can guess. She can learn about it from another character. He can spy on another character, but there won’t be any hopping from one head to another. In my opinion this makes for less confusion for a reader. It also makes for a more realistic feel to the story—after all, I can’t tell in real life what the people around me are thinking.
In a post called “Headhopping, Authorial Intrusion, and Shocked Expressions,” I love what Anne M. Marble said about her example text: “Either that scene had headhopping or Blythe is psychic. How else would she know what both Anthony and the waitress are thinking and experiencing?”
Author Marcy Kennedy says, “Head hopping damages your story because it makes the writing feel choppy. Readers constantly need to pause, however slightly, and figure out who they’re supposed to identify with.”
Author Joe Bunting says, “It’s taboo because writers, editors, and readers have found when the narrator switches from one character’s thoughts to another’s too quickly, it jars the reader and breaks the intimacy with the scene’s main character.”
In my novel ALONE I had a scene where I tried to cheat on first person pov. I told the scene as if another character had explained it so well that my main character felt as if she were “a mouse in the corner” observing. But I kept it chronological. My main character didn’t know this happened at the time I showed it. Fortunately, a wise editor suggested it wasn’t working. When I looked at the scene objectively, I realized it could be cut and the reader wouldn’t miss a thing. The scene that followed gave enough information. And it kept the story more intimate.
Fiction editor Beth Hill agrees. “Keep the reader in one head, one heart, at a time.” Ooh, I love that emphasis on heart. And it works whether you are writing in first person or close third person point of view.
Recently when judging a novel contest, I saw writers who needed to learn to write simple transitions. Sometimes I read many pages to get a character from one town to another—I didn’t see the character do or learn much, or struggle or grow. Sometimes it was moving characters across the room, or in and out of a room, that was done step by agonizing step. As editor Beth Hill says in her article “Mastering Transitions,” “Transitions are important in fiction because the writer can’t possibly portray or account for every moment in a character’s day, week, or life.”
This is the purpose of transitions—to move quickly to action or important scenes in the story. I usually don’t need to know what Aunt Maude had for breakfast or what time she got up, when the important thing is what happened at ten o’clock. After Aunt Maude’s evening event, all I need is “The next morning at ten o’clock, Aunt Maude drove her ancient Beetle to the cabin to meet the real estate agent.” The scene can unfold from there. A transition can use time relationship as in this example or can use a place relationship. E.g. “At the apartment, John . . .”
Think of how movies flash a character from one location to another. If the character was at work and is now home, readers assumed they got there in a normal way without the movie showing every aspect of the trip. Those are the same kinds of scenes where writers need to use transitions.
I know part of the problem is we’ve been told to “show not tell.” Sometimes that means we show too much. Transitions are the time for telling.
Don’t know what should be a transition and what should be shown? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What does the character learn in this scene?
What does the character accomplish in this scene?
What emotional change happens in this scene?
What is the point of this scene?
If your answers are “not much” to the first three questions and “to get from here to there” for the latter, use a transition. You can always work necessary details into another scene. Or you can make this scene do much more than it already is.
Guest post by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Dangling participles are a bad idea. They’re grammatically wrong, of course, but that doesn’t stop people from using them. But if you want your reader to stay engaged, it’s not only wrong, it’s a bad idea.
Hold on, Laura. I’ve slept since third grade. What’s a participle and why does it dangle?
A participle is a verb form, usually showing an ongoing action or condition but occasionally used as an adjective.
And now we come to the dangling participle.
In the previous example, both verbs shared the subject “I”. A participle clause should always share the subject with the rest of the sentence. When a participle is used without its appropriate noun, it’s dangling, and it makes for some fairly stupid sentences.
This sentence can be repaired with a simple shift:
Okay, I see what you’re saying, but the second subject is probably evident from context. Why should I worry about it?First, what’s evident to the writer who knows what he means to say is not always evident to the reader who is reading to find out.
Secondly, even if a reader can work out the intended meaning, it interrupts the flow of the narrative.
Anything that makes your reader stop forward momentum is a bad idea.
This is why grammar matters. A grammatically-aware reader will find your lack of care irritating. A reader who doesn’t know a dangling participle from a dongle will still know subconsciously or consciously that he finds your story slower going than someone else’s – or worse, than Netflix or Hulu. (Nothing against video media, but I don’t want to just give them my customers.)
Again, this error frequently happens when writers want to vary their sentence structure and rhythm but don’t know quite how to do it.
A dangling participle is fixed by simply adding the relevant subject.
The simple test? Your participle clause shares the subject of your sentence. If that’s not what you meant, rewrite.
No more dangling!
Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes speculative fiction in several flavors, historical fiction, mystery, and non-fiction, because she is bad at branding. However, she is good at grammar and was sent to the office repeatedly for correcting her English teachers (the principal consulted The Chicago Manual of Style and found she was right). She loves teaching about writing and publishing. You can find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.