The title of this post is really Multiple POVs. Just wanted to get your attention. ;)

I know there aren't any ironclad rules, but generally speaking, how many point of view characters are enough for one multiple POV thriller? How many are too many? What's the most you've ever seen?

And, when you are working on a book with multiple POVs, do you stick to one POV per scene? Is head hopping ever a good idea?

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My two-cents, Jude. Since you asked. :)

My feeling is there are no rules, just accepted guidelines and reader expectations.

I'm guided by a simple principle when I write--what does the story dictate. As a writer, head-hopping distracts me, I notice it, as a reader before I began to study writing, I don't think I even noticed it. That said, I try to adhere to the rule of one POV per scene. Yet, I sometimes depict one scene from breaking it up into small mini-scenes and presenting it from multiple viewpoints (using space breaks to move from POV to POV).

As for how many POVs are too many? Again, depends on the story. If a scene needs a new POV to tell it properly, do that. No rules. The only thing I would caution is, when you are done, if you have several POV characters that only have a single scene or two, then you might want to re-write either the scene or combine the characters into one. (Hope that makes scene). The key is to make each POV character distinct enough and their viewpoint important enough tot he story so they can't be confused by the writer.

Good luck

Amd I don't see how something can be "head hopping by definition" when nobody seems to agree on the definition.

Head hopping is shifting POVs within a scene. That's the definition. There are no others.

Sure there are.  There's another one right here in this forum.  That makes a whole lot more sense.

This site says it's "a change of narrator that detracts from the story."  Which is what Eric said, and isn't arbitrary nonsense.  (That period tucked in okay,Eric?)

This guy says it's  "To be clear, head-hopping is not merely a switch in viewpoint character. It’s what happens when that change occurs mid-sentence or mid-paragraph or even mid-scene."

This one says... and this makes a LOT of sense to me... "Head-hopping is when the viewpoint shifts from one character to another without the author signaling the change."

So, you know...  it's hard trying to figure some of this stuff out.  And it gets harder when people tell you stuff that isn't even true.

BTW, poking around trying to figure this out, I ran into a couple of folks saying some version of, "if you're writing in third person omniscient you can't 'head-hop'."

Which was interesting.  And, thinking about it, I figure that you also can't "head hop" in first person, either, right?

But there are worse things than head-hopping, I'd say.    

Like hip-hopping.

"Omniscient" implies that the author is God and knows what everybody is thinking at any given moment, so there is no head-hopping that jerks the reader out of one chacater's head into another's without warning.  With first-person you are in the Narrator's ("I") head and nobody else's.  You can switch to another first-person narrator in another chapter.

Yep, that's what it means.  (Although I think we can leave God out if)   

Frankly, I find that whole "in the head" thing kind of useless.

And, yeah, you could switch to another narrator in another chapter.  Or scene.  Or sentence.


All of the definitions cited refer to the same thing, though perhaps "viewpoint character" is a little clearer than "narrator."  An author can signal a change by a break in the chapter or a chapter change and by referring to the new character right away. When authors do not signal, the reader may become confused who is telling/observing the scene.  A mid-sentence head-hopping is an extreme case sometimes practiced by romance writers who want to depict mutual arousal.

Yeah, that's what makes sense to me.  It's only a problem if it's a problem.

If nobody has trouble following you, you're doing fine, it would seem.   

And, I'm guessing you could lose them by only changing per scene if you really work at it.  Or really suck or something.

Well, it depends on the reader, right? Anything that pulls you out of the narrative. The most common for me is when I start wondering, "Now how would they know that?"

Elmore Leonard uses changing pov (or viewpoint character, if you prefer) very effectively.


That's how it looks to me, John.

Anything that derails the reader is a screw-up, right?

And that's what I meant by subjective--you have no way of knowing who the reader is or how smart or clueless or picky they are.

It just hit me that maybe that's why people come up with these "rules".  Because otherwise it's this really vague situation of what people get from what you say.

But it seems to me that that's the way it is and you can't really protect yourself from being misunderstood or misinterpreted.

"you can't really protect yourself from being misunderstood or misinterpreted."

Good point. At some point every writer has to have an idea of the intended audience, notably how smart they are as readers. Best sellers often seem bland and dumbed-down to some people because they are written to appeal to as broad a base as possible. (Not all best sellers do this, but many.) As soon as a writer makes certain stylistic choices--voice, POV, how much to explain and how much to leave to the reader to figure out--the potential audience shifts.

Very true.  The same goes for his choice of genre and subject matter.  The Romans knew that Circuses are big crowd pleasers. 


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