The Difference Between Omniscient POV and Head Hopping

6941436439_07015d4618_o

The difference between omniscient point of view and head hopping is something that stumps a lot of writers. But there are big differences between the two, in this article, I outline the basics.

To be clear, this article is about head hopping in omniscient POV. It is not about third limited POV (changing perspectives at chapter or section breaks). I recommend reading this article first if you aren’t familiar with third limited POV.

Omniscient POV is Only One Viewpoint

One of the biggest misconceptions about omniscient point of view is that it allows you to go into the viewpoint of any character in your story at any time. This is not true. Omniscient point of view only has one viewpoint – the viewpoint of the narrator. This narrator stays the same throughout the entire novel.

The narrator does not “go into” the viewpoints of the other characters, because it doesn’t have to. The narrator already knows everything about all of the characters. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s a very important distinction: The narrator does not go into different viewpoint, it simply chooses which information to convey about which characters at which moments.

Omniscient POV Only Has One Voice

Probably the most glaring error in omniscient point of view is when the voice changes when describing the thoughts and feelings of each different character. This is a blatant giveaway that the work is head hopping rather than omniscient. Since omniscient sticks to only one viewpoint – one narrator – it must always stick to one voice.

This means that the vocabulary, sentence structure, and word choices should not change when different characters are explored. Margo may speak like a stuffy old woman while Tom swears like a sailor, but when their emotions and thoughts are described in omniscient, the narrative should read with the exact same voice unless it is italicized as a direct thought.

There are some cases where it can be very clearly implied that the narrator is describing the thoughts of a character and some writers will choose to add a bit of the character’s own “flavor” to the writing in this circumstance without using italicized text. If done well and sparingly, this is okay. The important thing is that it be clear 100% of the time whether an opinion is the narrator’s or the character’s.

Omniscient POV is Strategic

The omniscient narrator is a storyteller who chooses when to reveal emotions and thoughts of characters as it is important and relevant. There is a strategy there. A strategy to build suspense, to engage the reader, and to focus the story. It does not delve into the thoughts and emotions of characters on a whim. There is a logical and important reason for switching the focus to different characters.

Head hopping, on the other hand, often has switches that are erratic, that serve no purpose, and are put there simply because it’s easier to switch perspectives all the time than it is to convey things without going into the heads of different characters. While omniscient POV feels strategic, head hopping often feels lazy, sloppy, or accidental.

*ETA: As a few commenters have pointed out, there are writers who use head hopping strategically (rather than sloppily) and are able to “hide” the head hopping by switching at key moments in a scene. If you are fully aware of what you are doing and have a strong grasp of POV and feel that this is necessary in your novel, you might be able to get away with this. But since it’s difficult to pull off well, a section break is generally clearer, and publishers tend to view it as a sign the writer is not knowledgeable about POVs, I personally would not advise taking the risk.

Omniscient POV is Omniscient

Omniscient means “all knowing.” It does not mean “jumping into the heads of different people.” The omniscient narrator knows everything – not just the thoughts and feelings of the character it’s currently delved into – it knows the thoughts and feelings of everyone, at all times, including before the story started and after the story ends. The omniscient narrator knows what’s happening halfway across the world. It knows the temperature outside, the exact time of day, and how many buttons are on the mailman’s jacket. It knows everything.

Well…most of the time. It is possible to have an omniscient narrator with limited knowledge, but this is typically only in cases of first-person omniscient narrators who are characters that gained the information through supernatural means or after the fact.

Knowing everything does not mean the omniscient narrator does or should reveal everything (again, it must be strategic). The narrator may choose to omit things to make the story more interesting or exciting. In many cases, omniscient narrators seem “God-like.” But head hopping does not evoke the God-like, all-knowing feel of the omniscient narrator, it reads like we’re simply jumping between the brains of ordinary characters. In other words, in head hopping there is no sense that there is one consistent voice “behind the camera” directing the novel and pulling the reader through the story.

Was this post helpful? Please share it!

Need a freelance novel editor? Check out my editing services. (:

How to Use Linear Order to Increase Tension

5633910355_f8d4cb211f_o

As a writer, you are the master of the timeline of your novel. You can go backwards and forwards in time on a sentence, paragraph, and chapter level. But should you?

For any novel to be satisfying, there must be some degree of tension. Tension is created by anticipating what comes next. A sense of propulsion helps to keep that tension building. So here’s the important part: going backwards in time reduces the sense of propulsion, which, in turn, reduces the sense of tension.

On a Sentence Level

Let’s start small with the sentence level. Some writers make a regular habit of flipping the order of their sentences. For many, this may seem like a stylistic choice. Here are some examples of sentences in backwards linear order:

  • Anne jumped when there was a loud sound from the hallway.
  • Jake ducked under a missile as he dodged his way across the battlefield.
  • Bailey cried after reading the note.

All of these sentences are in backwards linear order, meaning that what happened first is described last. This backwards order reduces tension and that sense of propulsion I was talking about in the intro, which is bad. In general, unless you have a very good reason to convey information backwards (perhaps only truly helpful during attempts at comedy), you are much better off using linear order.

Here are the same sentences rewritten in linear order:

  • There was a loud sound from the hallway, and Anne jumped.
  • Jake dodged his way across the battlefield, ducking under a missile.
  • Bailey read the note and cried.

Obviously these sentences could be improved in other ways: broken up into two sentences for even more tension, showing a bit more of the experience, etc. But regardless, an average quality linear sentence packs a stronger punch (more tension and propulsion) than even a high-quality backwards sentence.

On a Paragraph Level

When it comes to paragraphs, some writers tend to do a strange sort of backwards and forwards dance through time. Here’s an example:

Ben teased Jenny and she ran all the way home. Her legs pumped harder than ever before. Her feet slapped against the sidewalk. She reached the front door and threw it open. After a long run she reached the house and crumpled inside the door.

The issue with this paragraph may not be blatantly obvious at first, but when you look at how readers interpret this paragraph, it becomes clear that there’s a problem. The first sentence indicates that Jenny ran all the way home, so in the reader’s mind, she’s home. But then wait! In the next sentence she’s running again, so we’ve jumped back to before she got home. She makes it to the front door  – hooray, she’s home! But wait! The next sentence goes back to her running again.

Though the writer’s intent is obvious, the reader still has the experience of bouncing around in time. This is because they are trying to visualize the events in their mind. In this paragraph, the writer is making that visualization pretty difficult.

It also takes the reader out of the experience of following alongside the character. Read more about that in the next section.

On a Chapter Level

Within a chapter, many writers have a tendency to jump backwards in time – sometimes for sentences, and sometimes for paragraphs or even pages. For example:

Anne sat on the windowsill, tears streaming down her face. She clutched a letter in her hands, a letter that the mailman had delivered an hour before. She had sat down quietly in her favorite chair to read it, expecting an invitation or a birthday card, but what it was instead was terrible. Her hands shook and her tears dropped onto the paper. Harry was breaking up with her.

Sections like this take the reader out of the moment and chuck them into the past. Instead of letting the reader experience the events alongside the character, the reader is being forced to experience things on a different timeline. This creates distance and (you guessed it) a reduction in tension and that sense of propulsion.

Why not just start this chapter with Anne receiving the letter? The same events will play out, but the reader will have a substantially increased sense of tension and propulsion.

If you are faced with something that must be explained from the past (usually because it occurred before the events of the novel), the key to maintaining tension and propulsion is to keep it brief. Learn some techniques for doing so here.

The Bottom Line

If you can convey it in linear order, then do it! When editing, watch out for places where you’ve flipped your sentences backwards, where you’ve done a backwards and forwards time dance in your paragraphs, or where you’ve started your chapter too late and have to backtrack.

Keep your novel in linear order and you will maximize tension and that sense of propulsion that keeps readers turning pages.

Did you like this post? Click to share it on Twitter!

Need a freelance editor for your novel or narrative non-fiction? Check out my editing services.

An Easy Way to Improve Your Novel Right Now

4729057190_5cd0a74ce0_o

If you read my post on using find and replace to edit your novel, you know that I’m all about easy ways to pretty up your prose!

There are certain writing tips and tricks that get shoved around a lot: showings vs. telling, info dumps, and purple prose, for example. But there’s another big one that’s often ignored: filtering.

Filtering is when you “filter” the novel through the character’s senses, creating an extra layer of distance between the reader and the story.

There are a lot of filtering words, but here are the big ones.

Filtering Words

  • Saw
  • Heard
  • Felt
  • Tasted
  • Knew
  • Thought
  • Realized

If you’ve never heard of filtering, you might be thinking, I use these words all the time!  Unfortunately, filtering is something widely known among industry professionals (it can be a red flag that work is amateur), but it’s much less known to aspiring authors.

Let’s look at an example of text with filtering:

Tina heard a deep grown and felt breath on the back of her neck. She knew the monster was too close, and she realized the door was too far for her to get away. Her mouth tasted dry and metallic with fear, and she could feel her heart thumping against her ribs. As she turned, she saw big drops of monster spit all over the ground and knew she was done for.

The problem with all of this filtering is that it stops the reader from putting themselves in the character’s place because they are constantly reminded of their distance from the events. It’s Tina who heard the noise, not the reader. It’s Tina who tasted the fear.

So what would this look like if filtering were eliminated? There are lots of ways to get rid of filtering, and they all require you to stretch your creative muscle. Here’s one possible rewrite:

There was a deep growl and hot breath sprayed against the back of Tina’s neck. The monster was close. Too close. She squinted in the darkness, but the door was at least fifteen feet away. She’d never make it. A dry, metallic taste filled her mouth, and her heart thumped against her ribs. She turned and the toe of her shoe dipped into a puddle of monster spit. She was done for. There was no way she’d make it out now.

Do you notice how much closer you feel to the action in this second version? Do you see how much more heavily it relies on showing instead of telling?

Eliminating filtering words is an easy way to improve your writing right now.

Was this blog post helpful? Please share it!

Need a freelance novel editor? Check out my editing services.

138

The Ultimate NaNoWriMo Survival Guide

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover

NaNoWriMo is coming! In three days you will begin a mad dash to write 50,000 words in just 30 days! It will be chaotic. It will be stressful. And if you don’t have the right tools and techniques, you might not survive!

So here it is, my ultimate NaNoWriMo Survival Guide!

Stalk the Forums

Want to take a break? Need a hug? Choking on a plot bunny? The forums over at NaNoWriMo are awesome! Support for yourself (and your story) is just a click away!

Indulge in Your Liquid Vice

Coffee? Tea? Whiskey? Diet Coke? Normally I wouldn’t endorse such indulgences, but this is NaNoWriMo people! Whatever your liquid vice, stock up on it and keep it close at hand for emergency pick-me-ups.

Put Socializing on Hold

You don’t have to go to every party, wedding, and girls night out. This is a month to focus on you and your writing. Your true friends and loving family members will understand and still be there when you hit 50k.

Set up a Writing Oasis

A cuddly cat? A firmly closed door? The TV blaring? What do you need to create a writing oasis? If you’re not sure, trial and error is a good way to start. Figure out your perfect writing conditions and make sure it’s available when you need it.

Don’t Panic

You will get behind at some point during NaNoWriMo. You’ll run out of ideas, have a family crisis, or collapse in a heap of tears unable to lift a pen. It will happen. But don’t panic. Catching up on those lost words isn’t as hard as you might think. Just take a deep breath and plow forward.

Connect with other WriMos

Whether on Twitter (#NaNoWriMo), the NaNo website, or beyond, find a community of fellow NaNo Warriors and connect. You need the comradery, the cheerleading, the shoulders to cry on. Don’t try to NaNo alone!

Find Your Mantra

What is it that holds you back from your writing? Create a mantra to counteract it, write it down, and stick it on your desk or computer screen. Some examples: I deserve a chance to do what I love; I can accomplish anything; Excuses get me nowhere.

Change Your Scenery

Sometimes you just need to move out of your writing oasis to get the juices flowing. Find a nice coffee shop, get yourself an expensive latte (or whatever you drink) and bang out some words away from home.

Turn Off the Internet

If you find yourself spending more time reading about writing than actually writing, it’s time to turn off the internet. Take a notebook outside (a real one, you know, with paper), or turn your WiFi off (smart phones too!). Then get to work!

Stash Your Favorite Snack

Gummy works? Peppermints? Jalapeno potato chips? NaNoWriMo is not the month to be watching your waist line. A hundred extra calories a day? We gotta do what it takes my writer friends!

Take (Structured) Breaks

Sometimes sitting and staring at a blank screen can do more harm than good. If you need a break, take one, but keep it structured. One level of Candy Crush. Fifteen minutes cuddling your cat. A half hour TV show. Keep breaks short and sweet, but don’t deprive yourself of mental rest.

Attend Write Ins

NaNoWriMo provides handy local groups where you can connect with writers in your area and get together to write. There’s nothing like a roomful of furiously typing fingers to get you focused on your own book.

Participate in Word Sprints

Word sprints are a mad dash to a certain word count. When you’re accountable to other writers, it helps you really keep your focus. You can find word sprints on the NaNo forums and on Twitter (#NaNoWriMo & @NaNoWordSprints).

Bribe Yourself

There’s nothing like bribes and rewards to get words on the page. Bribe yourself for both big and little goals: a bathroom break when you finish the page, an episode of Mad Men when you get to 10k, a NaNoWriMo T-shirt when you cross the finish line.

For Pete’s Sake, Don’t Edit!

The last thing you want to do during NaNoWriMo is edit your work. Put the words on the page and then don’t look at them again! Not even a peek. Always move forward and never look back. You’ve got the rest of the year for editing.

Read the Pep Talks

NaNoWriMo is nice enough to get real authors to write pep talks. Don’t ignore them. These talks are awesome! Make sure to read them and get yourself all revved up!

Track Your Progress

There’s nothing more rewarding than watching those little bars climb up and up and up on the chart tracking your progress on the NaNoWriMo site. Check out this chart often and bask in the glory of how far you’ve come!

Always Believe in You

Don’t let that little voice inside your head tell you that you suck, that you’ll never make it, that you’re not a real writer. You can do whatever you put your mind to. Every writer starts somewhere. You WILL make it.

 

Want some FREE editing for your NaNoWriMo novel (or any novel)? Enter my contest to win free editing from yours truly. All participants get a free query letter critique!

 

138

How to Avoid Errors in Tense (Past or Present)

Tense comes easier to some writers than to others. If you’re a writer that struggles with sticking to one tense, here are some tips that will help.

4072387046_26e7a19cde_o

Choose Your Natural Tense

Unless there is a very good reason not to, write your novel in the tense that comes most naturally to you. This will save you a ton of time in revisions, because no matter how hard you try, you will always (at least occasionally) veer back towards your natural tense if you try to write in a tense you’re not as comfortable with.

The majority of writers are weak in present tense. Even after dozens of rounds of revisions, their writing still has glaring errors. In the typical past tense novel I edit, I see maybe 4-12 issues with the tense across the entire manuscript. But in every single present tense novel, I see hundreds of errors in tense, sometimes 4-12 per page.

There are some writers, though rare, that have an easier time sticking to present tense than past. There are also some writers who don’t make mistakes in either tense. Know what kind of writer you are. Be aware of which tense comes more naturally to you and use it!

Check Around Dialogue

One of the most common places I find tense errors is directly following dialogue that is in the opposite tense of the narration. For example:

I shove my hands on my hips and scowl. “It wasn’t like that,” I said.

Since the dialogue is in the past tense, it tricks the writer’s brain into thinking that “said” is correct. This should really be written:

I shove my hands on my hips and scowl. “It wasn’t like that,” I say.

Here’s an example in past tense:

I marched across the room and grabbed her by the shoulders.  “We need to get out of here now,” I say and wipe the sweat from my brow.

Again, the tense has shifted after the dialogue. It should be written:

I marched across the room and grabbed her by the shoulders. “We need to get out of here now,” I said and wiped the sweat from my brow.

Mistakes in tense around dialogue are extremely common so make sure to spend extra time on these areas.

Imagine Talking to a Friend

This is a trick that can help the writers who truly can’t identify whether something is in past or present tense.

If you’re not sure whether a line is written correctly, imagine that rather than reading a story, you are talking to a friend.

If you are trying to write in the present tense, imagine you are talking to a friend and narrating what you’re doing right this second. For example:

I turn around and walk to the counter. The clerk smiled at me as I picked out a pack of gum.

If you imagine that you are narrating your every move as it happens, you will realize that “the clerk smiled” doesn’t make sense. It should be “the clerk smiles.”

If you’re trying to write in the past tense, imagine you are telling a story to your friend about something that happened last week. For example:

I ran down the street and bumped into Mrs. Duncan. She scowls at me and nearly faints.

When reading that out loud as if you’re telling a story about last week, it’s obvious that “she scowls” doesn’t make sense and that it should be “she scowled.”

Proofread, Proofread, then Proofread Again

If you’re writing in present tense or if you struggle with the past tense, you need to proofread your novel multiple times. Read through the entire thing looking for nothing but tense errors. Read it backwards if you have to. But make sure that you catch every single error in tense.

Though the mistakes may be simple to fix, errors in tense jar readers out of the story, which means that agents and editors will be more likely to chuck your manuscript into the rejection pile.

Get a Beta Reader or Hire an Editor

If worst comes to worst and you feel that you aren’t able to iron out your tense issues on your own, seek out a capable beta reader or hire an editor.

For more thoughts on tense, check out my article: Present Tense Might be a Bad Idea.

Need help with tense, plot, or other problems? Check out my editing services or pick up a free 1,000 word edit.

087

The Goal of Editing

6130630210_0d3a42b946_o

What is the goal of editing?  Why do writers spend months or even years rewriting, revising, and editing their books?  Why are you editing your book?

The first answer that comes to your mind is probably something like:

“I’m hoping to make my novel better and more entertaining.”

“I’m hoping to get rid of errors, plot holes, and inconsistencies.”

Or maybe even something like: “I keep getting rejected and I don’t know why.”

While all of these reasons are legitimate, they don’t get to the heart of what editing is actually all about.

The real goal of editing is to eliminate anything that might jar the reader out of the story.

That’s it.

Simple, huh?

When I tell writers (especially my clients) that this is what editing is really all about, it’s like a light bulb goes off in their head. Instead of getting hurt or depressed about hacking and slashing their novel, they get excited. They can see the true goal, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Editing isn’t about conforming to genre stereotypes or imitating famous authors. Most importantly, editing is not about following laundry lists of writing rules. The rules are just there to help steer you towards the bottom line, the end goal of keeping your readers fully engaged in your story.

Books are about the reader. A novel is nothing without the reader’s suspension of disbelief.  If head hopping, tense changes, or telling instead of showing pulls the reader out of the story, your novel fails to do its job. It fails to transport the reader into a world they can fully believe and become absorbed in.

For a novel to work, the reader must believe that what they’re reading is authentic. That can’t happen when they get hung up on unusual word choices, plot inconsistencies, or characters behaving out of character. When that happens, they see your hand in the work. They see right through your characters and straight to you, the author, and just like that they’re no longer absorbed in the story.

What separates a novel from being laughably bad and amazingly engaging is nothing more than the reader’s ability to believe in it. Nothing gets a book chucked back on the shelves (or into the rejection pile) faster than a reader thinking, This would never happen in real life!

“But,” some writers might say, “my book is a Fantasy. It can’t have happened in real life!” But that’s why readers pick up a Fantasy (or SciFi or Horror). They want you to make them believe that crazy things could really happen, that there is really magic, mystery, and wonder in the world, at least for a little while, at least while they’re reading your book.

Part of the fun of Harry Potter is thinking that someday (maybe!) you might get your acceptance letter to Hogwarts. And what fun would Doctor Who be if we didn’t all secretly believe that someday he might show up in in his TARDIS and whisk us away on an adventure.

When you’re editing, no matter what you’re editing, the bottom line is that you must eliminate anything that prevents your reader from fully engaging in the story.

So there’s no need to cry for the loss of a chapter you loved or despair at the major restructuring required to make your plot believable. It’s all for the good of the story. It’s all for the reader, and that’s who editing is really all about.

 

Need help figuring out why readers are getting jarred from your story? Check out my editing services.

087

 

 

Tips & Pitfalls When Including the Villain’s Point of View

I’ve edited a lot of novels lately that rely heavily on the villain’s point of view. Occasionally this can be an interesting way to add tension and suspense. It can also assist in conveying a complicated plot that would be confusing from only the good guy’s perspective. But often the villain’s point of view detracts from the story.

7789731538_2e4f486b91_c

Outshining the Hero

We all love villains. We’re fascinated by monsters, serial killers, and double agents. But we’re not quite as inherently fascinated with the good guy. That’s because we all know what makes good guys tick.

Readers love puzzling out what makes some people do really bad things. So if you’re including the villain’s point of view, you’re working with readers’ natural fascination with the bad guy. If you don’t successfully present an even more fascinating good guy, the book won’t sit with readers the way you want it to. The villain could push the hero into the sidelines.

Zapping Suspense

If you clue the reader in on the villain’s plans, it’s possible to zap the suspense out of the novel. Rather than wondering what’s going on along with the good guy, the reader is simply waiting for the good guy to catch up with what they already know. This not only cuts suspense, but it can also make the good guy look unintelligent. Since the reader knows the answer, they think the hero should too.

If the novel is a mystery, including the villain’s point of view can cut out all of the mystery elements. If we already know who the double agent is, why care about the good guy’s investigation?

Tips for Including the Villain’s Point of View

If the villain’s point of view is required to tell the story, here are some tips on how to do it right.

  • Don’t linger on the villain. Give the hero substantially more “screen time.” Only use the villain’s point of view where it increases suspense.
  • Let the hero reveal important information. If the hero is the one who keys the reader in on the big revelations, they’ll find the hero far more fascinating and important than the villain.
  • Keep it vague. You can show the bad guy torturing the hero’s partner, but don’t tell us that it’s revenge for his mother’s death or that it’s in the abandoned childhood home of our hero. Snippets of intense situations increases our suspense, but answers zap it.
  • Introduce other mysteries. If keeping it vague doesn’t work with the story, let the bad guy reveal what he’s doing and why, but introduce a different sort of mystery for the good guy to reveal. This could be a dark personal secret or another layer to the villain’s scheme.
  • Fully characterize the hero. Don’t give us a good guy that’s just a hollow shell. He needs to have a personality with both good and bad qualities.
  • Give the hero personal stakes. If the hero has nothing at stake other than solving the case/crime or stopping the bad guy, readers won’t care all that much if he succeeds. The key is to give the hero something personal at stake, something readers don’t want him to lose.

 

Did you like this article? Please share it!

Need a freelance novel editor? Check out my editing services.