Saturday, October 9, 2010

POV Shifts and 100 Queries

POV Shifts. We're encouraged to avoid them like the plague. Head-hopping is one of those things (and I totally subscribe to this notion) that gives the general reader a sense of disquiet. They're not sure why, but they really don't like this particular book.

But there are transitions that, artfully implemented, can make the shift flawless.

I think the first instruction I've seen for this notion was from Vicki Hinze, and I couldn't tell you what she said. I just want to give her credit for pushing me to consider an alternative.

Tonight I read a downloaded sample of award-winning author Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead. It's received flattering comments on DorothyL and 4MA (two online groups of mystery lovers), and I decided to check it out.

Ms. Penny's POV shift threw me at first because of my training. When I went back to see what happened, I saw a master at work. I described it to my critique partners as taking her POV character and walking around a corner, where the next one takes over flawlessly. If you can download a sample of her book, I highly recommend it as a study piece.

How long does it take? I just read a guest post on agent Nathan Bransford's blog about two siblings having a contest as to who could get 100 rejections first. This from agents, not publishers. Can I just say . . . ugh?

I've re-begun the query process for a complete my critique partners tell me is worthy. I think I have about six rejections so far, and at some level, I've felt every one of them. The little girl in me who wants to please everyone is having a difficult time making room for the big girl in me who is determined to carve out a path in this jungle. There are poisonous plants all around, teeth-baring tigers, and vines so thick I have to hack my way through. But still. This is where my heart is.

CR: The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan in hardback.

It's all better with friends.


  1. POV shifts can add to a story if done smoothly. The problem is when you don't know whose head you're in, and you have to leave the story to figure it out. But many agents are dead set against it (editors too, I should think), so you'd best do your research carefully.
    Querying is a depressing process, and you have to develop thick skin to survive it. It's tough!Just remind yourself of all that good books that were rejected many, many times before being accepted.

  2. I always write from multiple POVs and simply use a set of asterisks to indicate a change. If possible, I start a new chapter. But head hopping? Never.

  3. Multiple points of view are different from head hopping, or omniscient POV, which I think of as POV shifts. I write in multiple POVs, but I'm been indoctrinated into the single POV per scene thing. However, I've read many books with shifting POVs. Some were so well done I was hardly aware of it, but others were jerky and hard to follow (I didn't finish those).

  4. I also write from multiple POVs, and love the opportunity to plumb different depths. I think, because we've studied effective writing, and have worked hard to stay in one POV per scene (for example), we're more aware of things handled differently in books we read. Some are smooth, most are not. Which is why it's 'safer' to stick with some of the rules we've been given.

  5. Oh, and . . . for the sake of clarification . . . I'm talking about POV shifts within a scene.

  6. Hang in there, Peg. Rejection isn't about you and it isn't even about your book. It's about how your book works for a particular reader. This biz is all about spaghetti--finding that one strand that sticks. You will find the right agent for you--and I hope it doesn't take 100, but I have friends who have had offers after far more than that!

    I agree, Louise Penny is a master with POV. I think some people can do that, and for others (me, say) it works better without the omniscient POV. Maybe certain books need that, too--Louise's ensemble series being a great example.

  7. I usually hate POV shifts within a scene, but I recently read Louise Penny's BURY YOUR DEAD and I agree that she does it masterfully. It's unbelievably hard to do it well, but her writing is so smooth--as someone else said, seamless--that it works. I don't believe there are many writers who can pull it off.

  8. You're right, Beth. Which is probably why we're carefully coached to stay in one POV per scene. Still . . . one of these days I might have to give it a go.