Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Head-Hoppers Anonymous

My favourite POV is first person. I know it isn’t supposed to be popular, but I like both reading and writing in the first person. I enjoy being in the MC’s head with the gamut of emotions – fear, love, pain, happiness etc. – somehow it makes the story real for me, and definitely makes the character more alive in my opinion. It also gives the reader the opportunity to ‘be’ the protagonist, and hopefully ‘feel’ whatever he or she is experiencing.

There are a few classic clangers with first person – like how to get your main character’s appearance across. What do a lot of authors do? They make their character look in a mirror and describe their reflection. (Apparently this is one of the clangers.) But who am I to judge? It works ... well it works as long as your main character isn’t a vampire, because everyone knows they don’t cast a shadow, and they don’t have a reflection. Yes, I know it’s folklore, and in fiction the author can bend the folklore to his or her heart’s content – unless you’re me of course, and you’re a stickler for folklore.

In Fledgling, my main character Ellie, and Will, the man in her life, are both vampires. The book is told from her POV, so she can happily describe the hunkiness of him with no problem at all. But how to describe herself? It’s easier than you think, because she can of course remember what she looks like, she knows she isn’t very tall, and she knows she’s very slim because she’s a dancer.


Now, I’m used to people who stare down at me. I’m a little over five-foot-three in height, so believe me, I’m not easily intimidated by tall people.’

‘I froze at his words. I had heard them but I didn’t understand them. I felt more and more as though I were somehow trapped in a horror movie, and destined to be turned into some kind of body suit. Although if memory serves, most of the women in that particular movie were large and as I am a professional dancer, I didn’t think there would be too much of my body to make up a suit. Certainly not one that would fit him anyway. I mentally cursed whoever had made me watch that DVD.’

Gradually a mental picture of Ellie is being built for the reader, without the aid of mirrors! I think to have her describe herself in one paragraph would pull the reader out of the narrative. It’s different to have her describe Will of course, because she’s looking at him, and the reader is seeing him though her eyes.

‘I stared at him, trying to think of a reply. He stared back, his face expressionless. He could have been a waxwork for all the emotion he didn’t show. His pale skin stretched tautly over well-defined cheekbones and a straight, aristocratic nose. Glossy thick black hair, almost long enough to reach his broad shoulders, framed his face, and dark eyebrows frowned above incredible green eyes, which appeared to glow in the dark. The eyelashes framing his eyes would have made him look feminine were it not for the sheer masculinity of his features– eyelashes most women would kill for. But it was his eyes that drew me back to staring at him every time. They weren’t just green; they were like a cat’s eyes. Unblinking. Intrusive. Like a predator. I shivered. His full lips twitched into a slight smile as I stared at him. I decided to carry on pretending I felt brave.’

Will, at some point, admires the vivid blue of her eyes, the colour of her hair, and tells her many times that she’s beautiful, so ... job done!

In Fledgling I decided to go a step further with the POVs, and added journal entries by Will. Getting into his head was a real challenge – and I loved every minute of it. Ellie may be feisty, and the epitome of a modern young woman, but Will is something else – centuries old, Machievellian, arrogant and completely ruthless when he has to be. He doesn’t suffer fools and he isn’t above the odd bit of torture or cold-blooded murder either.

I could also get him to wax lyrical about Ellie when needed. Having two POVs, both in the first person, has been such fun to write, I hope it’s as much fun to read. J

‘Elinor lay like a sleeping angel, and her newly-washed hair fanned out across the pillow, like glorious living flames. Her thick eyelashes, several shades darker than her hair, cast little shadows on her flawless cheeks. God, she is beautiful. Part of me felt shame and sorrow for having wrought this existence on her, but the selfish, ruthless part of me felt only joy that she was here. With me. Had I not turned her, she would be but dust beneath the earth now, and that would have been a travesty.’

Fledgling will be published in Black Rose, on 23rd September – and I’m thrilled beyond belief.

My favourite book ever, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This is a brilliant example of multiple POVs in one book and it’s oh-so-cleverly done. The story is told by a collection of papers, journals, letters and newspaper articles. The journals are written by Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, Lucy Westenra, and Dr Seward. There’s a phonograph diary as spoken by Professor Van Helsing, postcards and letters between Mina and Lucy and a press cutting. Everything except the press cutting is told in first person. Obviously a lot of the language is Victorian, which for me only adds to the book’s timeless charm and gothic atmosphere. Even now – many readings of Dracula later – I find it amazing that Stoker successfully got into the heads of both Lucy and Mina; making Lucy a spoilt, rich girl unable to resist flirting with (and stringing along) several eligible men at once, whilst Mina is intelligent, strong-willed and totally loyal to Jonathan. Strong, intelligent women weren’t thought of too highly in that era, which makes me admire Stoker all the more. All of his characters are beautifully drawn and each POV has its own individual voice.

Head-hopping is another matter. I admit it drives me mad. Books from the eighties and nineties (and obviously before) had head-hopping going on all over the place. But I do think the reining in of multiple hopping is a fairly recent thing.

I appreciate it’s tempting when writing in the third person, to hop from character to character and get several different POVs, but why oh why do some authors hop from head to head within the same paragraph? Honestly, it’s more entertaining to write those paragraphs then it ever is to read them. There have been times when I’ve had to go back several pages and re-read them just to find out who the hell is speaking. Changing POV after an obvious break is all right, as long as it is obvious, but it’s so easy to slip into multiple POVs and confuse your reader. I’ve just finished a paranormal romance by a very well-known author that nearly had me running for the hills with all the head-hopping. Confused? Moi? Oh yes.

There’s a popular teen vampire series (no, not Twilight!) which had me tugging out my hair too, when I read the last book in the (very long) series. Each chapter was from a different POV and, to be fair, they were all titled with the character’s name, so the reader knew who was speaking, yet it was still confusing. However, the final chapter – which should have been in the first person as told by the female MC – started in the third person for three paragraphs, then suddenly switched to first person (same character.) I re-read that chapter three times before I convinced myself it had to be a mistake. A mistake missed by the author, the editor and the copy editor. Interesting huh? It would never happen at Black Rose!


  1. I meant to say that the beautiful logo at the top of my post was designed and drawn by the hugely talented Ruth Rowland.
    (And I love it !)

  2. Thanks Berni - interesting post - I think I know the series you're talking about!

  3. I love first person. I like the ability to get into the MC's head and the intensity of the emotions that can be conveyed in first person. As for appearance? The use of mirrors is cliche, but not nearly as bad as the MC studying her reflection in a glassy, tranquil Alpine lake--especially if she's in Arizona.

  4. That's so funny Claire :)
    Dying to know where you read about the reflection in an Alpine lake.