Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self Editing

Point of view versus head hopping—what is the difference? A fine line, or in writer speak, a scene or chapter break, is usually the determining factor. Quite simply, point-of-view changes become head hopping when they are done within the same scene. Head hopping short changes the reader. The omniscient take, knowing things outside the purview of the POV character, does not allow the reader to fully emotionally connect with characters.

Single point of view within a scene or a chapter allows the reader inside the character's head, experiencing what that individual is experiencing. The deeper the point of view, the more satisfying the story.

A self-editing checklist for point-of-view (POV) would include eyeing your manuscript with the following in mind:

1) Does each scene of your story start with a paragraph which plainly sets the stage and lets the reader know which character is the lead character? Note: the POV character should always be the character with the most to win or lose in a scene.

2) Is there anything mentioned within the scene that would be outside the knowledge of the POV character? For instance, does the character know another character’s name though they’ve just met and have no previous knowledge of one another?

3) Within the scene, does any narrative betray the POV character’s mindset? In other words, if the hero believes the heroine is at fault for a tragic accident, though the reader (and the character) will find out later this is not true, narrative within the POV character’s scene should not tell the reader otherwise. There is nothing wrong and something totally satisfying about a reader learning the truth when the POV character learns it.

4) Are titles and names consistent with the POV character’s pattern of thought? If Mary Henderson has always been known to the hero as Mom, he isn’t likely to refer to her in thought or narrative as Mrs. Henderson or Mary. She’d most likely be referred to as Mom or his mother.

5) Does the POV character have a tendency to describe herself? Individuals don’t usually describe themselves to themselves. It is best to let description of a character flow through the POV of another character. An exception to this rule could be a character studying herself in the mirror—but make sure there’s a good reason for this to occur, other than simply providing description.

6) Are your POV characters prone to reading minds? This is the most subtle POV change of all, and these show up primarily in action tags. For example: Paul snorted at Terri in disgust. This sentence is fine if Paul is the POV character. Make Terri the POV character, and you’ve ever-so-slightly changed POV. Terri could guess that Paul is disgusted, but she can’t know for sure. Better: Paul snorted at Terri in what she assumed was disgust. Better yet: Let Terri respond: "What was that about? You have no reason to be upset with me."

Along with telling as opposed to showing, certain words also draw readers a step away from a character’s POV. Watch out for the following phrases: He knew, she saw, he realized, she thought, she understood, and similar wording. Whenever possible, eliminate these from your narrative. Allow the reader to experience the scene as if they are the character. For example: “He saw her run into the street” is stronger when written “She ran into the street.” If POV is clearly established at the first of the scene, the reader understands that this is what the character is seeing.

Until next week, happy editing!


  1. I have a question about #6: Paul snorted at Terri in disgust. This sentence is fine if Paul is the POV character. Make Terri the POV character, and you’ve ever-so-slightly changed POV. Terri could guess that Paul is disgusted, but she can’t know for sure.

    Having Terri confront Paul as shown in your example is good if that's her personality. Say Terri is non-confrontational; she assumes Paul's snort is disgust but she won't call him on it because they might argue, or something. Anyway, if you are deep in Terri's POV so now the reader feels what she feels, and is therefore also looking to avoid conflict, does it work to simply write: Paul snorted. And let the reader assume the disgust just as Terri surely does? Or do you need to show that's what she assumes? And if so, can she *think* something similar to what you suggest as spoken dialog?

    This article is coming to me just as I'm about to rewrite a MS that has quite a bit of head hopping. These tips will come in handy as I fix each scene, deciding whose POV to stay in and how to keep my characters from mind reading! Thanks :-)

  2. I like the new blog. Very nice!

  3. Tammy D.: Good question. In this case, I would suggest that an author provide Paul with another action, along with the snort, that clearly shows his disgust. In that way, the reader and Terri will assume it at the same time without need for the narrative to tell the reader what Terri thinks.
    With regard to the thoughts: Yes. This would flow very easily into deep POV. Remember, the key is to use your first paragraph to set your POV character as well as your setting, etc. In other words, ground your reader so they have no doubt which character is the POV character. Then Terri's thoughts can flow: What was that about? He has no reason to be upset with me.
    Note this would not require italics because the reader will know this is part of Terri's mindset. The deeper the POV the less internal monologue is needed. In fact, in deep POV, internal monologue is best left for something the author wants to emphasize. It is also the best way to show a character's silent prayer.
    Thanks for the question, Tammy. Hope that helps.

  4. Great help, Fay! Have another question that's not exactly related...except it stems from your example. You have Terri think: He has no reason to be upset with me.

    This is present tense. But the tag was in past tense: Paul snorted. It makes sense to me, seen here. If it is a character's thoughts, internal monologue without actually being italicized as such, should it always be present tense?

  5. Tammy: You caught me. I put it in present tense by accident. In deep POV it would flow like the narrative--past tense. To have it in present tense would require it to be internal monologue and italicized. The correct wording for deep POV would be: What was that about? He had no reason to be upset with her OR He had no right to be upset (the latter I think is best).
    Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

  6. Yay! I get it! If I were to put that thought as internal monologue it would be italics and present tense (because we don't generally talk to ourselves in past tense! Or 3rd person, 'cause we know how annoying that is. LOL)

    I'm ready to edit. Okay, I'm almost ready :-) This will be a good activity while turkey cooks and parade marches by on the TV.

    Blessings & Happy Thanksgiving :D