Posted in writing inspiration, Writing tips

Whose Head Am I In?

What is head hopping ?

Whose Head Am I In? Head Hopping and other annoying habits. We’ve all done it. You know what I mean. We look for the easiest way to tell the story, whether it’s changing the punctuation to make it read better or doing an info dump using another character to share the info. BUT the worst culprit, especially for newbie authors and a few seasoned ones too, is head hopping.

What do I mean by head hopping? In one paragraph we’re in one character’s head, in another paragraph a second character’s and in a third paragraph still another character. Sometimes there’s not even a paragraph change but two conflicting points of view in one paragraph. It’s confusing and exhausting for the reader.

I recently read a book and within the first twenty pages there were a dozen points of view. Why is this a problem? Can we not tell a story in multiple points of view? While many stories are told from more than one character’s point of view or POV, there are ways to do it and still establish intimacy with the reader. One way is scene breaks or chapter breaks: establish who is talking or thinking by anchoring the reader in the beginning of the scene or chapter. Keep the reader in that character’s thoughts and reactions, think of it as seeing the story through colored glasses. If you are in character A’s POV everything is blue but if you switch to character C, then everything might look pink. I like to compare this to method acting, you get into the character’s skin and become the character, viewing the world and reacting to everything according to that person’s beliefs and backstory.

Only the most important characters should have a point of view. Remember, less is more!

First, not everyone needs a point of view. Not every character is important enough to have a “separate” voice or lens. When you give a character POV, you allow the reader to see things through their eyes. We get a glimpse into their world and for a short time, we live inside the character. Bopping around from one character to another is like playing musical chairs, you don’t know which seat feels comfortable because you’re not there long enough to get to know it.

If you have a main or dominant character, even if you allow other characters to have a POV, it is important to establish this dominant character early on. Whose eyes do you want the reader to view the story through? Who do you want us to relate to? Who has the most to lose? In my recent story, Willow’s Retreat one of the reviews mentioned that my extra POV with a third character, Rider, Willow and John’s son wasn’t necessary. I added it because in this series I have three POVs, it’s just the way I’ve done things to allow another twist in the family stories, but I also wanted to establish the importance of Rider and his role in the changes that needed to be made before all was lost. Could I have written the story with just Willow and John’s POV, yes, but I wanted that extra layer. I could have also done it from Willow’s point of view alone, giving the reader only her side of things but as it is a romance, I like to have both partners’ POVs to show more of the conflict between what they are thinking and what they are doing.

In the story I’m reading, the extra POVs are there only to establish who these other characters are or to give an info dump into the main character’s back story. How could this be done differently without using all of these other characters’ thoughts? How about have the main character view them and expound on what he knows about them, since he is their instructor. His observations, comments — even to himself, and reactions tell more about him and it teases the reader instead of deluging them with all the information at once.

Example: Sally saw Dr. Rider watching her and smiled. It’s showtime. If he was like most men, she could use his interest to help her further her career. Men were nothing but pawns to be used. At least he was handsome, not like the last professor, but she’d heard he was gay. Too bad, what a waste of a hot man. She slipped another button open on her blouse, wondering if she could change his mind. Either way, she’d find a way to use him to make her life easier.

If Dr. Rider is the POV character lets view this same incident though his eyes.

Rider studied the seating chart and came across the student’s name, Sally Jenkins. He knew that name. Her test scores were great but there was something about her attitude that bothered him. He glanced up, catching her eye. She smiled, her tongue darting out to touch her eyetooth. Touching her throat with her polished nail, an infraction he’d repeatedly told her about, she stroked her hand slowly down her chest. His eyes followed her hand to the button of her blouse. Heat burned his cheeks as she undid the button, he remembered the claim against one of the other professors and looked away. Maybe he should ask Lawton to stop by the school, but he would definitely not let himself be caught alone with the woman. Yep, this is going to be a fun class.

Both of these convey the same information. The first gives us more insight into Sally but nothing much about Rider other than he’s good looking and gay. But Sally isn’t an important character. The only thing the reader needs to know about her is Rider’s reaction to her. Rider is the main character and his POV is the only one that matters. When we shift the viewpoint to him, we get more insight into his thoughts. No, we didn’t learn he was gay or good looking, but we did learn that he was observant, cautious and smart. While the first one might be more fun to write because she is definitely a character, if she is not an important character then we don’t need her point of view.

Now, if she is the villain or antagonist in this piece, having her point of view might be just what you want to do to give the reader more insight into what she’s got planned.

Second, it is important in each scene, to choose a point of view character who has the most to lose or reveal. Every scene should tell a short story. It should have a purpose. You can have more than one person’s point of view in a scene but there needs to be a break to allow the reader to see there’s a change. Having characters with conflicting agendas whose verbal dialogue says one thing but their body’s reactions and/or internal dialogue says something else adds another layer to the story. It also allows the reader insight into the characters true thoughts and feelings, motives, etc. that the other characters may not have. It’s like watching a scary movie when you know the monster is hiding under the bed but everyone else is worried about what’s in the closet.

Point of View is a tool, and like anything else it takes time to learn to use it well. For beginning writers, I suggest keeping it simple. Choose your main character and whether you want to write their story in first person past or present, third person past, present or future tense, I have seen stories done in second person but that takes more thought than I can put my mind around so you’re on your own on that one. Most common are first person or third, past or present tense. Each have their draw backs.

Remember: first person is I, my, mine, me…third person is he/she/they, him/her/them, his/hers/theirs. If you are writing in first person present tense your character only knows what is happening to them right now (or what has happened in the past. That is usually used in flashbacks.) They don’t know anything else but what’s in front of them. Everything is immediate. Right now. This is used in many modern stories such as YA contemporary fiction, science fiction or fantasy. I have seen it used in rom-com and suspense thrillers, also.

Third person used to be the most common, but I believe they are more evenly split now. Third person allows some distance both in emotion and in immediacy. In romance, especially historical romance, many authors write in third person close, meaning, they still know what their character is thinking and feeling but like the lens of a camera they can zoom in close for emotional stuff or pan out to get a larger view.

I know some authors who write their main characters in first person and their other characters in third. That takes talent to do well and would probably make me a little crazier than I already am.

For more information about POVs, how to write them and their importance, I’ve listed some links below.

Happy Writing, y’all.

Posted in inspiration, Thoughts

The Knowledge of Good and Evil

The Burden of Knowledge whether Good or Evil

From my earliest Bible study, I remember wondering why God didn’t want man or woman to know things. Why would he care if we ate from the Tree of Knowledge? Why shouldn’t we know what God knows? As an adult I’ve learned things that were once outside of my tiny sphere of knowledge and experience. Things that I cannot NOW unknow. Not all were the horrors of people’s mistreatment of other people, though, that was devastating to learn. Some of what I had to face were my own prejudices based on my limited understanding. The hardest thing to unknow is your own failings as a human being.

Growing up in a small town I was insulated from many of the world events, and I was secure in my tiny bubble that this was what the world was like. Like a tiny child who is loved and protected, my understanding of the world was limited to what I could see, feel and hear. Over the years my tiny bubble has grown to encompass a larger world and hopefully a greater understanding. I have experienced the world through life events, the media, entertainment and relationships. Each of these contacts have brought with them a different point of view, a new set of questions and a widening of the world I’d previously known.

As a writer, I’m constantly seeking to expand my characters’ base of understanding but also create in them their own tiny bubble. Every character has to deal with a personal lie in order to experience growth and change, which brings about story. Exploring backstory, watching real people and studying psychology have allowed me better understand what a character will do and how they will react to certain circumstances. Yet even as I try to step out of the story, much of what I write is filtered through the lens my own truths, my own tiny bubble.

A somewhat bizarre conversation with my teenaged grandchildren over Easter opened my eyes to another perspective that I’d previously missed. It is amazing and frightening how much they know and understand at their young ages, more than I do in my advanced years. There have been things I’ve learned that I wish I could unknow because the knowing changes me and not always for the good. While there are somethings I’m thankful to have untangled; there are even more that the knowledge of does not bring me comfort. It has made me realize that perhaps God didn’t want us to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, not because he didn’t want us to know the things he knows but that he didn’t want us to be burdened with that knowledge.

My grandchildren impressed me with their knowledge of the world’s hurts. Their comprehension of the cause and effect trauma and abuse has on a person, is even greater than my own after years of study and life experience. It makes my heart hurt that this knowledge is part of them already, for it will color how they view the world. We cannot unknow something we’ve been exposed to. We can choose to ignore it and call it a lie but the only person we’re deceiving is ourselves. Like the characters I write about, some have seen or experienced some of the ugliness in the world, others are aware through friendships and relationships, each reacts from their sphere of knowledge, their tiny bubble of understanding. As writers, we hope to give readers a new way of experiencing the world without having to go through all of the trauma and drama themselves, open your heart and mind, READ.

Posted in Writing tips

The Role of Secondary Characters and Their Importance to the Story

Part of my Prepping for NaNo Series

In most stories there is more than one character. Even in Tom Hank’s Cast Away, Wilson, the soccer ball became a secondary character in the story. He didn’t talk much but he was an important part of the story. In some stories the weather, as in The Perfect Storm or even an animal as in Jaws may be secondary characters or even the antagonist making it a main character. The shark in Jaws was definitely one of the antagonists in the story.

But what about Holmes and Watson? Watson is the narrating character and we often see and feel things filtered through his point of view, but he is still a lesser main character or secondary character. It is not his adventures but Sherlock’s. Yet without Watson to humanize the story and give the reader insight, we would not understand Holmes as quiet as well and if Holmes was narrating his own story it would be over much too soon because he would leave out a lot of the mundane parts that we need to understand the full picture.

Our secondary characters’ role is to support the MC (main character). Often, it is through their relationship with the secondary character that we truly see the MC. As with Holmes and Watson, he is brisk and unaffected by tender emotions and yet whenever he fears he will lose Watson, he tries to be or do better, at least that seems to be the more modern portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

In a series, many of these secondary characters may already be established. In my Leeward Files series, many of the secondary characters have been main characters in other stories or will have their own story at a later date. That is important to remember while writing a series, even if they are not on center stage, if they are mentioned in your story, they need to be true to their character/personality. Doing a character sheet for all of the important characters in your series could save you headaches later. Keeping your character sheets current, as in noting when they appear in other books, note changes. One thing Marie Force mentioned in the Romance Summit was to reread your work, especially if you are writing a series. Keep a file noting where your Characters are mentioned, when and where, cross reference. Marie does a spread sheet. I’m going to try that but I’m old fashioned, I like having it on paper in a notebook where I can reference it. Of course, I have four novels and she has thirty or forty, a big difference.

As you are filling out or planning your own character sheets, or whatever you call them, think about how the secondary character relates to the MC. How does he/she help the person achieve their goals or keep them from achieving their goals. Even a well-meaning friend can be an obstacle if their fears or prejudices cloud their judgement and your character allows it to influence them. Example: The best friend’s fear of failing gives him negative views of what might happen, so he expects the worse. He cautions his friend not to take risks, for fear he might fail. He might also be afraid he won’t and leave him behind.

This isn’t the secondary character’s story. He or she may have a stake in it, but this is the main character’s battle/journey. Be careful not to make it about the secondary character’s needs or wants. This is where it gets tricky, the MC can be influenced by the other character’s needs and wants, it can offer conflict even, but don’t let it take over the story.

In Charlotte’s Web, the story is about Wilbur the Pig but Charlotte the spider plays a huge role in how we see Wilbur. It is not her story. Even when Charlotte knows she is dying, she uses the last of her energy to help Wilbur and he in turn saves her babies. Charlotte is the only spider I’ve ever loved but that’s my story and not relevant here. She rallies all of the farm animals to Wilbur’s cause, helping him to survive. She is an important part of the story, but she isn’t the main character, it isn’t her story. The children, the farmer, everyone is secondary to Wilbur and yet it is through their love, friendship and determination that we see more than just a pig.

Hierarchy of characters:

Now this depends on genre and point of view.

A narrator could be a secondary character or the author, in most genre fiction such as romance, mystery and suspense, it is the point of view character who is also the main character. Since I write suspense with romantic elements and read romance, mystery and suspense thrillers, I’m going to use what I know.

Main Character (s): Point of view character, whose story is it, usually in genre fiction this is the person telling the story or living the story. Also, in genre fiction you may have more than one point of view character and two main story lines that converge. In my suspense thriller I have three story lines that will converge into one, more like twine around each other until they get tangled but that’s a different lesson.

Secondary and tertiary characters have degrees of importance.

For example:

Billy, my MC is a firefighter, his captain maybe an important secondary or tertiary character depending on what role he plays. He will be a named character so that makes him secondary. Some of the other firefighters and paramedics may be referred to as the new guy or the old man, the red head or the blonde. If they don’t have an important role and they are just a place holder or body doing a task, they don’t need a name.

Some of my secondary and even tertiary, characters have been in other books, they were MCs or secondary characters, even if they don’t play a big role in this book, because they were named prior, I may use their names here because they are recurring.

You don’t have to do a character sheet for every character or any, really, but it helps me write faster to do my most important characters. My main characters and their most influential cast members. I hope this helps. Good luck with NaNoWriMo and remember, you can use these methods anytime, you don’t have to wait for NaNo to get prepared.

Secondary Character(s)



Physical Description:


                Eye color:



                Skin tone:

                Physical fitness:

                Any physical flaws/weaknesses/disabilities:


Relationship with MC (Main Character):


Hobbies/passions (especially how they relate to the MC):

Hopes and fears (especially how they relate to the MC):

Personality traits: (How they are seen by the MC)