I’ve been absent from the blog scene for over a week. There are two reasons for that. First of all, it was Thanksgiving. I enjoyed the chance to surround myself with family over the extended weekend. My son was home from college. Other family was in town from out of state. The weekend was perfect (did I mention that Alabama beat Auburn?)! I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday too, and that you had a lot to be thankful for. I know I do!
But the thing that kept me tied up of most of the last ten days was that I was working on edits for for my book Perfectly Imperfect. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but this is my first manuscript to get a publishing deal, so the whole process is new to me. I had no idea what the editor’s feedback would be. Actually, to be my first time out the gate, I was quite pleased that most of the proposed changes were very minor in nature. However – there was one thing that repeatedly tripped me up throughout all 225 pages. Point of view, also known as head hopping. Apparently this is my biggest weakness as an author. I spent most of the last week changing passages to dialogue or inserting phrases such as “it seemed as if” or “the expression on his face revealed his inner thoughts” and so forth, which gives the character a free pass to speculate or infer about another character’s thoughts.
Here is an example…
“She wanted him, but he had yet to make the first move. She took matters into her own hands. She kissed him brazenly, and the suddenness of her action made him burn with desire.”
Clearly, this passage began in her POV…you know what the heroine is thinking. But it ends with something that he’s feeling, which hops to the hero’s head since the sentiment had not been spoken. Uh-oh! This is a no-no! The theory is that she wouldn’t know he was burning with desire unless he told her. So you could solve the problem by letting her speculate about what he was thinking. “She kissed him brazenly, and when their lips parted he looked at her as if he could devour her.” That simple rewrite avoids the dreaded head hopping. It keeps it in her POV…she can see his expression and is free to interpret. Yay! He wants me too!!!
I was surprised I got busted for doing this. As I was writing, it didn’t jump off the page to me that I was a guilty offender. In hindsight (or, more specifically, looking through the Editor’s eyes via her helpful comments) , I’m not only a guilty offender, but a repeat offender as well! There were quite a few comment bubbles in the margin to draw my attention to this issue.
But I think it is a common mistake to make, actually. For one thing, as the author I actually DO know what each character is thinking. So it’s too easy to write a passage from my own omniscient POV rather than my hero or heroine’s POV. I did it without even realizing it sometimes.
Secondly, isn’t it what we all do every day of our real lives? We’re already in the habit of trying to read other people’s minds! Therefore, it’s an easy trap when we’re writing.
At work, if the boss walks in my office, before he even speaks a word my brain is trying to decode the situation. If he has a slight smile on his lips, it’s good news and I remain relaxed. If he has a wrinkled brow, it’s bad news and I brace myself for something that might be unsettling. Now maybe he just has indigestion, and that’s the cause for the frown. Maybe he’s avoiding an important call and wants to hide out somewhere for a few minutes. It might not be bad news at all.
For those of us who may be single (and the rest of us who can still remember those days!), if we were chatting up someone we really liked and hoped for a chance to date didn’t we try to interpret every single gesture made or word uttered by that person? Sure we did! It wasn’t just the words themselves, but the body language at the time they were spoken…did he lock eyes with you when he said it? Or did he let his eyes wander around the room while he spoke? Did he lean in and speak softly, using a suggestive tone of voice? Or did he blurt it out and then change the subject? We took note of everything, and let it feed our reaction or response. Oh – I think he’s coming on to me! Or, I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell with this guy.
As a mother, don’t you know when your child is lying to you? Or doesn’t feel well? Usually we don’t have to be told…we already know.
And trust me, I don’t have to tell my husband when I’m ticked off about something. The set of my jaw, the aloof tone of voice and curt reply “Nothing” when he asks me what is wrong are all dead giveaways that I’m pissed about something! He knows it!
I submitted my revised manuscript this afternoon, and I learned so much as I worked on my edits. And I know the next manuscript will have much less head hopping (I’m realistic here…as much as I’ll try to avoid it there is bound to still be a little of it!).
There may even be a life lesson in this for me. In a romance novel, you know there will be a happy ending. So even if a character tries to read another character’s mind and then makes a mistake based on what he or she thought, you know in the end they’ll clear up all the little misunderstandings and there will at least be a Happy For Now, if not a Happily Ever After. Just like in the fairy tale, right?
But in life, we can suffer needless worry or stress if we’re afraid to come right out and ask someone what they’re feeling. And sometimes we make bad mistakes because we misinterpreted a situation rather than asking for clarification.
It is almost a new year, and that means it is time for new year’s resolutions. I’m tired of always making the same one, only to be disappointed come December 31st when for SOME reason I didn’t lose a lot of weight and I still can’t fit into my old wedding dress. I think this new year I will resolve to second guess less, and communicate more!
Wish me luck!