The POV sin to be avoided is head hopping. When a writer head hops, the point of view shifts from one character to another. The reader is literally hopping from one character’s view point to another character’s view point. By filtering a scene through more than one POV, it becomes less focused.
Let’s look at what I mean about head hopping with this bit of dialogue among three characters who work in the same office:
“Did you know Sherry had a breakdown last night?” Maxine poured herself a cup of coffee before shaking a packet of fake sugar into it. She liked knowing the office news before anyone else.
“No way.” Janine was surprised at the news about Sherry. How could she have missed something as huge as a nervous breakdown? She and Sherry had been working on the same project for weeks.
“Hospitalized.” Cora walked into the room in time to hear Maxine’s announcement and pleased she had the latest news about their co-worker.
“Mercy or General?” Maxine sipped her coffee, unwilling to let Cora see her irritation. Cora was always ahead in the latest office gossip.
“Mercy’s the best,” Janine opened the refrigerator, looking for the yogurt cup she’d scrawled her name on earlier that morning.
In the above example, I head hopped among three speakers. The reader would have no problem figuring out who was speaking. Or what they were feeling. Or thinking. Some writers may believe that is a plus.
Isn’t there always a but?
Head hopping diffuses the tension in the scene as the reader jumps from the feelings and thoughts of one character to another. The scene lacks focus.
A story told from more than one POV doesn’t mean mixing up all the POVs in a scene. For maximum impact on the reader, a scene needs to be told from one POV. The best way to choose a focal point POV is to think in terms of the purpose of the scene. When I revised the above example, I decided Maxine was the focal point character. The scene needed to be told via her POV.
Let’s take another look at the scene:
Maxine watched Janine come into the break room. “Did you know Sherry had a breakdown last night?” The appalled expression on Janine’s face was all the reaction Maxine needed. She turned to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup of coffee to hide a smug smile.
“No way.” Janine’s surprise echoed in the small room.
Maxine shook a packet of sweetener into her cup. She liked knowing the office news before anyone else.
“Hospitalized. For at least thirty days,” Cora said.
When Maxine’s nemesis walked into the break room, she schooled her face into a pleasant expression. She refused to let Cora see her irritation as she turned and asked, “Mercy or General?”
“Mercy’s the best.” Janine opened the refrigerator as she spoke, no doubt looking for the yogurt cup she’d scrawled her name on earlier that morning.
The same one that David, their supervisor, stole each morning. Maxine wondered when the guy was going to get enough courage to ask Janine on a date.
The narrative is basically the same, but I focused the reader on Maxine”s thoughts, reactions, and feelings to give the reader a more layered view of her character rather than a shotgun view of multiple characters.
Clarity of POV is an important component of building rapport between the reader and your characters so chose your POV for a scene wisely. Keep that rapport strong by staying true to the chosen POV, filtering every emotion, reaction, and thought through the POV’s world view.