Is third-person limited limiting?


As a beta reader, I’ve often worked with and mentored writers who merrily engaged in head hopping. Head hopping is (unfortunately) quite common in lesbian fiction, so common that some readers and writers see nothing wrong with it.

Fans of head hopping often seem to think that third-person limited POV is, well… limiting. After all, if you have to stay within only one point of view per scene or chapter, you can’t mention what the POV character doesn’t know, see, hear, etc.

True. But to me, that’s not a limitation. It’s what makes a limited POV such a powerful tool.

Staying within one POV per scene has two big advantages:

  • Limited POV creates reader identification. If readers get into the skin of one character for a longer passage (a scene, a chapter), share her thoughts and feelings, readers start to identify and empathize with the character. Being thrown into the mind of two or more characters within a scene distances readers from both characters.
  • Limited POV creates suspense. By staying within one POV per scene (or per chapter), you control what your readers know. Limited POV allows you to keep secrets without cheating and raise questions in the reader’s mind. When the reader has to guess along with the POV character what the non-POV character is thinking and feeling, you add suspense. Readers will ask themselves questions such as: Is it love at first sight for the non-POV character too? Why is she acting like such a jerk? Is she really as unreliable as the POV character thinks? etc. And we know that readers who ask questions continue to turn the pages to find out the answers. That’s a good thing.

So what if, for some reason, you don’t want to withhold information from the reader? What if you need readers to know what the non-POV character is thinking or feeling?

Well, you can do that without violating POV and resorting to head hopping. The non-POV character could share her thoughts through dialogue, for example. Or the POV character could interpret the non-POV character’s facial expressions and body language.

At times, the non-POV character will lie or the POV character will misinterpret the other character’s feelings or motivations — and that leads to more suspense.

So don’t waste potential by head hopping. If used correctly, third-person limited POV is not limiting at all.

Created by Krystel Contreras & Jorge Courbis