POV: To jump or not to jump

November 6, 2011

Any one who engages in creative writing these days, be they student, amateur writer or novelist, knows the term POV, or Point of View.  It’s the term which means, whose eyes are we seeing the story through while we read?  Which character’s head are we in?  Modern literary experts and novices alike would have us believe that we can only subject our readers to one POV in any given story.  To do otherwise is called “jumping POV” or even “head jumping”, and it’s regarded as a capital literary crime.

Can anyone tell me when jumping POV became an offense?  When did maintaining one POV become “The Law”?  When did jumping POV fall out of favor, leaving readers to slog their way through too many novels that had the potential to be brilliant if only their authors hadn’t been so timid?  Seriously, when did we stop taking a chance with our art and fall victim to the mundane rule of one POV?

One of the world’s best loved books is Pride and Prejudice and Austen is considered one of the finest authors of all time.  Yet, in P&P, which many consider her master work, we spend time not only in Eliza Bennett’s head, but also Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Charlotte Lucas, and to a lesser extend Aunt Gardiner.  We even get to view the world from Mr. Darcy’s eyes from time to time.

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is another example.  The book is purposely divided into segments of Anna’s POV and Lenin’s POV, yet within these segments we jump heads into Vronsky’s arrogant, narrow little mind, and also into Kitty Levin’s and Stephan Oblonsky’s.

Stephen King is another great author who doesn’t tell a story from one POV.  He head jumps and also offers the omniscient POV from time to time for good measure.  I’d hate for one of the POV Nazis that I see on many online fiction sites take a blue pencil to ‘Salem’s Lot.

I will continue to write from whatever POV I choose, and if I decide to jump, I respect my readers enough to believe they’ll be able to follow me.  And to my fellow authors who might be reading this, feel free to jump POV all you’d like.  I’m pretty sure I can keep up.