By Bonnie Stanard
I’m back with point of view (POV). Bear with me. I’m trying to turn my head-hopping into the professionally respected Free and Indirect Discourse (FID) ) . (If you read this nomenclature as wordy, I find it even wordier to write.) Head-hopping, after all, is a signpost of an amateurish writer. I’ve been there, and when workshop critics suggest confusion about POV in my work, I cringe.
Online information about FID does little to distinguish it from head-hopping (or from omniscient POV, for that matter). Some descriptions apply to both, and you’re left in more fog than when you began. What is the difference? I’m not going to clear the fog, but I’ll tell you the conclusions I’ve reached.
Narrators in both approaches presume to third person, but in both, Third Limited POV is scattershot throughout the fabric of the story. Neither can be considered Third Limited because we’re not confined to one character’s viewpoint. Both approaches get into the heads of various characters and put forth individual thoughts, feelings, and motivation.
One way to differentiate the bad from the good: head-hopping gives you whiplash with its herky-jerky POV whereas FID doesn’t.
The difference, as I see it, is whether or not the narrator holds on to her voice and keeps it consistent. So? Put another way, the FID narrator maintains a pivotal voice even as she flits about describing the inner life of characters. It deteriorates to head-hopping when the voices of the characters overcome the narrator’s control. That is to say, the characters bounce their thoughts around in a power struggle with nobody minding the plot.
As I aspire to FID, I am reminded to protect my singular narrator, or teller of the story, from being usurped by the characters. For instance, I may write “John thought his mother ignored him.” There—it sounds like I’m in John’s head. That’s fine as long as the narrator doesn’t capitulate to John in a way that elevates John to the level of narrator. Since John doesn’t know the plot nor where anything is going, his thoughts are merely pieces of a puzzle.
You keep the narrator from being overtaken by John by pulling back (it’s about distance between narrator and story/characters) and asserting control; make it clear that the story teller is describing John, not John telling us about John. Add a sentence such as “John would have denied it, but he always thought he was being ignored.” John wouldn’t talk about himself in this way. This is the FID narrator saying, “John, you’re not telling this story. Those are your thoughts, but I’m going to tell them.”
The FID narrator makes objective observations that serve to distance the teller of the story from the characters in the story. The idea is to talk about the characters instead of talking for them.
In head-hopping, readers know the insecurity of having no anchor, even if they don’t consciously realize it. The bottom line is that your narrator is the boss, regardless of how many characters try to tell you otherwise.
You may realize by now that the FID narrator has much in common with an omniscient narrator. But let’s stick to one fog at a time.