What Is The Favored POV Among Best Sellers?

Stephen King says a lot of quote-worthy things. Many of them are true. The one I think is the most true is this:

 Writers must be readers. It’s how we learn from the masters.

I know this is true because I’ve been a voracious reader since I could first decode words. My absolute favorite book growing up was The Giving Tree. In middle school, by my own choice and in my own time, I read Roots followed by Gone With the Wind as we learned about slavery and the Civil War. My aunt gifted me a copy of Scarlett after that. Of course, these were among the other boxed sets and more “age appropriate” books (though I’m not sure YA was a thing when I was thirteen).

The point is, literature has always been a huge part of my life. When I started writing novels, I did it backwards – I wrote one, then went back and read books about how to write one (I don’t recommend that order of operations. I had to rewrite that book about thirty times.) I obviously had some messy practices as a newbie, but I was surprised to learn that I already knew some of the good practices because of my decades of reading – things like pacing, placement of important plot points, and dialogue.

Of course, I’m still a voracious reader, but I’ve also become quite a lazy reader. I start many books that I simply don’t finish. I figure, there are literally millions of books out there. I’m not going to suffer through one I’m not enjoying just because I feel like I have to finish it. The author won’t know, and I can spend my precious reading hours with a book that truly hooks me.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read an increasing number of self-published books. They’re often cheaper, and many of them are quite good.

But

There’s one thing I see in a lot of self-published books, and more often than not, it makes me stop reading: head hopping.

Yay! We’ve finally arrived at POV!

Head hopping is when the point of view suddenly jumps from one character to another. One minute, we’re in Bob’s head thinking about donuts. The next minute, we’re in Dana’s head thinking Bob should consider a juice diet. There’s no scene or chapter break. This happens from one paragraph to another, or sometimes within the same paragraph.

Now, there is one type of POV where head hopping is theoretically okay: subjective omniscient. Or broken down:

Subjective = we know what’s going on in a character’s head.

Omniscient = we can know all the things in the story, including what’s going on in other chatacters’ heads.

BUT

I said theoretically for a reason.

I see head hopping so often in self-pubs that I started doubting my own advice to my CPs – namely, don’t effing head hop. It’s harder to relate to the MC and it can be confusing.

I’ve been reading nothing but self-pubs for a while, so I decided to do a little research with this question in mind: what is the favored POV among traditionally published best sellers? If they use subjective omniscient, maybe my preference for limited third or first – where you’re inside one character’s head and only know what he knows – is just my own preference and I need to give my CPs a break.

But maybe – maybe – my decades of reading have taught me something. Maybe there’s a reason head hopping bothers me.

I know there are some self-pub authors who couldn’t give half a crap about traditional publishing standards, and that’s fine. You can write your book in Sanskrit if you want. Just don’t expect to sell as many books if you do that.

The point is this: if you wanna play with the big dogs, it’s a good idea to know what they’re doing.

So I read chunks of every well-known, best-selling book in my kindle. Then I went to Amazon and read the sample pages of some top selling novels I don’t own. I’ve arranged the list this way: author – title – POV

But first, a couple of disclaimers:

1. This is a minuscule sample size compared to the total number of traditionally published books. There may be some out there that use subjective omniscient. Feel free to look around and comment if you find one.

2. My inclusion of these books should not be viewed as my endorsement of them. Yes, I loved most of them. But two were so poorly written that I stopped well before the 50% mark in spite of the tight POV. I won’t tell you which ones those were. That’s not the point.

To the list!

Stephen King – The Stand – limited 3rd

Steven Becker – Wood’s Relic – limited 3rd

Marissa Meyer – Cinder – limited 3rd

Dan Brown – Da Vinci Code – limited 3rd

Stephen Chbosky – Perks of Being a Wallflower – 1st

Ted Dekker – The Circle Series – limited 3rd

Dean Kuntz – Lightning – limited 3rd

Douglas Adams – The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – omniscient

Suzanne Collins – Underland Chronicles – limited 3rd

Stephen King – The Shining – limited 3rd

Kathryn Stockett – The Help – 1st

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games Trilogy – 1st

Sandra Brannan – In the Belly of Jonah – alternating 1st/limited 3rd

Jerry B. Jenkins – Riven – limited 3rd

Stieg Larsson – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – limited 3rd

Naomi Novik – His Majesty’s Dragon – limited 3rd

Matthew FitzSimmons – The Short Drop – limited 3rd

David Baldacci – The Guilty – limited 3rd

Janet Evanovich – Tricky Twenty-two – 1st

Philip K. Dick – The Man in the High Castle (1962) – limited 3rd

Vince Flynn – The Survivor – limited 3rd

Kristin Hannah – The Nightingale – 1st

Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant – Invasion – limited 3rd

And for fun, let’s include a famous self-pub:

Hugh Howey – Wool – limited 3rd

I was originally going to include fifty books on this list, but I think you get the point with half that number.

Side note – many of those limited third titles did include the POV of more than one character, but not within the same scene. A break of some kind occurred before jumping to a new head.

One book was written in omniscient POV – Hitchhiker’s Guide. It’s told from the view of an omniscient narrator, like someone telling a story around a campfire. We occasionally know what a character thinks or feels, but there isn’t the inclusion of what I would call head hopping. If you’re considering writing a book in omniscient POV, please read this classic as a guide.

So what conclusion can we draw from this exercise? For me, I’m more confident in my stance that limited third and first work better for storytelling (perhaps to the chagrin of my CPs). For you? Well, that’s for you to decide.

What is your favored POV for storytelling? Does this list sway your opinion?

22 thoughts on “What Is The Favored POV Among Best Sellers?

  1. Pingback: Story Stuff: P Is For Point Of View | Allison Maruska

  2. I think if you’re going to have multiple POV characters, you need some rules. While you’re with one character,you stay there. Scene breaks or chapter breaks need to happen before you jump. Also, you need to limit who gets to be a POV character. In each camp you pick a limited number of characters and only jump to them, rather than the whole cast. (Or you limit how often you jump to a certain character.) Two best sellers who use this method that I can think of right off the top of my head are Terry Pratchett and George R. R. Martin.

    For me, personally, first person is the hardest to read. It’s the one that is usually jarring and off-putting unless done correctly. I think it’s one of the harder POVs to write properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with you on all those points, but especially about limiting the number of POV characters. Limited third is like first in that the author has to give the character a unique voice. That’s tougher to do with a bunch of POV characters.
      One author who I think did first person especially well is Stockett in The Help. It’s in alternating first person – three characters take turns within their own chapters. She definitely nailed the unique voice thing.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re not alone. Head-hopping makes me put the book down. We can’t ‘get into’ the POV character when they constantly change. And I’ve even written omniscient. But I only changed focus characters at scene breaks.

    Nice article. I’ve got to check out a few books on this list. 🙂

    Like

  4. Head hopping is absolutely one of my biggest pet peeves, too. Limited 3rd person is my go-to point of view whenever I start a new story. I think one of the reasons it works so well and why you see it so often in traditionally published books (or at least more often than first person) is because it’s so challenging to write effectively in first-person. I feel like you have to have a narrator with a really distinct voice who can really carry the story, and that’s difficult to do for every story. Particularly if you need to have multiple POV characters. I’ve written a couple of short stories in first person but the idea of doing an entire novel that way is really daunting. Maybe someday, for the right story and the right character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree about first person being more difficult. You really have to adopt a whole different personality. I write in first for my short stories, and I wrote one novel in first. It’s not good and has to sit in the corner to think about what it’s done. LOL

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  5. My current book is a children’s play with a how-to section at the end for teachers. I didn’t have to think about POV while writing that one.

    My next book is a novel written in the 3rd person. I needed to do some head hopping in order for the story to make sense. But there’s a clearly marked section break between each character’s POV. I’ve never tried to write a scene where I shift between different characters’ POVs within that same scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting … my current writing is dominated by ‘he said … she said’ dialogue … with interludes of 3rd person … all signposted by break and flow …if this will cost me readers (ever the optimist I’ll get some!) … who knows … its the way the words are coming for this work. But the next bookI have in mind … yes … will be 3rd person … it’s just got to be easier!

    Like

      • Yes, about 70 to 80% dialogue I’m guessing. I’d posted the first 8000 or so words to test the water so to speak a while back and been posting ‘he said … she said’ excerpts of varying length since then. Not a lot of comments to be honest but those who like it , really like it, which keeps me going on dark days.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sounds like a fun experiment. 🙂 I read a short story in my critique group where the author used close to 100% dialogue. It was around 500 words and we had to determine the story through the subtext and very occasional beats. I think it worked for a short story. It would be tough for a longer work, so I wish you luck. Who knows – you could be on to the next big thing! 😉

          Liked by 1 person

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