Writing Pitfall #5: Head-Hopping

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HEAD-HOPPING is the fifth writing pitfall I would like to discuss.

Most readers have an understanding of what head-hopping is. It’s when the writer jumps from one person’s thoughts to another person’s thoughts mid-scene. In more general terms, it is seen as switching point of views–not necessarily sharing the thoughts of the character, but showing how the character sees the events or other characters.

However, if the author is using an omniscient narrator  who is privy to the thoughts of everyone, it is not considered head-hopping.

Head-hopping is a problem when the author includes the thoughts or perspective of another character who is not the viewpoint character, when the book is supposed to be in third person limited POV.

The argument against head-hopping usually revolves around the connection being made between the reader and the character. If the author changes point-of-view, the reader is disconnecting from the character and not having as much of an emotional experience. Also, many readers find it disorienting to switch perspectives.

Some people argue that head-hopping is acceptable. In certain cases, it is, but the author needs to warn the reader it is coming. Most writing professionals agree that a transition is needed before a point of view change. In many cases, all that is needed is an extra space and a sentence that includes the new POV character’s name. Sometimes, though, it’s better to just start a new chapter. Alternating between POVs from one chapter to the next is not normally considered head-hopping, because it’s following the rules of third person limited POV.

Here is a good quote I found that sums it up:

To be clear, head-hopping is not merely a switch in viewpoint character. It’s what happens when that change occurs mid-sentence or mid-paragraph or even mid-scene. When it happens repeatedly in a scene. When the switch is done without thought or planning by the writer.

Source: http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/09/10/head-hopping-gives-readers-whiplash/

 

What is my experience with head-hopping?

In all my activities–reading, writing, and reviewing, I am very conscious of head-hopping. I don’t think I would do this myself in my writing, just because I am so aware of it being a problem.

When an author switches point-of-view during a scene, I’m thrown out of the story because I’m thinking about the way it was written, not what is going on in the book.

I’m not a big fan of omniscient narration, but if the author uses it, I am okay as long as the author doesn’t jump too frequently from head to head. If it’s happening every other sentence or even mid-sentence, it’s unlikely that I will become fully attached emotionally to the characters.

Have you read any stories recently that had head-hopping? What did you think?

 

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About Jen Schaper

In addition to being a book blogger, I am a mother of three children, a retail backroom coordinator, and a wannabe writer (when I make time to do it).
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