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What Is Head-Hopping?
By: Amanda Patterson
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In this post, we look at the problem with head-hopping when you write.
What Is Head-Hopping?
Head-hopping occurs when we change viewpoint (or point of view) in the middle of a scene. The rule is that you only have one viewpoint in a scene.
When we write fiction, we write it from a specific viewpoint. We normally choose one (or more) of the four main characters‘ points of view to filter our story. In most fiction we read through the eyes of the protagonist and one or two other characters. Carefully chosen viewpoint characters help you avoid confusing readers.
Tip: It only occurs when you are writing in third person and you jump from one character’s thoughts and actions to another’s. In first person you only use the ‘I’ so this should not be a problem.
Shelley looked at Dave sitting motionless across the table. She wondered if he knew how much she hated him. It was getting dark outside and it somehow seemed fitting for this conversation. Why was she always so cynical? Dave really wanted to know.
There had always been so much love between them. When did that end?
Problem: We don’t know who is thinking the last two sentences. It could be in either of the characters. Just choose one of them and tell the story through their viewpoint. You can show how the other person is feeling by their words, body language, and actions.
Why Should I Avoid It?
Head-hopping is jarring and confusing. At the beginning of a scene, we are reading through the eyes of a character. We are comfortable with this. If we suddenly jump into another character’s head, our readers have to jump with us and they have to get used to the new character’s thoughts and actions. Then we usually switch back to the first character – and the reader doesn’t know whose viewpoint they’re in. It makes it more difficult for a reader – and you never want to do that.
Readers must feel they know what is going on at all times, and having to jump back and forth will confuse them.
You can have three viewpoints in a novel, and be successful if you give them their own scenes. For example, in a police procedural, you would have your lead detective as the main viewpoint character. The second viewpoint character is normally another detective who works under them. They have viewpoint scenes as well when they think about the protagonist and what’s happening in the story.
The majority of scenes should be in your main character’s point of view. If you have a book of 80 scenes, about 60 of those should be in the main character’s viewpoint. The remaining 20 scenes can be told from another character’s perspective. Remember this is only a guide to help you work out how your story will be told.
The Last Word
Don’t head-hop. It is disconcerting and disorienting for the reader. Your book will flow more if you stay in one character’s viewpoint in a scene.
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