Writers Craft Question: What Is “Head-hopping”?

I thought I’d write about the question of “head-hopping” because I see it often in less experienced writers. Head-hopping is moving in a narrative, without breaks, from one character’s point of view into another.

This is not the same as writing from an omniscient point of view, in which the story is told in third person from the point of view of a god-like narrator who is not a character in the story. Generally, omniscient point of view (POV) feels old-fashioned and distancing, which is why it is not used often in modern literature. For examples of this POV, look to Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.

Head-hopping is to be avoided.

There are some notable exceptions to the rule against head-hopping in modern literature. If you are Ann Patchett, you can get away with moving from one character’s POV to another’s, but only if you are Ann Patchett (see Bel Canto).

What’s Wrong With Head-Hopping?

In a word, it’s confusing. Especially in books written for young readers.

Whether you choose to write in first person POV or third person POV makes no difference, although it’s easier to make the mistake of head-hopping in third. And if you choose to write the story from multiple points of view, that, too, takes consideration and care.head with "ideas"

If you do choose to write in multiple POVs, use a chapter or section break to indicate the change in POV. In books for young readers it’s best to label the chapter or section so that readers can follow the narrative without pausing.

Because pausing while reading is an invitation to put the book aside. Ugh.

What About More Than One Protagonist?

Nope. A story can only have one protagonist. Yes, this is a rule.

However, you can write from multiple POVs, including the antagonist’s – you just have to know who your protagonist is and know that the arc of the story is hers alone. The protagonist carries the burden of change, of having external and internal conflicts, etc.

And the protagonist carries the majority of words in a story, which means you are in the protagonist’s POV most of the time.

How To Avoid Head-hopping

When writing from, say, a third person POV with another character in scene, double check that you haven’t suddenly moved from one to the next. That your reader is seeing things only through the eyes of the character carrying that scene.

It’s that simple, but also that hard, and awareness of the issue is key to avoiding the problem.

For more on POV read my detailed post here. Questions??

P.S. For an example of incredibly crafted point of view I highly recommend N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (but only for adults).

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