Why Writers Shouldn’t Head Hop and How You Can Avoid It
Head hopping is the jarring practice of jumping from one character viewpoint to another with little warning. When writers ping from one viewpoint to another like a pin ball machine at full tilt, the reader is left confused and disoriented.
In keeping to a single point of view, writers create a sense of intimacy between the character and the reader, especially when writing in deep point of view. Constant head hopping disrupts this relationship from developing.
Third person point of view, especially third person limited, can be, well…limiting. That’s why it’s OK to change points of view sometimes, but this needs to be done sparingly. One point of view per chapter or scene is the general rule, but of course, this is at the writer’s discretion.
Now, hand in the air, I have fallen into the head hopping trap. Below are the reasons why, and what I did to solve the problem:
I wanted to show what the protagonist looked like
Apart from the old “looking in the mirror” trick, it’s not easy to describe your protagonist’s appearance when you’re trapped inside them. Hence, I resorted to head hopping to one of the other characters in my story and seeing Helen through his eyes:
“Devinder turned his solemn gaze on Helen. She was wearing a smart green jacket today, instead of the usual droopy cardigans she favored, and she had polished all the scuff marks off her sensible black shoes.”
As you can see, we are not in Helen’s head, but Devinder’s. Instead, I have used action to draw attention to Helen’s appearance.
“Helen brushed a piece of lint off her smart green jacket. She had chosen it today instead of her usual droopy cardigans.”
I Wanted To Tell the Reader Something the Protagonist Did Not Know
Sometimes, there’s something afoot that the protagonist doesn’t know, and the other characters can’t or won’t tell them. Here, again, I raided Devinder’s point of view:
“Devinder watched Helen as she turned to stare at the grimy metal lift doors in front of her and knew that she didn’t have a clue.”
I have removed this sentence altogether and let Devinder keep his observations to himself. As the story progresses, it becomes evident that Helen is unwittingly getting herself in over her head.
I was Telling not Showing
In this example, I have gone into the point of view of a group of women, and told the reader how they are feeling, rather than showing:
To their disappointment, it was only a fleeting visit, and they were not able to get a good look without giving themselves away.
Rather than say the women were disappointed, I have shown it by their actions:
With long faces, the women slunk away from the porthole window.
Remembering the golden rule of one viewpoint per character or scene will go a long way to eliminate head hopping, as will showing and not telling and having the protagonist act rather than sit back passively and be described by other characters.
What are some of your tips and tricks to avoid and eliminate head hopping?
Special thanks to Kate Johnston at Team Writer for reviewing Chapter 1 of my novel “The Sensory Garden” and alerting me to my head hopping ways. https://www.facebook.com/groups/TeamWriter