POV and Head Hopping

//POV and Head Hopping

POV and Head Hopping

By |2020-05-21T20:53:42-08:00May 21st, 2020|Writing Your Stories|0 Comments

What is “head hopping”?

Like in a cartoon show on Saturday mornings when Bugs Bunny was able to get through a crowd by hopping on people’s heads, especially Elmer Fudd’s.

Not exactly. But it kind of makes you feel that way when you read this in a story nowadays.

So what is head hopping? And why should you usually NOT put it in your writing?

Let me start with some basics. First, POV. This is Point of View. Every scene in a book should come from one character’s point of view. Everything the author wants you to know will be through that character’s eyes.

Sometimes a novel will have more than one main character and that’s great. But in each scene, only one character should be viewing the action and feeling the thoughts.

Head hopping is when a scene allows the reader to have several characters express their point of view. Here’s an example. The main character in the following excerpt is Marion, and the scene should be completely in her point of view, but it is not.

Sample One:

Tess couldn’t believe how long this train was taking. She leaned over the edge of the platform, hoping to see the lights of the train arriving through the dark tunnel.

Marion wondered if taking the train was a good idea. “Tess, do you think we should change our minds about leaving town? Maybe we should have listened to Harold.”

Tess couldn’t believe what she was hearing. After all they’d been through, didn’t Marion realize that this was the only way to get free of her mother? But she held her tongue, not saying what she was thinking. “No, we are doing the right thing. In the end, I’m sure Harold will agree with us.”

Notice that you as the reader knows both of the girls’ thoughts. We have two points of view in this scene, when we should only have one. Here is the scene rewritten with one point of view.

Sample Two:

Marion watched Tess as she stood with her back to Marion leaning over the edge of the platform, gazing down the dark tunnel.

Marion wondered if taking the train was a good idea. “Tess, do you think we should change our minds about leaving town? Maybe we should have listened to Harold.”

Tess turned around quickly, her eyes flashing. She opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated. Marion could tell Tess wanted to reprimand her for her cowardness. Tess looked away from Marion, and sighed. When she faced Marion again, her mouth tightened into a smile. “No, we are doing the right thing. In the end, I’m sure Harold will agree with us.”

See how there is only one point of view? Everything is through Marion’s eyes. We see that Tess is feeling certain emotions, but Marion is the one describing what she is seeing Tess feel.

In the first sample, that is head hopping.

But why does it matter?

One of the main problems with head hopping is that it can pull your reader out of the story. He has to figure out who is talking and who is thinking the thoughts. With one point of view character, your reader knows whose thoughts are expressed. The story flows much more easily and keeps your reader involved.

In addition, keeping one POV helps the reader to develop more of an emotional attachment to the main character. The reader becomes involved in her thoughts. The reader begins to connect with the character and her story, actually experiencing what she feels. With head hopping, that experience continually changes, making a connection more difficult.

I also think that keeping a scene in one POV pushes a writer to show emotions and feelings through actions and body language. It’s much easier to just tell how the other character is feeling in his thoughts. But your main character doesn’t know those thoughts. Making a character have to figure out what the other person is thinking actually is more realistic to real life. We never know for sure what people’s thoughts are. We judge those thoughts by words, actions, and overt facial expressions. A reader sees through that main character’s eyes, and develops impressions based on the character’s thought process.

Which leads me to another reason to not head hop. Let’s say you are writing a mystery and wish to mislead your reader on the outcome. What better way than to have your main character misjudge what a person is feeling? Or have your main character believe false information due to the person’s ability to keep calm and a straight face. You can lead your reader straight to an ending that they didn’t expect because the main character misjudged information. Head hopping would ruin the outcome.

This is my opinion about head hopping. But others think it’s fine. Many excellent authors head hop. Often romance novelists will head hop because they want you to know the emotions of both of their characters in the same scene. And it can be done, as long as it’s clear.

But when I edit manuscripts, I keep one POV per scene. No head hopping allowed!

What’s your opinion on head hopping?

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