Head-hopping: How to Make Your Reader Dizzy

 

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Have you ever read a book that jumped from one person's thoughts to the others so quickly it made your head spin?


Most of us are writing in one of two kinds of POV.  Many of you, especially you YA writers, are taking on first person.  And then the rest of us, most likely, are using deep or limited third person POV.  Omniscient 3rd person (where the narrator knows all things and everyone's thoughts)  has gone out of fashion for the most part--except maybe in some epic fantasy stories.  This means that if you are using 1st or deep 3rd POV, the writing should be in one person's head in a scene.  


In 1st person, this is a little easier to achieve because, well, you only have one head to work with.  (Although, you're still at risk for Author Intrusion, which I'll talk about tomorrow).  But if you're using 3rd person and have multiple characters offering POV (which is the joy of writing in 3rd), then you have to be careful.  Take this example:

Jane narrowed her eyes and glared at him as he took a bite of the massive hunk of chocolate cake.  How could he be such a jerk?  He knew she was on a diet and couldn't have any.  Joe smiled and licked a glob of icing off his fork.  He could tell Jane wanted to kill him, but he didn't care.  He was determined to get her off this ridiculous diet of hers.

Okay, so my writing is stellar, I know, but hopefully the example gets the point across.  In the same paragraph we hear both characters thoughts and motivations.  This is disorienting to the reader.  If we're in deep POV, the reader is seeing things through one person's eyes.  If you keep hopping into different heads, the story becomes hard to follow.  It also will screw with establishing the voice of your characters because they'll all be intertwined.  Here is the example with no head-hopping.

Jane narrowed her eyes and glared at him as he took a bite of the massive hunk of chocolate cake.  How could he be such a jerk?  He knew she was on a diet and couldn't have any.  Joe smiled and licked a glob of icing off his fork, as if taunting her.  Her knuckles turned white as she gripped her coffee mug tighter.

When I'm critting other's work, I see this head-hopping pop up most in kissing or love scenes.  We're so excited to tell our reader what each of our characters is thinking, but that totally ruins the moment.  Tension is built out of the mystery of not knowing all things and thoughts of all people at all times.  It's okay to switch POVs, but you have to do it with thought and planning.  


Some tips:


1. Aim to keep one POV per scene for most scenes.  This will keep things clear and easy to follow for your reader.
2.  If you do need to switch in a scene, do it only once per scene and do a double return (extra spacing) in your document to show that the POV has changed.  This is common in romance, and readers know that when they see that break in lines, that we've switched to the other person's POV.
3. Be in the POV of the character that has the most at stake in that scene.
4. Pretend that when you're in a character's head, you have to put on their outfit.  So if you switch heads, you have to change clothes.  This can't be done at breakneck speed and and on a constant basis.  You have to plan a break so that you can slip into the new costume.


Alright, hope that helps, tomorrow...author intrusion.


Have you read books that head hopped all over the place?  Have you found yourself wanting to tell the reader everything?


 
 
 

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