Ah, head-hopping. The bane of any beginner’s existence.
Head-hopping happens when you are writing third person (“he said/she said”) limited (not omniscient – e.g. any time you are not narrating the story the story!) … and you’re writing along in one character’s point of view (POV) … and suddenly you’re able to see the thoughts and feelings of another character.
How did that happen? Well, my friend, you just head-hopped.
It’s incredibly hard for newbie writers to avoid head-hopping – myself included! Why? I’m sure there are several reasons, but these are the primary ones.
- It used to be acceptable. Classics do it all the time, and oftentimes, the books you grew up on did. Most of my favorite books feature some degree of head-hopping, even if it is more on the side of omniscient POV (which is a different thing altogether). You’ve probably read some famous author who has done it! (Too bad you’re not a famous author, right?)
- You want to show alllll the characters’ thoughts. After all, you love all your characters! Why shouldn’t you? This way everyone will know what everyone is thinking.
- You want to write omniscient but don’t know how to do it properly. Or you simply haven’t put any thought into it. That could be true, too!
Well, without further ado, let’s get into 3 reasons why you should never, ever head-hop.
#1: It distracts the readers from the story itself.
Readers will spend half the time and mental energy they had been investing in your story trying to figure out who’s thinking and feeling what!
Now, granted, this is not universal. Some readers seem to be great at figuring this out, and some writers do an okay job handling it. Yet, for me, it’s always jolting.
For a moment, you sit there, wondering who said what, and your involvement in the story is completely broken. It takes time to regain that fascination.
Wondering whose POV they’re reading should not be something a reader should have to worry about constantly!
#2: It doesn’t allow you to dive deep into your characters’ subconscious.
There’s something special about limited third person when done very well. You can delve into the thoughts and feelings of a character and really get to know them, intimately.
Readers get caught up in their life in a way they wouldn’t in any other POV. Yes, it’s third person, so it feels like you’re relating to someone who is not you, but … at the same time, it is you. You’re inside their head, seeing and feeling and tasting and smelling what they are.
More than that, third person limited allows you to hear their innermost thoughts. To write as if you are writing their thoughts! There’s nothing more awesome than forgetting what an author’s writing style is like because they’ve gotten so deeply into their character’s head that it feels like their character is doing the talking, not the writer.
In fact, you want to make your readers forget that there even is an author involved in this adventure they’re on at all.
But, if you’re randomly hopping from one characters’ head to the other, that magic is gone.
#3: It makes it harder for you to hide information from the readers.
This applies to all genres of writers, though especially to anyone writing mystery or suspense. However, most novels include a character or two with a secret (or at least something you want the reader to discover gradually), and you don’t want the reader to know it.
You can hide a character’s secret regardless of what POV you’re in – however, it’s so much easier to do so if you’re not continually bouncing into their POV at inconvenient times.
It can be tempting to just into a random character’s point of view to allow the reader to find out information you do want them to know. However, that is lazy, and it will weaken the story in the end.
Well, readers, what do you think – it head-hopping ever permissible in today’s writing world? I don’t think so, but I’m willing to hear your thoughts!
Thanks & have a splendiferous day, writers!
Reveries Co. Manager