I’m going to open a can of worms here by bringing up the topic of head hopping. (I originally posted this over on Evolution for debate, but wanted to revise it slightly and post it here as well.)
What is head hopping?
Head hopping is the term used when you are writing in an impersonal POV, such as 3rd person, and you shift from the viewpoint of one character (your POV character) to another character (potentially many times) during a chapter. Usually this is particularly pointed out when it’s without a clear scene break in the chapter, though I’ve heard some people argue that each chapter should have only one POV, period.
Many people consider this sloppy writing, and some people absolutely hate it. Some people will consider books that use this device “wall-bangers” (throwing the book against the wall).
Here are a few articles on the subject:
- Headhopping, Authorial Intrusion, and Shocked Expressions by Anne Marble
- All About Romance: Alison Kent on Point of View by Alison Kent
- point-of-view puzzles by Yoon Ha Lee
- POV Mechanics by Jodici
- Writing Tip: “Head Hopping” by Linda Adams
- An executive editor’s take on “head-hopping” point-of-view jumps by Ray Rhamey
A recent post on Romancing the Blog (Lost in the Crowd by Sharon Long) also touched briefly on head hopping while talking about other POV issues.
Some authors known for head-hopping:
I know I’ve seen it in other places as well, but those are some recent examples that I can think of. Feehan handles it very nicely in my opinion, because she operates with what I tend to think of as “3rd person camera POV”. The camera follows one character, until they interact with another character and it switches over to follow the second character, like you would see in a movie. It’s not used to convey information between characters, but to limit the reader to seeing certain pieces of the action as it unfolds. And Feehan succeeds (in my opinion).
As some have mentioned, this is also commonly done in romance books, to show the sex scenes from the perspective of both characters. This can convey a more intimate feeling because you’re not just getting into one partner’s mind, but both of their minds, at a key emotional time.
My personal opinion:
“Head hopping” is just another in a long string of writer’s conceits, rules that are considered to be inflexible and sancrosanct, when they aren’t. Most readers do not know the difference between omniscient POV and 3rd person POV. Most readers don’t know what head hopping is, and frankly, couldn’t care less. As long as it’s not a glaring abuse of deus ex machina information bleedover from one character to another, most readers are going to let it pass on by without a second thought.
Why do I say this? Most readers don’t know the “rules” of writing. And every writing rule is meant to be broken– in the right time, in the right way. The writing industry is the one concerned about the rules, but the rules are broken and bent if it’ll sell the books.
My questions to you:
How often do you find that “head hopping” is something that distracts you from reading a story? Do you realize that’s what’s happening when you’re reading it? Did you know the term before now, and if so, did you even know that it was considered, like passive voice, to be a writing mistake?
What are some examples of head-hopping that you can think of? And setting aside the “rule”, do you think it worked better the way it was written, or would you have preferred that it had been revised?