Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where Is My Head (Hopping) At?

Where Is My Head (Hopping) At?

This week’s topic is interesting, to say the least and, like the adverb, generates a lot of negativity.

I’m talking about Head Hopping.

Sounds like the plot to The Hidden.

Or a weird version of Whack-a-Mole.

Or to something perverted – namely the sight of teenage girls sucking the innards out of crawfish craniums.

By definition, head hopping is where you constantly switch the points of view in a scene by literally hopping from head to head. Some authors can get away with it. Agatha Christie managed to put one over on us with The ABC Murders, but she was, after all, Agatha Christie.

I am not.

Also, many writers, editors and bloggers are not big fans of multiple POV’s per chapter. If so, I’m screwed because my books often have multiple POV’s because my characters stay busy. My plots are more like television shows. A chapter might start out with the boss at a factory discussing layoffs, then move to the shop foreman chatting with his buddies about the situation and finally end at the foreman’s house where his wife and her friends talk about what they’ll do if their husbands are laid off.

I can’t make each POV its own chapter. I’d have 60 chapters. Ditto for scene changes or scene breaks to change POV’s. If the wife is chatting with six others, all of whom are married to important characters, I can’t see creating seven scenes of them all talking about the same thing but from a different viewpoint. Anybody who knows me knows I have enough trouble keeping my books under 100,000 words.

But, these are just my opinions. I googled some things and came across some differing viewpoints, including Canadian author Crawford Kilian described head hopping this way for the blog Writer Unboxed:

Whoever is the point of view for a particular scene determines the persona. An archbishop sees and describes events from his particular point of view, while a pickpocket does so quite differently. 
So the narrator, in a scene from the archbishop’s point of view, has a persona quite different from that of the pickpocket: a different vocabulary, a different set of values, a different set of priorities. 
As a general rule, point of view should not change during a scene. (RR: italics mine) So if an archbishop is the point of view in a scene involving him and a pickpocket, we shouldn’t suddenly switch to the pickpocket’s point of view until we’ve resolved the scene and moved on to another scene.

Michelle Styles, in an article for eHarlequin, took a different point of view (no pun intended):

Right, why then do people go about staying in a specific point of view? 
Why is there all this fuss? 
The reason is reader identification with the character, in other words -- connecting with the reader. 
If the reader is going to be inside a character's head, the reader wants to know which head she is in. It is disconcerting for the reader to be pulled out of the story because she thought she was in the heroine's head and it turns out that the writer has dipped into the housekeeper's head for a moment. 
Or another way to look at it is that the reader is always seeing a scene through a filter, whether it is the filter of a character or even the filter of the ominscient (sic) narrator. Without that filter, the reader has no idea how to interpret the scene. If filters are changed awkwardly, or the reader thinks she is seeing through a specific filter and finds out differently, the reader may get pulled out of the scene. 
Thus it is the awkwardness of the shifts without sufficent (sic) tension/page turning quality that causes headhopping. If there is sufficient page turning quality, the vast majority of readers will forgive an awkward point of view shift. It is really ALL IN THE EXECUTION rather than in some hard and fast rule that says each chapter must be only shown from one character's point of view.

Alas, those who jump all over head hopping outnumber those who see nothing wrong with it, if it is done well. Sort of like the people who want to get rid of adverbs.

Within a very short time, you all will have read (or, hopefully, will read) some of my work – Crawl, They Call the Wind Muryah, Hunters, Slow Boat to China, Land of the Blind and The Light At the End of Time. I am sure you will come across head hopping. Some of you might be annoyed; others might catch on and like it. I have a feeling that most of you will not care either way, as long as the book is well-done.


  1. I see your point Greg and I agree, but the problem for me has always been that most authors do not head-hop gracefully or with skill. They over-kill to the point it becomes a distraction from the story.

    I have read and enjoyed a few books with head-hoping, but most make me want to throw the book out the window.

  2. The best hard and fast rule I've seen for a POV switch within a scene that actually WORKS, is to insert a hard return to offset the new viewpoint.

    It doesn't need to stand out as a scene change with a few asterisks or anything else, it just needs one more hit of the return key between paragraphs to notify the reader, if not, they have to piece it out while they are reading and it doesn't flow well. IMO.